Recently, I was on eBay in search of an out-of-print book. I don’t purchase a great quantity of items from eBay. However, I’ve had enough interaction with the site to appreciate it for what it is. After I found the book and placed my bid, I navigated away from the site and went about my day, with little to no thought towards the item. I noted that the auction would be active for four days. I opted not to worry about being outbid, as the book was not something overtly mainstream. It turns out that someone else also had their eye on this item, and I was outbid and lost the auction at the last minute.

For those not familiar with the eBay formula: when you bid, you have the option of putting in your maximum bid. If you’re outbid, you’ll get a notification via email that you’re now no longer on the “leader board”. This little experience got me thinking about how online commerce sites (such as eBay and Craigslist) don’t typically utilize social media platforms. I actually found this discovery to be quite unusual given the strength of the existing community. As I waded through the mountain of e-mails and found eBay’s outbid e-mail notification, I came to realize that if I had been notified via Twitter, I may have had a better chance to bid again. I’m simply able to respond to Twitter faster than email.

When I look at eBay as a stand-alone site, I can see that it has a thriving community of experts, ambassadors and retailers. At any given time, you can initiate a live chat with eBay staff, open up a walkthrough guide, and participate in scheduled chats for the community. However, there are no active social media platforms on the site itself. Unless you happen to be part of the community already, there is no outreach; no Twitter or Facebook handles. I found this to be particularly unusual since it’s an e-commerce site based on social interaction.

Let’s look specifically at the active retailers on eBay. If I was a retailer selling a pair of shoes, I would want as much exposure as I could get for the item. Thus I would not only upload visuals; I’d have a Twitter handle for my online business, so bidders could receive immediate updates on the item and be notified of new items for sale. Not only would it allow me to have a better relationship with my customers, but I’d be at an major competitive advantage, as my updates would be much more direct.

Electronics is another example. If I was an eBay retailer with a YouTube account, I could provide immediate hands-on video of the items. Seeing the items first-hand in action on a video would be very enticing to my customers. And given the volume of sales for “used” items, a consumer would feel more comfortable seeing the item live “in action” vs. taking a chance and bidding on a photograph and description. By involving new platforms such as these, you can expand your business outside by eBay onto other avenues, such as Facebook. Since you can open basic accounts for Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube for no cost, I’m surprised that more retailers in general aren’t taking advantage of this opportunity.

If you look at eBay itself as an entity, the opportunities are boundless. From a branding point of view, eBay has done an excellent job in reaching their audience. However, they could further that by having a face behind the staff, and opening the community to the social media environment. eBay can advocate bringing on more business by reaching a broader audience. Something as simple as having a YouTube channel, with seminars on how to bid for items eBay, would greatly expand the baseline of the community. Although eBay is not complex, it does take some time to learn how it works, despite the online help. Existing ambassadors using “Tweets” would bring the brand to the next level of engagement. I’m interested to see if users of eBay start bringing in social media independently, or if eBay itself will take the leap forward and integrate it as a natural evolution of its brand.

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