Last year, I wrote up a post entitled eBay On Location Orlando review & recap: What was it like, what to expect, is it worth it, tips & more (and while this will post on Monday, I’m actually writing this Sunday night meaning I wrote this post exactly one year later! Little things like this impress me, people.) I wanted to do the same for the most recent eBay On Location event. However, while last year’s post was an almost minute by minute recap, I’m going to review this year’s eBay OL in list form for easier reading.

There was an eBay On Location in Philadelphia, PA on September 5th and 6th, 2012. These smaller local events spread out throughout both the year and the US and were a replacement for the big annual eBay Live! event of years past. This was the very first of these events on the Northeast (and the first eBay event in the Northeast at all since eBay Live! in Boston, MA in 2007). 

The Good

  • Excellent keynote speaker. While we didn’t get free copies of his book like we did with last year’s keynote speaker, Gary Vaynerchuk was really the perfect fit for a room full of eBay sellers. His speech was excellent and I recommend giving it a watch (or just listen) if you can since eBay was kind enough to put it up on YouTube afterward.
  • Learned from mistakes of the past. In my review of the Orlando eOL, I mentioned that they left the tables dirty in the main dining room so that we were attending sessions surrounded by crumbs and soiled plates which was gross and inconvenient for taking notes. This year they were so militant about cleaning, a member of the hotel staff actually tried to clear a friend’s lunch box literally as he was placing it down on the table for the very first time. I would argue that this bordered on the overzealous since we were asked over a dozen times, mid bite, if they could throw out the rest of our lunches and that got very annoying but I’m going to look at this as a positive since clean tables made for a more pleasant experience overall.
  • Great live tweeting coverage. All credit for this goes to the eBay Social Team who made sure that at least one person was an assigned live tweeter for each session. Some of these live tweeters were so good, just reading their tweet recaps of the sessions was almost as good as attending them and it was like getting to attend more than one session at once. (I compiled the best of these tweets here.)

The Bad

  • People locked out of sessions. While I personally got into every session I was interested in, Twitter was filled with annoyed tweets from people that were blocked out of events because they reached capacity. I’m not sure whether the problem was a legitimate space crisis or whether it was just an issue caused by overzealous staff. I say this because I was at two of the events people complained they were turned away from because they’d reached capacity and both of them had quite a few empty seats. I never heard of this issue at Orlando so this seemed like a step backwards to me.
  • The food wasn’t great. The food at this event was exactly the same as the food at eBay OL in Orlando (it was the same hotel chain) but at least this time our wait staff was much more attentive (this may have been just because my table was filled with Type A’s) so we didn’t miss any courses. But the food itself wasn’t all that great at any of the meals or snacks provided by the hotel.
  • The lack of (free) hot beverages. At eOL in Orlando, they left the coffee and hot tea station in the main dining room stocked for the entire day of sessions so you could help yourself to free coffee or tea all day. I was unpleasantly surprised this time when they took that station away immediately after breakfast and only offered coffee and tea for sale in the Expo Hall. There was at least free coffee and tea in the Powerseller/Top Rated Sellers Lounge but I felt bad for the many sellers who weren’t eligible to enter that room. Was leaving the free hot beverages out at Orlando a mistake and this experience how it was supposed to be? I don’t know but when they over-air condition everything like they did in both hotels not giving us access to a hot beverage to warm up with just seems cruel.
  • I’m still not 100% sold on the Day 1 = late night, Day 2 = starts at 7 AM. I love having the emphasis on the first night being socializing and networking but with events scheduled until midnight on Day 1 and then breakfast and sessions starting at 7 AM the next day, many sellers skip the first few sessions to sleep and those of us that don’t are falling asleep on our feet. The fact that the PayPal after party is open bar doesn’t help. Would it be so awful to make the breakfast start at 8 or even 9 and then just let the event end a little later? (In case you were wondering,  last year I stayed for all of the after party and after after party and STILL arrived for 7 AM the next day even though I was staying about an hour away from the event venue. This year, because of extenuating circumstances we’ll talk about later, I ducked out after only about an hour of the after party and went to bed so that I would be able to be there the next day at 7 AM in a non-zombie state.)
  • Wifi was very iffy. I appreciated the free wifi. But while it worked like a champ at eOL in Orlando, the wifi in Philly kept going in and out the whole day to the point where it wasn’t really usable. Not very useful.

The So So

  • Some of the sessions were fantastic. Some were “eh.” There’s really no way to know how good a session is going to be until you’re in there. One of the things I’ve noticed over all the eBay events I’ve attended over the years is that the sessions run by non-eBay staff are usually the most uneven (with the exception of Cliff Ennico, who is consistently dynamic and informative). On the flip side, however, the sessions run by eBay staff can often be a bit “Look how cool this feature on eBay is!” instead of “This is how you can use this feature on eBay.” which would be more helpful. You can read between the lines and figure out how said new feature would benefit your business but it would be better if they approached the session that way in the first place. But I realize they see it from the opposite perspective from us so that involves a major brain flip.
  • The food at the PayPal after party was great! The food at the Seller Celebration Dinner was not great. Why couldn’t we have had the good after party food at the actual dinner instead of the crummy stuff we were given? I wasn’t drinking at the PayPal After Party but the consensus of my buddies was Open Bar = Good but Implementation of Open Bar = Terrible. The whole beverage serving situation seemed to be a disorganized mess which was a shame because the food situation was much better than at the same party at eOL Orlando.
  • Swag. I know eBay doesn’t owe us any free stuff but it’s such a big part of conventions in general that I feel obligated to mention it. Without a doubt, eBay Green Team had the best stuff with some really high quality giveaways but that was mostly it. No glow bracelets or other fun eBayana this year which made me a little bit sad.

Was it worth it?

Yes. Even if you blew off every single session (which would be dumb because there is a ton to be learned from even the worst session), it’s worth the price of admission to get the one on one time with eBay staff and to network with other sellers. I firmly believe you can learn a ton just from making small talk with other sellers about how they run their businesses and thinking of how to apply their ideas to what you do. As a more advanced seller, some of the sessions are too basic for me but that’s fine: I’m mostly there to network. For a less experienced seller, there’s an almost overwhelming number of things to learn and you’ll go home with plenty of strategies to try out on your business. (If you have a business partner or spouse and can each attend a different session for each time slot, it’s worth it to do because you’ll learn twice as much.) If there’s an eOL reasonably near to you (or in a place you were planning to take a long weekend in anyway) it’s definitely worth it to go.

One thing I haven’t talked about above (because this is already too long) is that I was in one of the panels at this event. I’ll give you an overview of that in a later post as well as share the video from that discussion.

In summation, it’s clear that these events are evolving. eBay is still trying to figure out the best way to do them and they are going to keep changing as they tweak things and I think that’s fine. It’s still a very beneficial event from both a networking and educational standpoint. That said, both of the eOL’s I attended were because they were reasonably convenient for me (I live in NJ so Philly wasn’t very far and my brother lives in Orlando so attending eOL was an excuse to visit him). Would I fly across the country to attend one more out of my way? I can’t say for sure but I don’t think so because of the extra costs the airfare tacks on.

But let me turn this over to you. If you’ve yet to attend any of these, what stuff are you still wondering about? If you were in attendance at eOL Philly, what is your review of how this event was handled? Was attending this event worth it for you and your business?