Home eBay’s New Services Are Chaotic – But Will They Still Be Profitable?

eBay’s New Services Are Chaotic – But Will They Still Be Profitable?

this week
eBay launched ToGo Widgets for any
. These slick, Flash-based widgets can be embedded into blogs, social network
profiles and in general any page that does not explicitly forbid Flash. The idea is
simple – let users promote their eBay activity everywhere online. Sounds simple – and one
can’t help but wonder what took them so long? To answer this question, we decided to look
at other things that eBay has released recently, to try to decipher the strategy and
competitive plays of this web giant.

New Services from eBay

The bottom section of eBay’s from page features their new releases. Right away we
noticed that there is a big range of services aiming at different user activities. The
first service is Deal Finder, a combination of a simple dashboard and
search that allows users to see featured hot deals – as well as search for hot deals by
keyword. The ‘hotness’ of the deal is determined by a combination of price and expiration
of the auction.

The next service is called eBay My World, which is an attempt at
personalized/shared pages. It is very basic and raw, to the point that it would be
difficult to imagine people using it. This is meant to be an eBay specific profile, blog
and an aggregate of both preferences and stores – but it just feels like a lot of work
for the user to do from scratch.

The next service is eBay Express
. eBay Express is just a quick way to bypass auctions and to do straight
shopping. With Express, when you find an item you can purchase it at a fixed price. So
having the WishList feature here is quite handy.

eBay Pop is probably the coolest of all the new features. It is a stock-market
style elegant view of eBay popularity trends. It’s slick and gadgety – and even from a
quick look it is quite meaningful. This piece of eBay is powered by a Seattle-based
comparison shopping company called mpire.

Finally, Map it service allows you to search and organize eBay
listings georgraphically. In addition to standard search terms, the user has to supply a
city or a zip code to get the results. The results feature a fairly boring map from
MapQuest and every listing has a distance in miles from the specified zip code.
Craigslist works great geographically, because it is about classifieds; but why would it
matter where my iPod is coming from? Possibly difference in shipping costs, but this
seems to be such a trivial feature that it should be part of the main eBay search
interface. As it stands, it is difficult to see any good use for this particular new

To summarize, while some of these new eBay offerings are interesting and could be
adopted by eBay members, collectively they don’t really make sense. The lack of an
integrated user experience, a coherent UI and understanding of the user flow, plays
against wide acceptance of these services. Since each service is done by a different team
and has its own UI language and metaphors, the users are going to be confused.

eBay does Widgets

Next we take a deeper look at the ToGo widget service. The verdict is that it’s slick,
fun and impressive. There are three types of widgets: single item, multiple items or
search. Techies and visual effect afficionadoes will be pleased with the intelligent use
of effect – both to configure the widgets as well as looking inside the widgets. A single
auction widget can be created either by keying in the item id or browsing through the

Since auctions expire, the eBay widget team came up with a clever reason to compel the
user to keep the widget up and running. After expiration, the widget will show a listing
of items based on a certain keyword. This is clever, but it is unclear if users will use
this feature – or just take down the widget.

Will distributed auctions work?

Technically, the eBay widget falls a bit short of a distributed auction – because
bidders need to click though to the eBay webpage in order to place a bid. Nevertheless,
it comes pretty close. It’s been said many times that widgets are very useful in this era
of the Web, as Fred Wilson explained eloquently on
his blog. His four rules state:

  • Microchunk it – Reduce the content to its simplest form.
  • Free it – Put it out there without walls around it or strings on it.
  • Syndicate it – Let anyone take it and run with it.
  • Monetize it – Put the monetization and tracking systems into the microchunk.

So it is a great move for eBay to have widgets. Having an army of eBay users use these
flashy (pun intended) widgets everywhere can only help drive traffic to each auction –
and ultimately growth of the eBay user base. It is likely that in the next iteration, if
things go well, eBay is going to let users transact without needing to go
to the eBay website. This will be a truly distributed auction system and it is likely to
work well.

So are their negatives or drawbacks? One thing that looks like a mistake on eBay’s
part is that the widgets are too big to fit into a blog sidebar. Having widgets in the
post is okay, but posts come and go. eBay needs to release a widget that fits into the
vertical sidebar of a blog, so that it can occupy the site permanently. But this is
probably going to be fixed soon, based on initial user feedback.


The new eBay widgets are a great move and likely to be just the beginning of their
widget distributed strategy. However, looking beyond just widgets, eBay’s odd mix of Web
services and lack of a holistic user experience for them all is problematic. 

The company appears to be going down a few paths at once, looking for killer services
to add to its core auctions. However the lack of coherence in the interfaces and
inconsistent metaphors are things that need addressing. While natural systems are known
to almost magically self-organize and breed order out of chaos, Web systems are best when
they are engineered and designed. It is possible that eBay could turn its services chaos
into dollars, but it is likely to be much more effective if it unifies, cleans up and
messages out its offerings – in a single consistent way.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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