Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV)

Don't rely on GMV alone to understand a company's financials

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Gross merchandise volume, or GMV, refers to the total volume in dollars of sales over a given time period on an e-commerce site such as eBay. This figure was commonly used in place of sales or revenue figures in the early days of e-commerce but morphed into a somewhat outdated way that businesses measure the value of a company.

There are a few ways to calculate GMV. The most simple explanation for a retailer is that GMV is the sales price charged to the customer, multiplied by the number of items sold. In other words, if you sell 10 widgets in your eBay store for $100 each, your GMV would amount to $1,000. Put in simpler terms, GMV is another way for you to calculate your gross revenue. 

The Downside of Using GMV

In terms of economics, GMV is a raw figure that doesn't offer much insight into the value of the items sold because it doesn't factor in any costs accrued by the retailer. Additionally, GMV doesn't include discounts or returns, or the cost of keeping and storing inventory before it's sold. It's not even a good predictor of net sales, which are a more accurate representation of a company's overall financial health. Even for e-commerce sites like Amazon, the site revenue is not calculated based solely on the dollar value of items sold.

How GMV Could Be Used on eBay

In the context of eBay, GMV refers to the total volume of dollars of sales on eBay and eBay-branded trading websites in a given economic period. It is commonly used in reference to two kinds of information.

The first is the total volume of goods sold on eBay as a whole, across the entire website, as a measure of eBay's performance and status as a marketplace.

The second way it is used is as an indicator of the total volume of sales by an individual seller over a recent period of time, as a method of monitoring sales performance and business health.

Depending on the context, a seller may be talking about either one or both. For example, "eBay's GMV is slightly down year-over-year, but I'm seeing much worse numbers in my own business where the GMV has fallen 20 percent this month, as compared to last month at this time."

However, this is a flawed measurement, and if you're trying to determine the economic health of an eBay store or any other retailer, a figure like GMV isn't going to offer enough insight. 

A More Accurate Alternative to GMV

If you're examining the earnings of a publicly-traded company, their quarterly ​SEC filings will tell you more about the company when you put them in context. For instance, looking at a company's net income doesn't really mean much unless you have something to compare it to. So, you need to ask yourself, "Is this quarter's figure higher or lower than last year's figure for the same quarter? Is this a pattern of increased revenue, or has revenue been declining? Were there special factors in a given quarter, such as​ the sale of a property, that had a one-time impact on the company's bottom line?

As you can see, using GMV as a way to calculate a company's health just isn't a smart move—especially when there are other options.