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eBay tries to boost mom-and-pop shops with Always Open project

The free program, unveiled Thursday, will provide benefits for eBay sellers in the US who also operate physical stores.

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Local shops may start using these new Always Open stickers with store-specific QR codes to help grow their sales online.

Andrew Villa via eBay

Brick-and-mortar retailers have been struggling to stay open. eBay thinks it can help them.

The online retailer on Thursday unveiled a new initiative called Always Open, a program that offers a handful of benefits to mom-and-pop eBay sellers in the US who also have physical storefronts. The program -- which is free but requires an eBay Stores subscription -- includes special eBay branding for Always Open store windows, additional support from eBay staff and promotion on eBay's new Always Open landing page.

"If they're winning, we're winning," Bob Kupbens, eBay's vice president of global trust and seller experience, said about Always Open sellers.

The offer of a prominent online presence on eBay is a potential lifeline to an industry that saw the most store closing announcements in US history last year, with over 6,800 closings as of October. And that happened amid a surging economy and low unemployment. A major reason has been the continued rise of online retail, with more consumers opting to shop at home and avoid traffic, lines and out-of-stock items in stores.

It may then seem ironic that an online seller is now highlighting its work to help physical retail. However, eBay is hoping to show it can help more stores stay open, instead of being cast as a site that's harming Main Street USA. This move follows the launch of an economic development program eBay launched in January to work with local sellers in Akron, Ohio.

Amazon, the biggest online retailer worldwide and a site that's often blamed for driving competing physical stores out of business, has made similar efforts to show it's working with mom-and-pop retailers. For instance, it highlights local merchants through its Prime Now app and promotes startups and smaller sellers through programs like Launchpad and Amazon Exclusives.

It's hard to say, though, whether consumers will see programs like Always Open as a positive for local communities or a way for eBay promote itself in storefronts and convince retailers to put more of their inventory on its site.

eBay started a pilot for Always Open with 30 retail stores in New York and San Francisco in mid-December. The program's page currently includes the Brooklyn antique furniture seller cityFoundry, which listed a $38,000 Danish folk art angel wall sculpture, and 209 Customs, a Stockton, California, purveyor of higher-end car wheels and rims. Starting Thursday, eBay is opening the program to the tens of thousands of US retailers on its site who also operate storefronts.

Sellers who sign up for the program will get window stickers for their stores that say "We're always open on eBay" and include a QR code that links directly to their individual eBay pages.

eBay employees will work with Always Open sellers to help them make their listings as effective as possible on the site, providing advice on online search, photography and other areas. Also, Always Open sellers will get an early crack to use a new eBay Stores design template that will roll out to the whole site later this year.

Always Open comes as eBay has been benefiting from a turnaround effort, with the company's stock rising, active buyers growing to 170 million and revenue continuing to increase. eBay last week said it will end its longtime partnership with PayPal and make Adyen its new primary checkout option in mid-2020. The change should lower sellers' costs and may simplify the checkout process for customers.

The new program could help eBay keep up its effort to compete against Amazon and other online sites by bringing eBay more unique inventory from smaller stores and boutiques.

To join, a store will have to be in good standing with eBay, have an eBay Stores subscription and submit a short request form. eBay will then evaluate each submission. Always Open sellers don't have to list their merchandise exclusively on eBay.

"Their ability to highlight their inventory to a broader set of customers, and optimizes it for online, encourages them to stay open" said eBay's Kupbens.

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