PayPal and its owner eBay have been through a few tough rounds in the ring these last few months, facing calls from Carl Ichan to split the company (finished for now), a Twitter encounter with a departing, annoyed employee, and getting its president poached by Facebook. Today, however, comes news of a tamer sort for the company: it is rolling out a new site called PassPort, aimed at merchants using its platform as a resource for stats, tips and general information on selling internationally.
At a time when eBay and PayPal marketplace competitors like Alibaba are ramping up their international and American profiles, the idea of PassPort is to generate more international sales. Anuj Nayar, PayPal’s senior director of global initiatives, tells me that one quarter of PayPal’s business is already cross-border, working out to some $45 billion in gross merchandise value.
There is some interactive information on the PassPort — for example a timeline that charts sales activity on PayPal over the course of the year, showing which parts of the world see the most sales at any given month, and it will be updated regularly with details about peak holiday sales times for different markets so that merchants can plan their own shipping and marketing activities better (one such example of how this looks is illustrated here).
Nayar says, however, that this is not really a place for detailed analytics or a dashboard for merchants to track their own specific activity — although it will encourage them to link up with specialists at PayPal who would be able to give more of that kind of direction to sellers, and is in line with wider updates the company is making to add more analytics and transparency for merchants on the platform.
To me, this initiative seems to have two purposes: one is to give PayPal a slightly more helpful face and position the company as being a business facilitator as much as a simple billing platform. The idea is that if you get people using this portal, it might lead them to speaking more with PayPal and perhaps shifting even more business through the service.
In a market where there are increasingly more options for how merchants can collect money — from simple API-based solutions like Stripe to bitcoin — and sell items — with sites like Alibaba and Amazon also being potential marketplaces for them to use — PayPal and eBay want to make sure that they remain in a prominent position.
The other is a lot more wishful thinking than reality: if PayPal were actually interested in promoting the idea of providing useful data to small businesses, it could potentially offer a very interesting service in actually offering analytics specific to individual merchants. That’s something that PayPal knows, and is now starting to get underway.