Monthly Archives: July 2009

Are you ready for …

So here we are, Bastille Day behind us, the latest Harry Potter movie just opened and the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing coming up this weekend. All great opportunities to flog some stuff on Trade Me — did you?

Yes, there’s still time to list some lunar droppings on Trade Me  — personal letter from Neil Armstrong, perhaps, thanking you for the flight training lessons — but the reality is that you should be planning a little further ahead. You should look at the promotional calendar in TRADE ME SUCCESS SECRETS to note the regular seasonal highlights of the next couple of months. Events peculiar to 2009 include the following movies (which just might lead to some merchandising sales opportunities:

AUGUST

Coraline and the Secret Door
Animated tale from Henry Selick, writer/director of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, based on the book by Neil Gaiman. Eleven-year-old Coraline walks through a secret door and discovers a parallel reality. Voice credits: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French. Our view: distinctive animation and a quirky storyline may limit this movie’s mainstream appeal but it’s likely to attract a passionate following amongst young urbanites.


G. I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra

The world’s favourite ‘poseable action figure’ turns into high-octane action with this big budget makeover. Your toybox will never look the same. Our view: the producers took a look at what Michael Bay had done to Transformers (explosions! mayhem! more explosions!) and chose the same route for G I Joe. This is an ideal vehicle if you want to reach males who like to watch stuff blow up.

  • Already decades of G.I. Joe merchandise on sale on Trade Me, but if you have something rare, NOW would be the time.

Case 39
A social worker (Renee Zellweger) fights to save a girl from her abusive parents, only to discover that the situation is more dangerous than she ever expected. A mix of crime, suspense and horror. Our view: creepy, will appeal to twenty-somethings who like to be scared out of their wits.

  • Good time to promote other Renee Zellweger stuff — posters, previous movies etc

Inglourious Basterds
In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as “The Basterds” are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis. Blood-splattered Quentin Tarantino directs, Brad Pitt (sporting an atrocious Southern accent) stars — what else do you need to know? Our view: for those who enjoy blood, guts, gore. Best avoided if your brand has a weak heart or a tender disposition.

  • Brad Pitt, Quentin Tarantino, what’s not to sell?

The Young Victoria
This year’s historical drama/romance with a royal theme: a dramatization of the turbulent first years of Queen Victoria’s rule, and her enduring romance with Prince Albert. Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend portray the two young lovers Victoria and Albert in what’s described as “a touching romance and a gripping human drama”. Our view: good association for products appealing to older women or those of a monarchist persuasion.

  • Royal memorabilia rocks!

District 9
Peter Jackson produces this sci-fi morality tale of an extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth suddenly find a kindred spirit in a government agent that is exposed to their biotechnology. Our view: set in South Africa, this film draws interesting parallels with apartheid. Given its local provenance, could do well with older Kiwi audiences.

  • Time to sell off that Peter Jackson collection

SEPTEMBER

The Taking of Pelham 123
Denzel Washington, John Travolta and James Gandolfini star in this remake of the popular 1974 original and do a good job by all accounts. Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day’s work for dispatcher Walter Garbe (Washington) into a face-off with the mastermind (Travolta) behind the crime. Our view: pretty good for a remake.

  • Anything from Denzel Washington, John Travolta or James Gandolfini (Sopranos)

Up
Animated adventures of 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen, who sets out (by tying thousands of balloon to his home) to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America. Currently topping the US box office. Our view: solid family fare, appealing to all ages.

  • Look here for Up merchandise (books, soundtrack)

Aliens In The Attic
A group of kids must protect their vacation home from invading aliens. Think family movie, with the next holidays just around the corner. Our view: another family favourite in the making.

  • Great toys from the folk who bought you AITA (see here to learn more about them)

Funny People
When seasoned comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler) learns of his terminal, inoperable health condition, his desire to form a genuine friendship cause him to take a relatively green performer under his wing as his opening act. Our view: the writer/director Judd Apatow (director of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up) says he’s “trying to make a very serious movie that is twice as funny as [his] other movies”. The trailer suggests a reasonable attempt.

  • Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow. Lots of stuff around for both.

Imagine That
What if your daughter’s imagination… was the secret to your success? Eddie Murphy stars as a financial executive who can’t stop his career downspiral. Then he’s invited into his daughter’s imaginary world, where he magically finds solutions to his problems. Our view: terminally cute Eddie Murphy vehicle. Variety rated it “…an undemandingly pleasant, mildly amusing fantasy…” which has done average business at the American box office.

We figure the potential for the remaining September titles is pretty obvious:
Shorts
From Robert Rodriguez (director Of ‘Spy Kids’): A young boy’s discovery of a colorful, wish-granting rock causes chaos in the suburban town of Black Falls when jealous kids and scheming adults alike set out to get their hands on it. Our view: good appeal to the kids, with fun gadgets, silly jokes and town bullies who get their comeuppance. Useful association for family-focussed traders. Don’t forget the “Spy Kids” link.

