eBay Tries Anything

By Jul 01, 2003

EBay knows who its friends are: 69 million registered bidders and an increasing crew of marketers eager to reach that audience. Sprint, Hilton, McAfee Security and Points.com are charter partners in eBay’s latest venture, Anything Points. The loyalty program lets consumers who do business with Sprint, Hilton’s HHonors program, McAfee and Points.com accrue points they can use to bid on eBay items. It’s like an awards catalog with 12 million auction items.

EBay expects to add partners and consumer members it meets through marketing partners, but won’t disclose how many it hopes to get.

As the currency takes hold, “hardcore eBay members will be interested in collecting points wherever they can,” says Don Albert, senior director of strategic partnerships for San Jose, CA-based eBay. A joint program suits brands whose purchase frequency doesn’t justify a stand-alone loyalty program. “They can tap an existing program and use our equity,” says Albert. Marketers ask for category exclusivity, but only get it “when it makes sense for eBay users and the brands,” he says.

Consumer members earn points through promotional offers or exchanges — swapping hotel or airline miles for Anything Points, for example. Hilton HHonors members can also exchange HHonors points for Anything Points (and vice versa). “Participating in the eBay program gives HHonors members unprecedented flexibility with their HHonors points,” says Jeffrey Diskin, president-COO of Hilton HHonors Worldwide.

Aggregator Points.com lets its 125 million members swap loyalty points with three of its 35 partners: American Airlines, Midwest Miles and Asia Miles. (It takes 13,889 American Advantage miles to get 10,000 Anything Points.) Points.com members pay $20 to join; new members get Anything Points as a perk. “Our interest in exchange programs [like Points.com] is that their large user bases are potentially good customers for us,” Albert says. EBay negotiates with Points.com marketers individually and plans to add more.

EBay lets marketers set their own exchange rate: “It’s important to give marketers the flexibility to control their own programs,” Albert says. “Marketers who hand out Anything Points pay us for each point.” The value to consumers is one cent, but Albert won’t disclose how much marketers pay, saying only, “There’s no large markup on the points.”

Short-term promos carry Anything Points as a premium. McAfee’s June launch gives Anything Points to home users who buy anti-virus, anti-spam, firewall or privacy services. Sprint supports its discount domestic calling plans by offering 5,000 and 6,000 Anything Points to new home and small-business customers, respectively. “It’s an efficient and effective way for us to acquire and retain customers,” says Jeff Mott, VP-marketing for Sprint’s Mass Markets Organization.

Anything Points are deposited in eBay members’ PayPal accounts and PayPal converts points to cash to pay sellers. (EBay bought online payment service PayPal last year.) Points aren’t transferable and can’t be used for shipping, tax or insurance. Anything Points don’t expire, but members must either earn or spend points at least once a year to keep their accounts active.

EBay has aggressively pursued marketing partnerships for the last two years, and will maintain brand-specific programs, like DPSU’s Liquid Loot, as well as the Anything Points co-op, Albert says.