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28

Mar 2011

Has eBay given up on being eBay?

Posted in Business tactics | 0 Comments

Two-point-four billion dollars. The highest purchase eBay’s ever made, and now GSI Commerce is theirs, they’ve got access to a mind-numbing amount of brands, in an ongoing attempt to transform themselves from the site that’s sold everything from your old wardrobe to one person’s virginity and someone else’s blackness, to something more similar to Amazon.

Sadly, it’s not going to work. If you found yourself on the principles of an open market, an auction house that allows anyone to sell almost anything, and find success beyond your wildest dreams, you have one main advantage: your service tends to make Amazon’s Marketplace look fairly bad.

A crisis meeting may have been called. Evidence that Amazon Marketplace is, in fact, very reliable, was probably shown to company directors. And of course, most eBay users do not log on to buy anything from eBay itself.

In their new direction, I think this may be what eBay are missing – they are not an online shop to most people. They are the site where people sell their stuff, nothing but a middle-man. To start selling products out of their own garage is going to throw people, slightly. I’ve seen their brand pages, and even after getting over my aversion to eBay a wee while back (my old argument being it’s being run by anonymous users with infinitely less accountability than corporations – incorrect, I know), I wouldn’t touch them with a tent pole.

It’s worth asking what makes me feel that way, and I guess the answer would simply be that they’re not a company I buy things from, just a site I use to buy things from random people around the world. I’d stick with that angle, because no one’s ever going to out-do them.

Competing with Amazon, even if you’re just as big, if not even bigger, is a fairly silly idea. As is Microsoft’s attempt to rival Google’s eponymous engine with Bing. It begs the question of why, exactly, companies this large haven’t yet realised that they are their own brand. Amazon is “buy new stuff, at a shop on the web.” eBay is “bid on auctions”. They all have their unique angles, and bar Apple and Google, no one’s done that well by attempting to branch out.

Arguably, the range of brands is impressive, with GSI Commerce having deals with everyone from Ralph Lauren to Hewlett-Packard. The problem this raises is that sellers are now going to need to slash their prices.

It’s a buyer’s market – if I know eBay’s doing a Ralph Lauren polo for £80, I can guarantee someone’s selling it, with postage costs included, for £75. It looks like a bizarre eventuality, of eBay competing in a price-war with its own users. Then again, if it wasn’t going well, it wouldn’t be expanding, so we’ll wait and see.

Still getting my new stuff from sellers and Amazon, though. For now.

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22

Oct 2010

Bing/Facebook vs. Google: the social media battle continues

Posted in Social Media | 0 Comments

This week Bing seriously upped their game by teaming up with the Facebook developers to try once again to make Bing search results more social.

The idea is that after someone conducts a search on Bing, they will be able to see which of their Facebook friends have ‘Liked’ whatever it is they have searched for. The results which have been ‘Liked’ by your friends will come up at the top of the search results. Bing believes that this will make the results mean more for users who will gain more from the search.

At the moment it only works in the US, but if it does well Microsoft and Facebook plan to bring it to the rest of the world.

But what about Google, which currently has the market dominance? Google has added a ‘Shared by’ link. Their SERPs already incorporate real-time results and the number of times people have shared the article. It also shows you mentions on social-networks.

The difference between Bing and Google’s offerings is that Bing will show you which of your friends ‘Liked’ something, so you don’t just know that it may be popular but can put a face to the ‘liking’.

The question is, do we really need to see which of our friends have ‘Liked’ something we are searching for on Bing? Is it not enough to see that they like your mate’s picture or your amusing status update? And will it really make any difference to your consumer choices?

According to Bing we are constantly calling on our friends to make decisions. For example what was the film like? Do you think that dress is nice? We want to know their opinions and while they might not make up our minds for us, they will probably influence our choices.

At Microsoft’s Silicon Valley headquarters in Mountain View earlier this month, Mashable was live blogging from the event and reported the following:

‘Zuck is going back to when Facebook got started. “From studying psychology, I knew that a huge amount of people’s brains is focused entirely on processing information about people.” Emotions, expressions etc. This is the most interesting information that people track around the world — it’s hard-wired into us.’