G-Force
A specially trained squad of guinea pigs is dispatched to stop a diabolical billionaire from taking over the world. It’s animated, it’s from Disney, it’s the school holidays, there’ll be merchandise. Our view: this one should do good business, another family-friendly movie.

The Year One
Jack Black and a collection of caveman/historical parody jokes. Our view: not for the Rialto crowd.

Fame
An updated version of the legendary 1980 movie musical which centered on the students of the New York Academy of Performing Arts. Our view: attempts to catch the spirit of the original, the same passions and dreams that drive people to enter shows like American Idol. Should resonate well with Gen Y.

Happy planning!!

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What are the hottest selling categories on Trade Me?

Trade Me is a glorious bazaar stuffed full each week with more than 1.3 million items, any one of which would surely look absolutely fabulous on your mantelpiece, in your garage or draped over your shoulders.

And yet, despite the inherent appeal of the items listed on sale, they don’t always sell — at least not right away. In fact, on average only one in four auctions on Trade Me ends in a sale.

Has that ratio changed, especially in these recessionary times?

Not much. If we examine the figures for the most recent month available, June 2009, we find that 23% of auctions closed successfully. In comparison, 22% of auctions in June 2008 were similarly successful; while 24% of June 2007′s auctions resulted in a sale.

Of course, some product categories are more popular than others. If we rank Trade Me’s various sections in terms of popularity, here’s what we find:

  • 41% of items listed in Mobile phones sold successfully in June 2009 (was 38% in June 2008)
  • 37% Baby gear (was 33%)
  • 29% Home & living (27%)
  • 27% Electronics & photography (23%)
  • 26% Toys & models (26%)
  • 25% Sports (25%)
  • 25% Building & renovation (24%)
  • 23% Gaming (23%)
  • 23% Health & beauty (21%)
  • 22% Computers (19%)
  • 20% Antiques & collectables (20%)
  • 20% DVDs & movies (18%)
  • 20% Music & instruments (21%)
  • 19% Clothing (18%)
  • 19% Jewellery & watches (17%)
  • 18% Crafts (18%)
  • 18% Pottery & glass (17%)
  • 17% Art (15%)
  • 17% Books (17%)
  • 17% Business, farming & industry (24%)

If we drill down even deeper, to Trade Me’s sub-categories, we find much more dramatic results. These were the Top Ten best-selling product types on Trade Me for June 2009:

  1. 66% Baby Walkers (59% in June 2008)
  2. 66% Telecom mobile phones (64%)
  3. 65% iPods (not listed separately in June 2008) 
  4. 61% Concert tickets (57%)
  5. 59% Baby Monitors (not listed separately last year)
  6. 55% Laundry items (47%)
  7. 54% Sports event tickets (58%)
  8. 52% Heating & cooling (40%)
  9. 50% Baby Bouncers & jolly jumpers (44%)
  10. 45% Tattoos (not listed separately last year)

And those categories that improved most (in terms of sell-through rate) between June 2008 and June 2009?

  • Up 65% GPS devices (were 23%, now 38%)
  • Up 61% Trampolines (were 18%, now 29%)
  • Up 60% Pottery & ceramics (were 10%, now 16%) 
  • Up 58% Baby Car seats (were 19%, now 30%)
  • Up 55% Domain names (were 11%, now 17%)

And those that fell furthest?

  • Down 40% Crafts: Transfers (were 20%, now 12%)
  • Down 40% Music DVDs (were 15%, now 9%)
  • Down 50% Flags (were 26%, now 13%)
  • Down 50% Businesses for sale (were 8%, now 4%)

And the very worst performer of all?

Carbon credits. This time last year, they enjoyed a sell-through rate of 71%. In June 2009 there were NO sales. Clearly an idea whose time has come – and gone.

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Five essential ingredients to make your listing famous

You’ve probably heard of the “scary washing machine”, last month’s insanely popular Trade Me phenomenon. Sadly, your mint-condition washing machine (or any other worthy but ordinary item) won’t attract a fraction of the frightening one’s admirers (806,220 pageviews) – nor the $5160 final windfall. Not without some very special magic.

So what does it take to create a Trade Me sensation?
There are a great many answers to this question, but at a minimum you need the following five essential ingredients if you’re to have any chance of attracting exponential attention on Trade Me:

1. An auction listing with “the right stuff”
Your product might be ordinary but the listing can’t be. Not if you want people to talk about it. When we spread the word about a Trade Me listing (or any other topic), it’s because it enhances our standing with our friends, not just because we like the listing or topic.

