Can Exploring the eBay Category Tree Teach You How to be a Top Seller?

Can Exploring the eBay Category Tree Teach You How to be a Top Seller?

Lucy Hayes

eBay plays host to over 1 billion product listings worldwide, so how do you make sure your listings don’t get lost in the crowd?

Choosing the right categories means eBay can correctly match your products to user searches, so potential buyers are more likely to see your listings than those of your competitors. But how do you optimise your listings to increase your chances of becoming a top seller in your chosen category? By analysing top seller data from the 30 million listings ListSmart mines every day, our data scientists have gained an insight into what it takes to rise above the competition in different categories.

Understanding the eBay category tree

During our analysis we found a total of 13,874 possible product categories by which to filter listings on eBay. This starts with 35 “root nodes” at the very top which separate products into broad categories such as Fashion, Electronics and Motors. The number of categories quickly multiplies as you further specify the product’s attributes, such as what type of vehicle part or sporting good you are looking for. The result is a tree-like organisation, as shown below, where each of the 35 root nodes branches into an increasing number of “leaf categories”. At the bottom level there are on average 396 categories for every root node.

eBay Category Tree

This hierarchical organisation of products allows for very precise product categorisation and discovery, making it possible for eBay to accurately match listings to user searches. But how does knowing this help you become a top seller? During our analysis we found that the best performing listings in different leaf categories tend to have certain things in common. By learning to emulate the behaviour of these top sellers, you can massively increase your chances of joining them.

How many item specifics does it take to make a sale?

Looking at top sellers’ use of item specifics across four different leaf categories shows us how differently these are used in the most popular listings for different types of products. As the below diagrams of the analysed leaf categories show, the number of item specifics top sellers use varies significantly both within and between leaf categories.

In the following diagrams, the vertical axis shows the number of listings and the horizontal axis the number of item specifics an individual listing has. For the leaf category ‘Brake Discs’ we can see that top sellers use anywhere from a mere 2 item specifics to as many as 26. However, the distribution is lumpier towards the single-digit level showing that top sellers of brake discs tend to use between 2 and 9 item specifics. In contrast, the distribution of item specifics used by top sellers in the ‘Sofas’ category looks a lot tighter.

Brake Disc eBay Item Specifics Distribution

Diagram 1: item specific distribution in ‘Brake Discs’ leaf category

Sofa eBay Item Specific Distribution

Diagram 2: item specific distribution in ‘Sofas’ leaf category

Looking at the distribution of the number of item specifics used by top sellers for two further leaf categories; ‘Ladies Tops & Shirts’ and ‘Mobile & Smart Phones’, it becomes clear that there is further variation. For ‘Ladies Tops & Shirts’ the majority of top sellers use single digit item specifics while for ‘Mobile & Smart Phones’ they tend to run into double digits.

Ladies Tops eBay Item Specific Distribution

Diagram 3: item specific distribution in ‘Ladies Tops & Shirts’ leaf category

Mobile and Smartphone eBay Item Specific Distribution

Diagram 4: item specific distribution in ‘Mobile & Smart Phones’ leaf category

So why is there so much variation between the number of item specifics used by top sellers in different categories and within those categories? It may be that for more technical categories, such as ‘Brake Discs’ and ‘Mobile & Smart Phones’, more item specifics are necessary to adequately describe products. The Important thing to understand as a seller is, if you are using a lot fewer item specifics than the top sellers in your category you may be making it less likely that eBay will show your listings prominently to potential buyers.

Is your pricing putting off buyers?

While the distribution of item specifics seems to be largely un-standardised across top sellers in a given category, we have found pricing distributions for the above categories to be less noisy. As detailed in diagrams 1 to 4 below, we have bucketed the cost of items in these categories in £5 increments (on the horizontal axis) and calculated how many listings fall into that group (on the vertical axis). The results give an insight into top sellers’ pricing strategies for their products.

The results show a fairly wide spread of prices for top performing listings in the “Mobile & Smart Phones” category compared to “Ladies Tops & Shirts” category where top selling items barely break the £25 mark. This is likely because there is more variation between the features and quality of low-end and high-end smartphones compared to women’s clothing.

Mobile and Smartphone eBay Price Distribution

Diagram 1: Pricing distribution in ‘Mobile & Smart Phones’ leaf category

Ladies Tops eBay Price Distribution

Diagram 2: Pricing distribution in ‘Ladies Tops & Shirts’ leaf category

We observe a slightly higher skew in the “Sofas and Other Sofas” category, likely because the category includes both sofas and cheaper sofa accessories. By comparison, in “Brake Discs”, the dispersion is much lumpier, but, interestingly for such a tight-knit category, does display a long tail.

Sofas eBay Price Distribution

Diagram 3: Pricing distribution in ‘Sofas & Other Sofas’ leaf category

Brake Disc eBay Price Distribution

Diagram 4: Pricing distribution in ‘Brake Discs’ leaf category

For sellers, the key point to take home is that if your pricing is way outside the norm for your category you are likely to be putting off buyers. By knowing how the top sellers in your category are pricing their products, you can adjust your own pricing strategy to match, which is likely to result in a significant increase in sales.

How to become a top seller in your category

So how to best emulate a top seller on eBay? It turns out, there is no simple, one-size-fits-all answer to that question. As our analysis has shown, the best strategy when it comes to key factors such as item specifics and pricing can be significantly different from category to category and even within categories. To get the best possible insight into how to become a top seller, it is necessary to perform a much more specific analysis of the best performing listings most closely related to your own products. In this way, you can see how to start matching and outperforming your competitors and work towards becoming a top seller in your own right.

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Updated: 26th August 2016

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