There is certainly something of the truth in this, we do want to know about others around us. However what happens if, to take the example used by Bing, we are looking for a good steak restaurant in San Francisco? We search for it in Bing, the results come up and we’ll probably just choose one of the first results. But with the integration of Facebook, we will see what our ‘friends’ on Facebook have ‘liked’. This of course relies on the fact that our friends are searching for similar things that we are.

Also, I don’t know about you, but a lot of the people on my Facebook are not actually my close friends. If for example someone who I believe has bad taste ‘Likes’ something, I will be even less likely to visit the place. I don’t know whether this means I should do some serious ‘Friend’ culling on Facebook or whether there is a flaw in Bing’s latest developments.

But let’s face the hard facts. In the UK google has roughly  a 90% share of the search engine market, whereas Bing has about 4%. In the US Google has a 71% share and Bing has about 10%. So, we’re not talking about Bing merely being a little behind Google in the market, it is a long way off being the most-used search engine.

By joining up with Facebook though, Bing is upping it’s game. Facebook is, as we know huge and constantly growing, and the network certainly has an impact on internet trends and what people are doing and buying. But it may need more than that to compete with Google. Especially as Google is realising, that it doesn’t matter what size your business is and how well you are doing, you need to get involved with social media or you’re going to get left behind.

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13

Aug 2010

What has Bing advert overload done to us?

Posted in Business tactics, Social Media | 0 Comments

Not sure about you, but the Bing adverts have, as of late, become one of my most despised advertising campaigns. The endless noise and dubious message that any other search engine is going to give you unrelated results, and the implication that we’ve all seemingly got some kind of mental disorder where tangential conversation techniques are the only way to go.

Allow me to de-bunk this marketing campaign, if you will.

First off, take a look at these figures. These were released in July 2010 – before and during the “information overload” advert campaign, which is still   going. Yahoo’s share of the UK search engine market has fallen by a couple percent, leaving it third to Bing.

This all sounds hunky-dory until you consider that their combined market share is still equivalent to what it was before. Bing has consumed part of Yahoo’s slice of the online pie, but Google’s still got the same amount of pastry, crumbs and cherries in sauce it had a year ago. Dominance over the market second-comer is not an achievement, not when you’re supplying the search technology for your competitor and their market share was below 5% to begin with.

But the advert asks an interesting question: what has information overload done to us? This is a valid question, and one that it’s taken a Microsoft ad campaign to make us ask of ourselves. Personally, information overload now means I’m learning more than I was ten years ago in my spare time. It means I can research and reference in the space of a minute, and nothing is too complex now as sites covering a single subject help us to study along a gradient of complexity.

Google has, unfortunately for Microsoft’s Bing engine, sealed the market shut, and if in ten years it became the West’s only search engine I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. After all, it works well for what I need it to. Make sure you’re preferring UK results (especially when shopping), stick Safesearch to strict to filter out the waves of immaturity in Google Images, and you’re laughing.

But what if it didn’t work so well? The problem with a monopolistic market share in technology is that consumers tend to flail in panic, en masse, when something goes seriously wrong. Take the iPhone 4, for example. One moment it’s the Messiah, the next we’ve digitally lynch-mobbed Apple to the point that the man at the head of the operation “decided to leave”.

“Digital lynching” is an interesting phrase, and one a colleague coined recently. Apple’s Anntennagate martyr, and HP’s CEO are suffering from the same melodramatic backlash from the public – social media tirades. Twitter has become the new forum for slamming public figureheads, and trending and hash-tags allow this to happen. But are big jobs suffering for it? If Google’s Android system is successfully sued and the funding goes down the toilet, the OS with it, will Twitter turn on Oracle, or Google?

It brings me back to thinking about Bing. Is it a good thing? Do we need a wider choice? I’d say so. Google’s a fantastic search engine, but when one company gets a monopolistic hold on the market, almost no one holds a hand up and says “stop”. However, if it was to happen in government, there’d be protests on the streets.

Tyranny is no different in business, the only change is that your money’s going to Apple for your phone, Microsoft (or Apple again) for your computer and Oyster for your travel (if you’re in London), rather than paying your taxes to whichever party is currently dominating the ballot box. Are we now more subsceptible to marketing than we ever were? Is Bing just another pusher? What has information overload done to us?

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