Mpire: evolution of an ebay selling sofware into a Web 2.0 affiliate site

I wear many hats as a marketer, I am an affiliate, I am an online merchant, and i am also an eBay seller. About two years ago I came across a soon-to-be-launching revolutionary new eBay selling tool called Mpire, and since I was paying $30 a month for my selling software then, i was interested in what the new competitor had to offer. I signed up for an “elite beta trial”, and then became a user once the site launched (with great fanfare at ebay live, June 2005) with actual service beginning later that summer. Mpire had an OK eBay selling product, but it had a lot of technical flaws, and they lost all my account information at one point, which was a rather nasty experience. But this is not the point of this post.

In January 2006, they launched an ebay seller research tool that allowed sellers to research products before putting them up for sale on the auction site. Then, in June they launched an eBay buying research site, called “Collectors’ Corner”.

At this point, i began to wonder. At first, all i knew about the company was that they were there to build a great new selling tool for eBay. In fact, the wayback machine turns up this early homepage of them, which announces their great new selling tool. No word on a shopping tool. Launching an eBay research tool for sellers was in line with the initial strategy, since it was a tool focusing on selling on ebay. But then, the shopping tool started to emerge as the real focus of the company. The homepage was taken over by the research tools and the selling tools’ login links were harder and harder to find. As a user, I felt like i wasn’t the focus of the company any more.

Turns out i was right. On November 22nd, 2006 I got an email from mpire announcing that they discontinue their ebay seller tools effective January 31st, 2007. That is, today. So let’s analyze a bit where this company, that had an initial mission statement to build the perfect eBay selling tool, is today.

A look at their homepage today reveals what their new strategy is: they are becoming a web 2.0-ified affiliate site. They put a new spin on product comparison sites by adding price trending, added some great features like RSS feeds, social bookmarking, customer voting on products and deals, and lots of AJAX action (i wonder about their SEO results though… in fact, a quick check confirms they don’t seem to have their deals and product pages indexed properly).

They have a downloadable firefox/IE7 plugin, which overlays product comparison data and deals (not just related to the product itself) on supported shopping sites’ product pages while the user is shopping online. (Gasp - a downloadable affiliate shopping helper…)

While the new features are nice, i am not convinced they have enough competitive advantage to be a destination site - and seeing that they are not well-positioned in Google, they will need to work hard to attract user attention.

Overall, mpire leaves me quite disappointed, because they first lost my trust as a seller when i had problems with their product (they lost all my data overnight), then by abandoning me by changing their focus, and now because i am not too impressed by the new offering. I’ll be following their story nevertheless, because it’s an interesting case study on many levels.

The one positive moral of this story? Affiliate marketing is a hot market. And so is Web 2.0. :)

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Big media as a driver for mainstream adoption of Web 2.0

I came across several posts this week discussing the offline / mainstream press’ role in driving mainstream adoption of web2.0 techniques and services.

First, here is a report comparing offline magazine websites’ web 2.0 features: “Analyzing the presence of American Magazines on the Internet“. They found that 48% of the top 50 most circulated american magazines’ websites uses RSS, and 40% of them have at least one reporter blog.

Then, today I read this post at Read/Write Web on mainstream media’s implementation of social bookmarking and RSS. Their quick scan of some mainstream media websites (and not all of them tech-oriented!) shows that all sites now have RSS feeds, and Time magazine and the NY Times offer all web 2.0 features examined (digg links, etc).

Add to that the fact that IE7 now has RSS support, which could give the final push to RSS for mainsteam consumer adoption. And once a consumer figures out why RSS is cool, it is only a baby step to discovering social sites. Maybe 2007 will be the year of web 2.0 and social media going truely mainstream.

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Spring cleaning your affiliate (or any) business

Spring cleaning may sound funky, considering that we barely passed the first half of January, but it is currently a sunny 15 C (59 F) in Budapest, so I am feeling all spring-cleaningish. I wrote the below article for the March 2006 issue of Affiliate Classroom magazine and I decided it’s high time I posted it here, because it covers an interesting topic that I myself have a lot to work on: goal-setting and evaluation.

The first quarter is the best time to do some housekeeping. In this article, I talk about how to go about evaluating where you are and set your goals for where you want to go with your affiliate (or other business) endeavours, and how to re-vitalize your affiliate business in the new year.
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Busy

I have awfully neglected my blog in recent months, and I do not like that! However, i have been insanely busy with my e-commerce business, which cut into my affiliate time. I hope to pick up the thread soon.

