eBay is currently the world’s largest marketplace with hundreds of millions of items on sale on any given day. The company employs 15,000 people and today is one of the world’s most recognized brands. Here’s a collection of 10 fun pieces of trivia you might not have known about the Fortune 500 company.
1. eBay was Originally Called AuctionWeb
This screenshot is the earliest example of the AuctionWeb homepage, circa March 1997, but the basic design did not change from May 1996 to September 1997. Click the image to see the full-sized screenshot.
The site we now know as eBay was launched during Labor Day weekend in 1995 as “AuctionWeb,” by entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar in his living room in San Jose, California.
AuctionWeb was just one of four sites housed under Omidyar’s umbrella company, eBay Internet (). The other three included a travel site set up in loose partnership with a local San Jose travel agent, a personal shopper site, and a site about the Ebola virus. Check out the screenshot above of AuctionWeb, circa 1997.
The decision to change the name from AuctionWeb to eBay was made by Omidyar and Jeffrey Skoll, eBay’s first full-time employee and president, in mid-1997. The change was spurred by the fact that most customers referred to the site as “eBay,” and the initial media coverage, though sparse, also used “eBay” more than “AuctionWeb.” The actual name change took place in September of 1997 and involved a migration of existing users to a completely new platform with a more graphical website and home page. It also introduced the world to the multi-colored eBay logo we know today.
So, where did “eBay” actually come from? Long before AuctionWeb existed, Omidyar went to Sacramento to register the domain echobay.com for his planned business name Echo Bay Inc., but it was taken. He came up with “eBay” on the spot and registered it instead.
2. The First AuctionWeb Logo Was Called the “Death Bar”
“The boxy black-and-white AuctionWeb logo … was so sinister the eBay staff had taken to calling it the ‘death bar,’” according to Adam Cohen in The Perfect Store: Inside eBay, a book explaining the story of eBay. Above you’ll find the original logos for AuctionWeb (the auction website) and eBay Internet (the umbrella company). Steve Westly, one of eBay’s founding executives thought it was so horrible that it was scaring away potential corporate partners. We can see why employees might go a little bonkers after staring at these logos every day.
For a short period in 1997, the eBay logo was changed to a slightly more appealing navy blue design, as pictured above. It is difficult to find a trace of this logo on the Internet, as it wasn’t in use for very long and may not have ever existed on the website itself. One of the only places that it still exists is on an eBay listing posted by Jim Griffith, the first customer sales representative at eBay and the current host of eBayRadio.
Griffith’s listing described a stack of eBay brochures and stickers that he found in a trash bin at the eBay office. He included a detailed photo as well, watermarked with his seller name, uncle_griff. Upon finding the items, he couldn’t bear to see history tossed away, so he saved them and later sold them on eBay to benefit one of his favorite charities, The Disabled Online Users Association. In his listing, he commented on the blue logo design as:
“…one that didn’t last more than, well, probably a week if my memory serves me. And thank heavens for that! Can you imagine what eBay might have become with such a boring old logo? Still, it could have happened…(shudder).”
We agree, Griff. Luckily, in 1997, the company hired CKS Group, an ad agency owned by Bill Cleary, Mark Kvamme, and Tom Suiter (all three of whom had previously worked at Apple Computers), to revamp their corporate identity, including visual imagery, typography, the website, and recommendations on advertising.
A screenshot of eBay’s website in 2003
We spoke with Cleary, who at the time led the graphic design team that created the eBay logo, about the rebranding process and the idea behind the logo design. He elaborated:
“We saw that site as probably the first social networking site. People were aggregated around their interests -– people who collected antique cars, people who collected toy soldiers, people who collected Civil War memorabilia. I called them ‘eBay tribes.’ With all of the various tribes, the site attracted a lot of different types of people. We wanted to create something that really resonated with the broadest base of consumers.”
Inspired by the visual imagery behind Eastman Kodak and Apple, among other brands, Cleary and his team created a logo that would appeal to the masses. The final result was the multi-colored logo spelled e-b-a-Y in overlapping letters with baseline shifts. The logo was chosen out of five or six other designs and had the “friendly, open and accessible” personality that the eBay team was looking for.
3. The First Item Listed on eBay was a Broken Laser Pointer
On Labor Day weekend in 1995, computer programmer Omidyar wrote the code for what he called an “experiment.” He wanted to know what would happen if everyone in the world had access to a single global marketplace. To test his idea, he came up with an auction website, where he listed a broken laser pointer that he was going to throw away. In the end, a collector bought it for $14.83.
