The most profitable words on eBay

BCU researchers have analysed over 68,000 eBay listings in order to find the most successful language used on the online marketplace. 

Ebay cart



Academics from the School of English have researched into the way that language is used in eBay listings by analysing over 68,000 items that are sold on the website. In order to do this, the researchers downloaded product listings over a 70 day period and used specialist WebCorp software (developed by the University's Research & Development Unit for English Studies) to analyse the results.These results were then analysed by recognising patterns in language that changed the amount of money that buyers would be prepared to pay for the item.


By conducting this study, the researchers aimed to:

  • Discover links from the language used in listings to the amount paid for the item
  • Investigate ways that sellers can maximise the amount of money made from a listing using language
  • Find trends in the use of language by sellers on eBay 


The results revealed that users will pay more for a ''gents'' watch (£70) than a ''men's'' watch (£30) and fragrances described as ''genuine'' sold for less (£21) than an ''authentic'' perfume priced at £34. It was also discovered that ''on-ear'' headphones were sold for three times as much (£71) as ''in-ear'' headphones (£25). Watch sellers that said that the watch had ''resistance'' attracted a higher price than a regular watch, at £85. Results of the analysis showed that grammatical errors, e.g. missing apostrophes and internet speak had a negative impact on the pricing of items.

The findings also uncovered that the antique category used personal connections the most, using words such as 'I', 'me' and 'my'. Those selling cars, stuck to traditional cars sales speak by using phrases like 'honest' and 'reliable', rather than calling them 'second-hand'. 

The research was featured widely in the press, including The MirrorDaily Mail and Techradar

'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' - Andrew Kehoe