eBay, Others Trip Over Each Other to Define Social Commerce

On the same day that a start-up is launching with the goal of being eBay with a social twist, the online auctions giant is also unveiling some of its own plans for social commerce.

While the two events are a coincidence, it demonstrates the intense interest to figure out a way to connect shopping more closely to your interests and the people you know.

The company launching its beta site today is Copious, a San Francisco-based start-up that envisions connecting buyers and sellers using information from Facebook and Twitter to strip away some of the anonymity that is found on sites like eBay and Craigslist.

Meanwhile, eBay VP and head of eBay North America Christopher Payne is delivering a keynote today at Internet Retailer in San Diego to talk about some of the features eBay is launching later this year.

So far, eBay’s social efforts have been limited.

eBay launched Group Gifts last year, which helped various people pitch in money using PayPal to buy a gift together for someone, and last month, it hired former Yahoo exec Don Bradford to lead the company’s social commerce efforts.

Payne said social has been more difficult to figure out compared to other new platforms, like mobile, but it’s still a priority. “Social is a top-level initiative. It’s something that leaders are spending a considerable amount of energy on,” he said.

What Payne will be unveiling today is two new social features, including the ability to log in to your Facebook account on eBay’s homepage to get product recommendations based on your past purchasing habits on eBay and things you have “liked” on your Facebook page, such as movies, books and music.

The other social feature will allow users to post multiple products to their Facebook page to get their friends’ opinions about purchases. In this picture, for example, it demonstrates how users would ask friends to vote on which laptop they should buy.

Both features are expected to be live on the site later this year.

Meanwhile, Copious is starting over from scratch. In February, the company raised $2 million in capital from Foundation Capital, Embarcadero Ventures, BlackBerry Partners Fund, Google Ventures and other angels.

The founders are Jonathan Ehrlich, former head of marketing at Facebook, Rob Zuber, who has worked at YooHoot, Adperk and Critical Path, and Jim Rose, who previously co-founded multiple companies, including Mobshop, an early group-buying company.

Ehrlich said they are launching the beta so soon because they had to — it’s almost impossible to test a marketplace behind closed doors.

“We want to learn as quickly as we can. There’s lots of things we nailed and I’m sure there’s things we screwed up,” he said.

Copious believes by helping to identify the buyers and the sellers, users can make more informed decisions about what they are buying. The mantra is: “Buy from and sell to real people, not strangers.” While even on Copious you may not know the seller, it connects people to their Facebook page, their Twitter account or a blog. It may also reveal that a friend has purchased from that seller in the past.

A more obscure social feature on Copious lets sellers offer different prices based on their relationship with the buyer. For instance, if buyers are willing to post the purchase to their Facebook page, they could get a discount in return for the advertising plug.

Copious does not charge sellers for listing their products on the site, but instead charges a flat transaction fee of 10 percent (discounted to 3.5 percent for a limited time).

There are many other companies dabbling in this space, including Oodle, which is the exclusive provider of classified ads on the Facebook Marketplace, or other companies like Payvment, which is focused on building storefronts within Facebook.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work