analyst day

eBay's post-turnaround message: Come on back

April 2, 2013: 7:07 AM ET

Retooled e-commerce giant eBay wants users to take a second look.

By Kevin Kelleher, contributor

130117044023-ebay-sign-gallery-horizontalFORTUNE -- Analyst day is one of the less exciting rituals in Silicon Valley. It usually involves updating a Powerpoint made for a recent investment conference, appending a question-and-answer session, and waving goodbye to investors as they walk out with the logo-ed tchotchkes destined for a wastebasket.

eBay's (EBAY) analyst day last Thursday, however was a notable exception. After an arduous turnaround and several years when stock traded below $35 a share, eBay gave analysts and investors a compelling case to be bullish on its future. As the presentation unfolded, the stock rose throughout the day the way you want it to during an analyst day -- steadily higher and higher.

eBay closed up 4% at $54.22. After a market holiday Friday, it rose another 3% on Monday. eBay's stock is not only up 434% over the past four years, it's now only a few dollars shy of its record high of $59 a share, set back in December 2004.

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There were a lot of data points that came out in news stories about eBay's day. The company said that it expects to see as much as $23.5 billion in revenues by 2015, which would represent an increase of 68% over last year's $14 billion figure. In three years, eBay said, its core marketplace business will handle $300 billion in transactions, up from $175 billion in 2012 and higher than some analysts had been forecasting. PayPal, meanwhile, could see value of the payments it processes double from last year's $145 billion figure.

The coming three years is a final act in a three-act play eBay has been staging since its auctions-driven business peaked in 2005. After John Donahoe took over as CEO in March 2008, the company stressed fixed-price "Buy It Now" sales and made an early bet on mobile platforms for its e-commece site as well as PayPal.

As eBay CFO Bob Swan put it, the years from 2009 to 2011 were about putting the turnaround in place, the following year or so was about positioning eBay for the future, and the years 2013 through 2015 are about capitalizing on that opportunity. And what is the new eBay? It's no longer just an e-commerce company, Donahoe said. "We're a global commerce platform."

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Behind that jargon is a subtle but significant shift in how eBay sees itself. What started out as a place for people to auction off the stuff gathering dust in their garages has become a company that offers the online storefront for small, entrepreneurial retailers (eBay.com), the digital infrastructure to help large brick-and-mortar chains to merge online and offline sales (GSI Commerce), and the payment platform to handle the money side (PayPal). It's less and less an Amazon-like (AMZN) store, and more and more a service for other retailers.

And increasingly, eBay is pushing these services into growing economies like Brazil, Russia, India, and China -- the BRIC countries with a rising middle class. eBay expects to grow sales in BRIC and emerging markets to four times its current levels by 2015, when the company expects to see a quarter of its active users and an eighth of its global sales from emerging markets. Already, 61% of marketplace revenues come from outside the U.S.

Even in its more established markets, eBay is pushing to win back people who haven't used the site in a long time. The company has quietly undertaken redesign after redesign, retooling the site's search engine, giving highly rated sellers more prominence on the site and adopting a Pinterest-like use of product images. And it's not finished: Another search engine will be rolled out in the U.S. by the end of the year. (For more, see Fortune's recent cover story.)

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The focus on a better shopper experience isn't apparent to those who have abandoned eBay over the years. "The perception of eBay is lagging behind the user experience," Donahoe said. "Five years ago I stood here and said we were not a technology company. We lost our engineering mojo. What is profoundly different today is the focus on product and experience."

eBay's optimistic growth forecast is contingent on more shoppers taking to eBay's marketplace and PayPal payments, especially on mobile devices. The company is confident that when people try it, they'll like it enough to make eBay a more compelling force in e-commerce than it's been in many years. The pitch is this: Come on back, you'll like what you see.

At its analyst day, eBay made a similar pitch to investors. And as the rising stock price suggests, some are liking what they hear. On Monday, J.P. Morgan, Credit Suisse and several other Wall Street research analysts raised their price targets on the stock. "We are increasingly confident on eBay's ability to grow the segment at or above industry growth rates," said J.P. Morgan's Doug Anmuth.

Another analyst, Goldman Sachs's Heath Terry, wrote that "eBay's growth potential is materially under-appreciated by the market." It seems to be something of a refrain for the company these days: After years of a long, quiet turnaround, eBay may be worth another look.

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