May 31, 2006, 12:00 AM

What`s Hot

eBay is rolling out sales and search data on millions of transactions at eBay.com - creating a new business tool for eBay sellers and the rest of retail.

One of the most-searched venues on eBay hasn’t been a particular product or product category, and eBay users don’t go there because they are looking for an item to buy or sell. They’re looking for information-for what items already have been searched or sold on eBay, when, and at what price.

It’s the Completed Listings area of eBay.com and it’s been attracting a growing volume of traffic. In September 2005, eBay users conducted an astonishing 40 million searches in completed listings, first searching on a product, then clicking the Completed Listings box in the left navigation bar for a sort on sales that have been completed, then manually sifting through lists of transactions for intelligence on how the eBay marketplace is behaving and clues to guide selling or buying strategies. Responding to 40 million searches a month, eBay in October launched an offering that organizes historical transactional data into a service called Marketplace Research.

193 million users

While eBay users can still view completed listings for free, Marketplace Research is a fee-based service. Fees range from $3 for a few days to a monthly $25, depending on the duration of data access and the feature set involved. The difference is that the Marketplace Research service interface offers a graphical, tabulated view of the non-aggregated data visible in completed listings, the data view can go 90 days back instead of 15 days as in completed listings, and users can customize their searches to get the transactional data they want on a regular, recurring basis.

That’s handy for retailers and others selling on the eBay platform. But here’s why it should interest the rest of retail as well-and why, starting in June, a category-specific snapshot of data from Marketplace Research will be a regular feature on InternetRetailer.com: with 193 million registered users, what happens on eBay is increasingly indicative of what’s happening in the online marketplace at large.

“We are sitting on a treasure trove of information with this transactional data,” says Karl Wiley, senior director of the technology and media categories. “We think of this as a barometer for what’s going on in consumer preferences across any category. EBay sells used and refurbished products but it also sells a lot of new products. So it’s as good as a real-time gauge for general consumer demand, not just secondary market demand.” Real time is a key part of the service’s value proposition, says Wiley, as it draws from data on transactions as they close in contrast to lag time associated with other services that batch data reporting.

EBay took September’s record traffic figures to completed listings as confirmation it was on track with the new service, by then already in development. Beyond its observation of the rising traffic, the company also did research. One survey of its active seller community showed, for example, that 70% believe that access to more data would help them increase sales.

Barry Bonds’ ups and downs

Marketplace Research is not the only way to get at an organized view of eBay transactional data. The company has for the past few years licensed data to providers such as Andale and TerraPeak, who have built it into their own marketplace tools and services. This is the first time eBay has sold a specialized interface to its own transactional data directly to consumers. The interface’s direct integration into the user’s eBay account and the access to customizable real-time data on transactions are among the value-added features justifying the fee, according to eBay.

So just how can a retrospective view of buying and selling activity affect planning? Here’s how: A recent chart plotted by Marketplace Research showed the number of items sold and the average selling price of merchandise relating to San Francisco Giants player Barry Bonds as he approached Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Activity and prices on those items jumped on or around days he hit home runs and got closer to the record. A seller or retailer with Barry Bonds memorabilia could use that insight to list items based on potential days the record could be broken.

The utility of such information isn’t limited to individual sellers or to eBay, according to Wiley. Among the broader uses of the data he cites is merchandising. If an online retailer wants its site optimized for the hottest products of the moment, looking at sales and search volume for different products in real time from over 100 million registered users in the U.S. alone provides direction. “It’s one thing to know that the iPod Nano is hot. But what you may not know is whether it’s the 4 GB model that’s really hot, or the 2 GB. You can piece together this information very easily and then decide that instead of putting up the 2 GB, which no one really wants, you will put up the 4 GB which is selling like hotcakes,” Wiley says.

A proxy

For a retailer with limited capital to put behind different product lines, what seems to be moving at a higher volume or price on eBay is a kind of proxy for the Internet at large, which can make buying and selling data potentially useful for sourcing. For example, the iPod Mini did well a year ago, but the model has since been phased out. But if activity around the iPod Mini on eBay shows user interest, acquiring a lot of the product from a wholesaler or distributor at a closeout price could be a smart on-the-spot buy for the right retailer or seller. “A lot of your competitors might be waiting for reports that come out a month or two after the fact,” says Wiley.

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