Among the other items sold just a week after Omidyar launched eBay were autographed Marky Mark underwear for $400, a Superman metal lunchbox for $22, and a Toyota Tercel for $3,200.
4. The eBay HQ Building Names Reflect Categories on eBay
There are seven buildings at eBay’s headquarters in San Jose, California, and they are all named after categories on eBay.com: Collectibles, Jewelry, Motors, Music, Sports (), Technology and Toys.
All of the conference rooms are named according to the corresponding building theme. For example, in the Motors building, rooms are named after type of cars, and in the Music building, rooms are take the names of various musical instruments.
True to its name, the Community building has a few distinct characteristics. It’s conference rooms are named after original eBay community terms, including PowerSeller, About Me, Feedback and Buy It Now. And it also houses two of the most social locations on campus, the cafeteria and the coffee house. Even more interesting is the fact that one of its conference rooms is named after an eBay community member, Jack Sheng.
5. Jack Sheng Was the First to Reach a Feedback Score of One Million
As of November 13, 2008, Jack Sheng was the first eBay seller to receive a Feedback score of one million. He currently has a score of over two million. It took Sheng eight years to earn a Feedback score of one million, but it only took him 18 months thereafter to reach two million.
To congratulate Sheng, the eBay staff created a special “Shooting Star” for his seller profile and named a conference room after him. Nice setup, Sheng!
6. Fixed-Price Format Trumps Auction Format
For over a year, fixed-price format (Buy it Now) has accounted for a majority of merchandise volume. Approximately 59% of sales during the second quarter of 2010 were purchased via the “Buy It Now” feature.
7. You Can Adopt a Pet on eBay Classifieds
Looking for a pet? Check out eBay Classifieds (formerly Kijiji); it’s a local listing site that is free of charge and open to everyone. Pets are among the most popular listings. Dogs are the pet of choice, with the most popular canine searches being Yorkie, Chihuahua, Boxer, English Bulldog and Pitbull. And for the feline fanatics, the most popular cat breeds searched are Persian, Siamese and Bengal. With Petfinder as a partner, over two-thirds of pet listings are from shelters, so you know you’ll be giving a deserving puppy or kitty a new, happy home.
Check out the eBay Classifieds Pets iPhone app for access to local pet listings on the go. It just launched this week.
8. Mobile is Used for Big Ticket Purchases
Looking at mobile behavior on eBay’s apps, you can see that mobile commerce is an increasingly important focus for the company. One item is purchased every two seconds using eBay mobile apps, and in 2009, eBay users bought $600 million of merchandise using their mobile phones. On the last earnings call, eBay CEO John Donahoe predicted that number will nearly triple this year to $1.5 billion.
It’s no wonder that mobile is such a focus for the company. Users are shelling out big bucks on their mobile phones. So far in 2010, the most expensive item sold via eBay’s mobile app was a 1985 Piper PA-46-310P Malibu airplane for $265,000. The transaction was successful and resulted in the exchange of positive Feedback.
Another big ticket item bought via the eBay app this year was a 2007 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder for $139,000. So far this year, it’s the most expensive car bought via eBay’s mobile app.
An exciting addition to the eBay app roster that will make mobile shopping even easier is Red Laser, a popular iPhone app that scans barcodes in stores, and returns the best prices for the same item online and at other stores. eBay recently acquired the app and will soon integrate Red Laser’s technology within its eBay applications — eBay Marketplace, eBay Selling, StubHub and Shopping.com.
9. The Most Expensive eBay.com Purchase: A Jet
A Gulfstream II Jet that sold for $4.9 million in 2001 is the record for highest eBay sale price yet. The record sales price was more than three times the previous known eBay record of $1.65 million. The jet was sold by Tyler Jet (now, Tyler Jet Motorsports), the world’s largest business jet dealer at the time.
10. eBay was the First to Live-Tweet Its Earnings Call
Richard Brewer-Hay, eBay’s corporate blogger, was the first to live-blog a company’s earnings call using a Twitter feed. During the Q2 2010 earning’s call, Brewer-Hay tweeted away using the hashtag #eBayQ210.
Prior to that, he had worked in conjunction with eBay’s legal team to create social media guidelines for reporting company information on behalf of eBay to dodge any legal issues.
Brewer-Hay has played a key role in eBay’s growing presence on various social networks, but there are over 40 other eBay-owned Twitter feeds, including eBay Radio, eBay Classifieds, eBay Green, and PayPal.
Did we leave any interesting facts about eBay off of this list? Let us know what you would add in the comments below.