eBay language study reveals what's in a word

Ebay news

A “gent” can expect to pay twice as much as a “man” and “authentic” products fetch up to 50 per cent more than “genuine” ones, according to unique academic analysis of the language used on eBay.

Researchers at Birmingham City University trawled more than 68,000 items listed and sold on the auction giants’ UK site, to find out how online sellers choose to describe their products.

The studies, which spanned more than 15 million words, revealed patterns in language which significantly changed the price buyers could expect to pay for similar goods.

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Birmingham City University

Among the results it was shown that “men’s” watches sold for an average of £30 while “gents’” went for £70, and fragrances labelled “genuine” fetched £21 but “authentic” ones set buyers back £34.

Similarly, users paid nearly three times as much for “on-ear” headphones as “in-ear” headphones (£25 to £71) while a watch with “resistance” can expect to attract nearly 50 per cent more than a “resistant” watch (£85 to £59).

Grammatical errors such as missing apostrophes and internet speak were also found to have a negative impact on the price products sold for.  

Researchers Andrew Kehoe and Matt Gee from Birmingham City University’s School of English were behind the study.

Kehoe said: “People often think of eBay as a way of getting rid of household junk and unwanted gifts but it actually contains a wide range of products in 35 different categories. The variation between those categories is really interesting from a linguistic perspective.”

The words were analysed using the team’s WebCorp software, which has been used extensively in research and teaching worldwide since launching over 15 years ago.

For this project, product listings were downloaded from eBay over a 70 day period before being analysed using WebCorp’s specialist tools.

Research also found that antique sellers were the most likely to use a personal connection to sell products with words like “I”, “me” and “my”, appearing more frequently than in any other category and making up 20 per cent of the most popular words used.

Elsewhere used car sellers were found to shy away from the term “second-hand” with only nine instances of the phrase found among nearly 1,000 sold.

Instead traditional car sales speak was found, with phrases like “honest”, “reliable”, “clean” and “reluctant” all among the top terms.

Kehoe added: “The term ‘second-hand’ seems to have a stigma attached when it comes to cars, but people will happily use it to sell smaller items like books or DVDs. We've found that the language used in eBay descriptions really does have an impact on whether items sell and for how much.”

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