Discrimination & Anonymity in Internet Selling

Ebay Amazon LogoOne of the most interesting aspects of internet selling is anonymity.  The mild mannered insurance salesman sells hardline harley motorcycle gear on the internet.  The shy Ohio housewife sells racy red silk lingerie as Mimi an immigrant from Paris France.  Because the buyer on the internet can’t see a balding head, or mousy dress, and make any assumptions.  This type of anonymity has positive and negative consequences to an internet business.

The positive consequence of anonymity is that discrimination, or generalization due to a sellers appearance is all but eliminated, but it also creates a problem.  It is difficult to create buyer trust for an internet product, or seller.  In a typical brick and mortar store a wary customer can converse freely, and develop a bond with a seller leading to a purchase.  On the internet, there are very few opportunities for conversation and/or communication of any kind before purchasing.  So, for an internet seller, the buyer will trust you as much as they trust the venue you sell in.  In other words, we internet sellers are at the mercy of the reputation of the venue we sell in.

Take eBay selling as an example.  Mention that you sell on eBay, and the common comment is “I have bought things on eBay, and I haven’t been taken yet”.  Ebay is seen as the arena for stolen goods, the fence for crap from dumpsters, the lying description that suckers you into paying too much for that “gotta have” one of a kind item.   The consequence is what many sellers call the eBay “discount”.  You have to sell cheap on eBay to overcome the buyers distrust of eBay sellers.  Buyers are only willing to risk so much money buying items from sellers they don’t trust.

On the other hand, Amazon sellers are pretty non-existent as individuals.  But it doesn’t seem to matter.  Buyers are flocking to Amazon to purchase the same products sold on eBay, and paying more for them.  Sometimes, Amazon buyers are purchasing from an eBay seller who is selling the same product on Amazon and eBay, and the Amazon buyers are paying more.  Why?  Is it because Amazon has a better reputation, and creates more trust in the buyer?

Perhaps a combination of individual and corporate anonymity are working against eBay, and for Amazon?  When a problem with a purchase arises, eBay tends to put the blame on the seller when communicating with buyers, and Amazon just fixes the problem by offering unconditional returns.  Can the problem with buyer trust in eBay be changed for the better?  Will the changes eBay is making to the venue increase buyer trust?  It will be interesting to see the numbers a year from now.

But for now, anonymity on the internet can be fun, but might also be working against eBay sellers bottom line .



  1. says

    Great points… we sold on ebay full time for almost 5 years and the ebay seller was always to blame when things went wrong, rarely was it eBay’s problem.

    We now sell on Amazon. Our customer service, or the attention we have to pay to what is going on is a mere fraction of what it was on eBay. Our repeat business on eBay was 70-75%, and needed. Our repeat buyers on Amazon, less than 5% I would guess, and not needed.

    Amazon does take care of just about all the customer service issues there are, so even if we have a disgruntled buyer, they probably wouldn’t be back anyway. Great post, thanks. Scott

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