eBay are rapidly expanding the number of categories with the mandatory listing using eBay Catalogue data, which is intended to make it easier for buyers to find the products that they’re looking for. However compared with Amazon they still have a long way to go until the entire site is catalogued.
Over the weekend an interesting post appeared on the eBay Tech Blog comparing a “product” with an “item”. They explain the difference between a product and an item as “Suppose seller A on eBay is offering item X and seller B is offering item Y. You purchase both of them. When they arrive, you throw away the shipping containers they arrived in. If you now can’t tell which is X and which is Y, then these items are the same product.”
What’s really interesting is that they do an indepth comparison between the way ecommerce sites categorise items as products with Amazon’s ASIN system. As the ASIN is proprietary to Amazon the only way other sites can link items to products is with ISBN codes for books, and EAN or UPC codes for other products.
Where the post becomes really interesting is when item’s UPC codes are not known or if a product apparently has two valid UPC codes attached to it. Then of course there are products such as clothing which aren’t barcoded or assigned UPC codes in the first place – how do you categories these in a catalogue.
One way could be to build catalogue data for generic products, for instance a mens formal shirt will have certain attributes which could be it’s a “Blue”, “Striped”, “Button Down Collar”, “Single Button Cuff” shirt with a “Breast Pocket”. Whilst the brand may vary between shirts it’s still possible in theory to catalogue clothing items.
The biggest issue for eBay will be when a seller tries to list an item for which there just isn’t a matching product in eBay’s catalogue. For Amazon this is fairly straightforward as sellers can create new ASINs as required. There currently isn’t any such process on eBay.
Even Amazon have problems with their catalogue, there are many products with duplicate entries and two ASINs where there should only be one. There are also issues where Amazon sellers create an ASIN for a generic product and then try to protect it from other sellers listing on that ASIN.
I’ve heard cases where sellers add a sticker with their User Id on a generic product and then claim it’s a branded item to prevent other sellers benefiting from their sales history. eBay currently avoids this by building their catalogue data from external sources but that precludes sellers from adding to the catalogue as new products come onto the market. New products could be as basic as Apple releasing an iPod in a new colour, until eBay’s catalogue is updated sellers can’t list the new colour products using the mandatory catalogue data.
Which method do you prefer when listing either on a marketplace or on your own website. Do you tend to list “Items” which are specific to you, or would you prefer a world where the listing process is “Product” based and you’re listing against an existing product catalogue?
There’s no doubt for buyers that being able to compare prices and service for a product is the simplest way to buy, but for sellers product catalogues bring their own set of problems which don’t occur when simply listings items.