Ask Dan : bringing users to your auction site

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Ask Dan logo Dan Wilson, author of “Make Serious Money on eBay UK and Beyond“, online community expert and ex-Community Manager of eBay UK, hosts the first of his “Ask Dan” feature on eBay. If you have a question about buying or selling on eBay, post your question on the “Ask Dan” thread in the TameBay forum and he’ll offer his expert advice. Questions can be anything related to eBay, trading online and online communities. If you want to know, ask the expert.

Question from 0ctavia: Do you have any advice to offer non-eBay auction sites / niche markets which you think could make them more attractive to potential users?

Dan answers:
Building any online community is dependent on two things: people and the platform. Perhaps ironically, eBay has proved that people are in fact more important than the platform (the website). eBay has never been the whizziest, sexiest most beautiful site but it did attract people and the people attracted more people and the virtuous cycle of buyers attracting sellers attracting buyers was established.

With the new sites emerging it’s noticeable that they seem to focus on what they don’t like about eBay and that typically means fees. The sites crow about how they are cheaper but the simple fact is they’re only going to get traction if they concentrate on what people like about eBay.

It’s too easy to say “the fees are too high” but with circa 10 million live listings and hundreds of millions of pounds of sales a month it’s fairly obvious that they are tolerable. Lower fees might attract some sellers, but it’s irrelevant to buyers: one eBay-a-like site actually has their ‘low fees’ message in the most prominent placement on their homepage. If I was a seller on that site I’d be crying out that they change that to a message that spoke to buyers. (Could eBay fees be lower? Certainly, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

So my advice to sites that want a bit of the eBay action is to form a plan and understand what sellers AND buyers like about eBay and take it from there.

Buyers First!
When envisaging your site do it from a buyer’s perspective. There’s very little point building a site that’s suited perfectly to sellers or based around sellers’ grievances.

It’s about sales, stupid.
People care about sales and will pay for sales so how are you going to attract them? Very few of the ‘pretenders’ have managed to get cut through on a marketing front and it’s essential because eBay is a world-class marketing machine. PR and word of mouth are the most powerful levers.

What can you do better than eBay?
You can’t out-eBay eBay, so don’t try. But you might be able to do something better. Is it about going niche? (Etsy is a good example). Can you enhance the experience of buying?

eBay are actually very good at understanding their customers: from the community boards, using research such as focus groups and surveys and also by analysing site usage behaviour, they are pretty switched on. Make sure that you’re listening and most importantly be prepared to make changes.

3 Responses

  1. It is a pity that most of the other auction sites out there insist on taking on eBay by being general auction sites. Take the recently launched Tazbar for example, whilst they have racked up 200K listings this is nothing compared to’s 7 million. An example of a niche site which is doing well by focusing on a particular verticle and strong community is

  2. Trevor, That is the key to taking on eBay. “Death by a thousand cuts” target a niche and do it better than eBay. StubHub, Etsy are great examples.



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