Continuing the discussion of yesterday on community and the role it plays in online selling, I wanted to address another part of community beyond the discussion boards hidden under that little Discussion tab on the eBay site. While this conversation started out as being about eBay, I think it relates to just about any site, especially a site like Bonanzle where the focus during this launch stage is almost more about community than sales.
I touched on this briefly in that other article but there is another part of community that is changing at eBay and that is something I like to call personality.
I know I am an old lady in eBay terms but who else remembers when they first launched the About Me page? Now, that page is a free for all of off site links and an important branding tool for companies selling on eBay. In the beginning, it was mostly photos of the seller’s pets and children and pictures of their interests like their favorite movie posters or vacation spots.
Let’s also talk about the comparatively new My World section of the site. That page wasn’t really designed to be about a company, though it can be adaptable to be another helpful marketing tool. But with sections for your favorite TV shows and books, it is obviously designed to be a page for a person rather than a business.
In the past, eBay pushed little touches like these pages that encouraged eBay members to get to know each other. They wanted users to chat, be friends, socialize. They tried to foster a community of individuals.
In the beginning, every eBay ID represented a single person or, at most, a couple. Now, with increasing frequency, that ID represents a company of anywhere from several people to a staff of hundreds. The “About Me” page in these cases seems awkward as it should really become and About Us and the My World page becomes purposeless, a social networking tool for a company that is there to do business rather than socialize. Do I care with Buy.com’s favorite TV show is?
We ran into this problem with Priced Nostalgia’s My World page. What are Priced Nostalgia’s interests? It’s a company, not a person. In the end, we opted to put down interests that are in line with what the company stands for and sells and, when all else failed, I just put my own interests since I was the poor fool filling it out. But it’s far from ideal.
Now, even many of the eBay IDs that are still a single person represent a company. Companies do not want to get to know each other. You don’t want to become buddies with your competition. As the marketplace got serious, the social interaction became more guarded.
A brand can definitely have personality. But rather than brands with personality, eBay used to be filled with people trying to brand their person.
I have never quite understood the appeal of what I felt was the over-sharing with every purchase. I appreciate your shipping my item promptly, I don’t need to get chain letters from you or see photos of your dog in every listing. Those listings with the hundreds of animated GIFs make me want to smack people. I was rolling my eyes at that kind of stuff for years even though I understood that it was people trying to show their personality. But you see less and less of that now.
People are taking a step back and instead of building a brand around their actual selves, they are creating a company identity and selling from behind that.
Here is what I want to ask: Is that a bad thing? To me, no.
Example? I’d be happy to. Let’s say I sell handbags. I have 4 cats and they are my whole world.
If I’m trying to brand my person, my eBay listings, About Me and My World pages have pictures of me and my kitties. My person, me, is the focus of my listings. This could work if I was really facinating, gorgeous and a very skilled marketer but it’s a hard place to start out from.
Now if I design myself a cute logo with a characterization of myself and my kitties in and around cute handbags, I have created a brand with personality. I have taken my interests and converted them into a marketable image. Cartoon me can be a lot of things that real me can never be.
What’s the difference, you ask? Well, as a buyer, I’m much more likely to buy from the second version of the lady above. For me personally, seeing a photo of a pet in a listing (even though I am myself an animal lover) turns me off because I know that the item will arrive smelling like other people’s animals which is gross to me. The second image also gives the illusion of her having a business that has its act together instead of just being a random lady with her cats. I have all these hang ups and I am a rather understanding buyer since I have been there as a seller.
Can a random lady with cats still run an awesome business? Are there businesses with great logos that have terrible servie? Of course. But as a buyer, that illusion of professionalism makes a big difference.
Which is what this all boils down to. The eBay community and personality of individuals have been replaced by what some see as a marketplace stripped of community because, as the marketplace became increasingly professional, those little details became more glaringly unprofessional and gradually faded away. I just don’t see how this is a bad thing. I can’t help it. I try to catch myself but when i see someone’s ID on a sales sight is just a photo of them or their kids or whatever I subconciously view them as being some kind of Mickey Mouse organization.
The business person in me just wants to completed the sale and move on. I don’t want to know how Amazon feels about me buying from them, I just want to do the sale and move on with my already busy life. If I want to make friends, I will seek them out in a social setting or outside the site. I don’t want to have to be forced into awkward quasi friendship with my seller just because I bought something from them.
Now, of course, there are still plenty of people on eBay, Bonanzle , Etsy, etc who still have picture of their pets, children and whatever else they are personally interested in all over their profile but, in some ways, they are becoming a dying breed. Amazon, the biggest eBay rival yet, has the least personality or community of any selling marketplace yet and they are consistantly praised. So is there a real need for it?
I would especially like to hear from some Bonanzle and Etsy people on this because they so often praise community on those site and highlight it as being better than eBay.
I know this post dances around the issue of small seller vs large seller. Don’t think I’m not aware of that but that is a post for another day. In the meantime:
Do you miss the personal photos and info?
Is it an important part of the sale to you to feel like you are getting to know your buyer or seller?
Have you ever shied away from buying from someone because their listing was too unprofessional?
How have you changed your business over the years?
How much of a role to photos of your, your family, your pets, etc feature into your store?