RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Now to Akron, Ohio, which is becoming a battleground for two digital giants - in one corner, reigning giant Amazon - in the other, eBay, which is teaming up with some of the city's smallest businesses for a pilot project - as member station WKSU's M.L. Schultze reports, the project's designed to help give local brick-and-mortar businesses a global boost and eBay a new way to take on Amazon.
M.L. SCHULTZE, BYLINE: Norka soda pop is produced here. In fact, it's Akron spelled backwards. Akron Honey Company comes from apiaries on three vacant lots in the city. The businesses grew up here and don't plan to leave. But they know they need to shine online to survive. So they were among the first to sign up for eBay's first-in-the-nation Retail Revival, a partnership with the city and more than 100 small businesses here.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Why are small businesses like yours selling on eBay?
SCHULTZE: Akron recruited and screened these applicants. And eBay is providing 10 weeks of hands-on training and marketing support after that. EBay's Chris Librie says it helps both ends of the business spectrum.
CHRIS LIBRIE: Selling on the eBay platform is a natural complement to your small business, your brick-and-mortar store. And it's an enabler of global reach. And so immediately, you go from being just, you know, a store maybe based in Akron to a store that people can see anywhere around the world.
SCHULTZE: As much as the retailers need eBay, he says the company needs their unique products to stand out in the global marketplace.
LIBRIE: It's important to make sure your pictures are detailed and inspiring emotion. Guitars are an emotional buy.
SCHULTZE: The training for the businesses began in a former church, now community center. At times, it has a feeling of a religious revival. But it also gets very practical very quickly. Vice President Marni Levine talks about the importance of good photography, free shipping and even the visceral reaction a customer can have to opening a box.
MARNI LEVINE: When your buyer receives a package from you, when they open it, you know, make sure they get that surprise and delight, so you have a repeat customer.
SCHULTZE: As she's speaking, Kassandra Morrison is nodding. She juggles Hula-Hoops, models that cost as much as $400. But what the 22-year-old is selling is not the hoops. It's the custom bag she designs to carry them.
KASSANDRA MORRISON: It has foam in the front, in the back, foam panels. It's marine canvas, so it's water-resistant for your festivals. We have an all-weather zipper. In the inside, you can fit upwards of 20-plus hoops in here.
SCHULTZE: She says eBay represents a good opportunity for her.
MORRISON: I think eBay is really trying to expand their market and grow more toward small businesses, which, you know, you get - Amazon kind of leaves that behind. Etsy has really capitalized on that, but they don't quite have the reach or the trust that eBay has.
SCHULTZE: Ina Steiner is editor of ecommercebytes.com and commends eBay for helping the small sellers. But even if it's replicated across the country, she says it's a tiny investment for eBay, which, like Amazon, has been moving toward bigger brands at lower prices.
INA STEINER: EBay's constantly trying to bring in more sellers. And there's always that feeling of, why don't they focus as much on trying to bring buyers in for the kinds of things that make eBay special?
SCHULTZE: But Librie argues that bringing in unique sellers is exactly the way to get more buyers.
LIBRIE: EBay is all about the thrill of the find. I mean, you will find things on eBay that you could never imagine you would.
SCHULTZE: What eBay and these small businesses hope is that the online, hands-on partnership will be the retail sweet spot for them both. For NPR News, I'm M.L. Schultze in Akron, Ohio.
(SOUNDBITE OF MAKIA BLUE'S "GROWTH HORMONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.