What You Can Learn About Web Design and Storytelling from eBay

Every website tells a story.

EBay Home Page imageEven online auction sites. Take eBay, one of the original online auction sites, and perhaps the most popular. It engages users in several different ways to draw them into the site and tell story behind the products available there.

It does this in six major ways:

  1. Multiple forms of navigation: eBay has multiple ways for users of its site to dive into the content. Categories, the Buy or Sell landing pages, Daily Deals, Stores and more. This choice of navigation is imperative. No user is alike, so when building complex Web sites, one must cater to all those in the potential audience. In eBay’s case, that’s anyone willing to buy something online.
  2. Clean, crisp headlines: “Free shipping on top picks” can certainly capture one’s attention, especially since free shipping promotions generally attract a lot of potential customers. However, they wouldn’t notice without the simple, clear copy and the color change that helps it stand out.
  3. Photos: Let’s face it. We are a visual society. Crisp copy is great, but no one will ever look at it without some striking images. If you’re a customer, looking to buy something on eBay, browsing that Free Shipping module becomes an exercise in bouncing from photo to photo, not word to word. If you see a photo that interests you, you then connect the dots via the copy.
  4. Call to Action: One sees three major calls to action on the page: Shop Now, Register and Sign In. One could argue four, since the ad for the Narcisco Rodriguez clothes has such a dark background that it stands out against the white background on the rest of the site. Without these, customers may never interact with a site.
  5. Featured Content: And speaking of the Narcisco Rodriguez clothes ad, that’s featured content. They’re attempting to drive people to that particular product, and it works well, as mentioned, because of the color.
  6. Neighborhoods: Let’s say you jump into the site via the traditional route of clicking one of the categories on the far left. I clicked video games. Once there, you can click into Neighborhoods on the right of the page. I explored the Video Games neighborhood. Here’s where eBay is most interactive, especially for those who never intend to buy a product. These communities have conversations, product information and reviews. It’s a growing, ever-changing resource that can engage and attract traffic daily.

Ebay’s Neighborhoods hold the most power in terms of interactive features. Tons of content lives there, much of it not created by eBay staff, which is great from a business standpoint.

What’s the story here?

We sell anything to everyone.

Not very inspiring. That’s a dilemma for any retail site with a wide customer base.

I wanted to see if anyone could do it better.

Etsy does.

The site isn’t a traditional auction site, instead simply offering things for sale. However, Etsy has many similarities to eBay, including a major one: it empowers users to sell their products.

With a quick glance of the site its better for a few reasons:

  • The design is cleaner and more pleasing. The photos are more varied in composition, size and color. The colors are bold, but muted.
  • Its featured content relies on unique illustrations for images (something no doubt important and endearing to its audience).
  • It has a chance for customers to vote (interact) on something at the top of the page.
  • It has a featured sellers story, to help engage customers with story.
  • Plus, it has all those things that eBay does.

The story here? We’re like you, and we happen to sell cool, unique stuff we bet you’ll like.

Granted, each site caters to different needs and customers, but if they sold exactly the same products – which site would you buy from?

The story is clear.

Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Interactive Media Management and Economics about the interactivity of online auction sites.