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Taking the affiliate cruise across the ocean: how to access the European market

I am located in Central Europe, so this blog has always had a slight European focus. I have always been interested in international marketing, how cultural issues affect the business environment, and the like. This topic was the subject of the first article I wrote for Affiliate Classroom magazine, and I have to tell you, this article was the easiest one I ever had to write. I had so much to say about the topic, I way overshot the initial 1250 words suggested length. :) The first part covers how to access the European market (where to find European affiliate programs, communities with fellow affiliates, etc.), the second part deals with the nuances of marketing successfully in Europe that you need to keep in mind when building an affiliate business in this market.

I covered some issues and tips that are generally missing from “how to enter a foreign market”-type articles. In fact much of that I learned from my own affiliate business experience, as some of the same issues come up no matter what direction you are taking: being an American affiliate marketer trying to conquer Europe, or (as is my case), a European affiliate marketer targeting the American market.

I hope this helps affiliates who want to target the European market. I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic, experiences in the European market. (Post a comment below or send me email.)
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The new web - revolutionary evolution: Web 2.0 for affiliate marketing

At the risk of upsetting the webosphere by publishing yet another post celebrating the birth of bubble 2.0 web 2.0, I am now posting an earlier article of mine that appeared in April 2006 in Affiliate Classroom magazine. The goal was to introduce the concept of web 2.0 to the affiliate marketing world, so please don’t be upset if you all know this stuff by now. :)
This article was the first installment in a series of articles on web 2.0 and affiliate marketing, that appear monthly in the magazine. I will be posting more of them regularly on this blog, and be sure to check out the latest one at Affiliate Classroom!
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A case study on how you can make tagging work on an e-commerce website

I just read an amazingly cool case study on Marketing Sherpa about tagging and its use in affiliate marketing for an e-commerce company. Cafepress uses tagging to create an organic categorization for its merchandise (when shop owners create products they tag them as they see fit), and then lets its affiliates use custom product banners generated dynamically based on the tags the affiliate specifies for that post / site. As the case study mentions, this is long tail at its best: because cafepress sells products in every conceivable niche on the planet (the critical mass is very important!), this approach leverages the availability of products for even the wildest topics around the internet, resulting in much more relevant advertising than a simple “Sports” or “Apparel” cartegory banner, and much more easy to use for affiliates than handpicking products each time a post / new page is made.

And it works. These ads “get 23% higher clickthrough rates than traditional banners and those clicks convert 12% better than other banner clicks.” Yay for tagging!

See the case study (free acccess for a couple of days only):
MarketingSherpa > Results from CafePress.com Tagging Test — Clicks & Conversions Increase

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Organic Content

I came across an interesting debate recently, started by Derek here: Death to User-Generated Content. He argues that the term “user-generated content” is unfriendly, cold, too technical, a terrible label for the beautiful, amazing, brilliant things people create online. I followed the discussion around the blogosphere and found a comment that hits the nail on the head here: “UGC IS a blight on the industry - but not because the “term” is cold (which it is) - the problem with UGC is that when your primary focus is on the content, you loose. Users aren’t (mentally) creating content when they create content - they are connecting to other users - content is just a by-product of “the conversation”. Those services that enable conversations / transactions are kicking ass - those that are amassing content are not. It’s ebay vs amazon, it’s myspace vs digg, it’s yahoo vs google - the winners will be the players that ignore the content & enable the conversation.”

That really echoes what I had in mind. Derek had a suggestion for the term’s replacement: Authentic Media. That really doesn’t ring well for me, first, “authentic” is heavy and judgmental, and “media” is too connected to an existing establishment in my opinion. User-created content can become a part of the media establishment, but I would keep them separate by definition and allow them to intertwine as needed only.

My suggestion for the term’s replacement would be “organic content”. Nowadays everything is organic from your toothpaste to your search marketing, but that’s not a bad thing if you ask me. :) Organic implies that it’s grassroots, coming from the source, something raw and natural, untamed. I personally wouldn’t mind people sticking this label on the content I create in different nooks and crannies of the web.

And to echo the thought in the comment I quoted above, the term “organic” reinforces that this kind of content is not explicitly “created” (generated) but is a product of an interaction with the web or among its users.

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