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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