Shipping Labels – the New Space for Ads?

Billboard in the city – ads on shipping labels.

eBay has long been one of the most popular online selling sites, allowing ecommerce businesses and individuals to reach consumers across the globe. Sellers can place an item up for sale and have money within days, at which point they can print a shipping label and put it in the mail.

But eBay’s recent decision to put QR codes on some shipping labels has created controversy. Some affected eBay sellers say that when they scan the code, it takes them to the Daily Deals section of eBay’s site, leading small businesses to wonder whether eBay is feeding ads for larger companies on its labels.

According to an eBay forum moderator, the ad placement was a test that impacted only 15 percent of sellers, but the incident brings a few important issues to mind.

The Small Business Dilemma

Sites like eBay have made every effort to keep fees low while still remaining solvent. Advertising is a great way to bring in extra income for site upgrades or new features without raising prices. The objection seems to come when the ads are placed without permission, and for businesses that can be considered competition.

Small businesses fight a never-ending battle against big-box retailers, which use their volume to compete on price, and online shopping has only intensified the struggle. But when small businesses sell through online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, they can take advantage of a larger site’s customer base, despite the fact that ads for other businesses are displayed throughout the website.

The Bigger Picture

By advertising its Daily Deals, from which some smaller businesses are excluded, eBay and other online marketplaces could hurt a small business’s chances of competing. Additionally, the ads are being placed on a shipping label for which sellers paid the postage, leading some to wonder if eBay should pay those sellers for the ad space.

Of course, it could be argued that because these ads bring buyers back to eBay to check out daily deals, they actually encourage further shopping. This benefits all of the site’s sellers, not just the ones being advertised. But one thing is certain: eBay sellers want control over what is being advertised on their space. As a result, some have decided to cut out the ads or black them out with Sharpies to reclaim their autonomy.

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