BREAK TIME with … Alan Elias

18 Mar, 2021

IMPACT

BREAK TIME with … Alan Elias

March 2021

Senior Manager, Digital Advocacy and Public Policy
eBay

You worked on the Senate staff of the late John McCain. Tell us about that.

Something that impressed me about Sen. McCain was his authenticity. He was the same man in person as he was on television. He brought the same passion to issues, and the same level of caring about people and public service. I worked for three U.S. senators for almost 10 years, and each brought a different background and experience. Norm Coleman had been a prosecutor and a mayor. Ron Johnson had been a business owner who had never held elective office before. And John McCain, of course, had been a soldier, although he had been in government for 25 years when I went to work for him right after the 2008 presidential campaign.

You’ve gone from the lobbying side of the public affairs profession to the research and content creation side. What has that been like?

I got to know the people at eBay and the issues the company faced when they were a client of ours at Mercury, a global public affairs firm I worked for. So I was somewhat familiar with the exciting world eBay operates in when I joined the company in 2015. And working in the research area has been fascinating. I’ve loved it.

Fascinating, how?

Thanks to internet-enabled platforms, an entirely new world of global trade has opened up for small businesses — a new model of exporting. And this has happened over roughly the past 25 years. The world hasn’t quite come to appreciate the magnitude of this change, but it is immense. At its most basic level, these platforms have reduced the cost of distance, and the effects are really remarkable.

Explain, please.

The traditional model of trade was dominated by large players. Think of those big container ships you see in the ocean or at harbors. The cost of moving goods over long distances was just enormous. But internet-enabled platforms, which touch so many aspects of a transaction — including payment systems and logistics — have reduced those costs dramatically. It’s been a game changer. It is now possible to be small and remote, yet global and independent at the same time, and eBay is at the heart of all that.

Tell me about the figures behind this.

Of course. Fully 96% of eBay-enabled small businesses in the U.S. are exporters — exporters to other countries. That compares to only 1% of traditional businesses. And the average number of foreign markets reached by an eBay-enabled small business in the U.S. is 17, compared to only four for traditional businesses. And it isn’t just the number of foreign markets, but their reach.

What does that mean?

A total of 58% of eBay-enabled small businesses reach four or more continents with their goods. So “global” reach doesn’t just mean sending packages to countries close by. It is truly global. And the growth is amazing. The number of these businesses grew about 30% from 2011 to 2017. That compares to about 7% of what we think of as “traditional” brick-and-mortar businesses. And all this activity is not just confined, as you might expect, to metropolitan areas. We’re seeing it in rural areas as well. Needless to say, this activity offers a kind of insulation against economic shocks.

Looking ahead, any trends you see that we should be keeping an eye on?

Future-casting is not my strong suit. But one thing I think is pretty clear, in the world of advocacy, is that we won’t go back to the way things were before the pandemic. We used to try to do all our meetings in person, right? And now we’ve had to move to virtual. But because we have had to make that pivot, we have developed a familiarity with new ways of doing things, and we can see the advantages of that. So when things get back to the way they were, in a loosening of restrictions, we’ll be using a hybrid of in-person and virtual. We won’t just go back to everything being done in person, because — again — it is a matter of reach. With virtual meetings, for example, you can expand the number of people who can participate. And that’s a great improvement.

Reach Elias at aelias@ebay.com.

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