Successful listings that attract lots of attention typically tap into some pretty basic human motivators:

  • We like to be entertained
  • Greed is (sometimes) good
  • Given the choice, we’d prefer to do good (and sometimes, to be seen doing good)
  • We’re afraid of doing the wrong thing
  • Our ego could always use a boost

Most of the auctions that became famous on Trade Me were at least entertaining; some held out the chance of acquiring an item that would significantly increase in value at some point in the future (engaging the greed gene); “proceeds to charity” validated our bidding actions; the fact that we were bidding on a very popular item suggested that we were indeed doing the right thing; and being the successful bidder on a high profile auction can do wonders for the ego (at least until buyers’ remorse kicks in).

If we look back at some of the items that have caught the popular imagination on Trade Me, we find that in most cases the headline and/or description started the process of making the auction memorable.

The legendary paper clip auction (34,801 pageviews, final selling price $173) is a very good example:

  • $1 RES – ONE RED PAPER CLIP
    One red paper clip.
    Excellent condition.
    Held important documents in a time of need, no longer need now so selling on.
    Hope this paper clip goes to a good home or office. Has served me well.

It was inevitable that such a good-humoured listing (penned by Aucklander Rhys White during a quiet day in the office) would attract frivolous questions. And that brings us to essential ingredient Number 2:

2. Interactivity (with a sense of humour)
One of the neat things about Trade Me is the “Ask the seller a question” facility. For 99 .9% of listings, the questions that are asked are mundane and practical (and relatively few). For those special listings that catch the imagination of the public, however, sellers can be inundated with quirky questions. Answer appropriately (tongue firmly in cheek) and you’ve got the makings of Trade Me magic.

When an iceberg floated close to New Zealand in November 2006, it was listed by an opportunistic seller (“In good condition. Some small stains – should come out. Girlfriend doesn’t like it and says it needs to go. Buyer must collect.”) and attracted (ahem) a flood of questions:

Q. How much does it weigh? I may need to rent a trailer…
A. I don’t want timewasters here mate. You don’t use a trailer to remove an iceberg. Come on, you are being silly.

Q. Hi. I’m looking for something along these lines for a christmas decoration. Do you have any in the shape of a reindeer?
A. By the end of the auction it may look like that. Get real drunk and check back in.

Q. I don’t wish to pour cold water on this, but I must point out that MAF regulations require that this ‘berg will need to be held in quarantine for 8 weeks. This may impact on delivery.
A. That’s only if it has a bird in it. But thanks for checking.

Q. Hi. do you have these in any other colours? Thanks.
A. No sorry. Besides, you don’t want the yellow icebergs.

For the record, bidding on the iceberg reached $99,999,999 before the auction was removed (as an obvious joke listing).

Of course, with more than 1.3 million items listed on Trade Me at any given time, it’s tough to stand out. Your item also needs to conform to essential attribute Number 3:

3. Original and Scarce
If you want your item to become famous, then the item needs to be “one of a kind” – even if (as was the case with the ‘scary washing machine’) that uniqueness is simply in how you describe it. You can expect copycats to emerge – we lost track of the number of ‘cute’ stationery listings that attempted to cash in on the fame of the Paper Clip – so you need to be first and freshest in your particular category.

On the other hand, if you do have a genuinely unique item, such as the cast (sold in February for $18,500) which adorned John Key’s broken arm – or the handbag wielded by Tana Umaga to discipline an unruly colleague ($22,800 in June 2006) – then your focus should be on capturing the flavour of said collectable and communicating appropriately to those who would be most interested in acquiring the item. Which brings us to essential ingredient Number 4: 

4. People who know people
As soon as the listing is posted, spread the word – to journalists, twitterers, bloggers, anyone with a suitable/relevant audience. Of course, they’ll only be interested if said item already stacks up as unique and scarce – but they’ll also be looking for timeliness. They won’t want to be talking/writing about something that’s already old news – they’ll want to be bringing exclusive news to their followers.

Of course, everyone can’t be first – the second person you tell may not have heard about your listing but you can’t pretend that they’re the first to know. So instead, like a true public relations practitioner, you need to look for an angle, a spin that can be unique to that correspondent.

An example? Bono’s bird kite which the U2 frontman had been flying during his 2006 NZ concert.

The first angle: Bono’s kite up for sale on Trade Me. Then: caught by Tauranga woman (local spin for the Bay of Plenty Times). Next: proceeds to Oxfam. Follow-up: pictures from the concert, showing Bono flying the kite. You get the idea.

And that leads us to the fifth of our ingredients:

5. Topical
If you can leverage current events, that’s another quick way to spread the word. The current furore around Michael Jackson’s untimely demise is a classic example, with quick-thinking sellers offering personalised plates (THRLER, JACK5N, WACKO or MOONWK), replica Thriller jackets, web addresses (RIPMJ.co.nz) and a wide range of other Michael-related memorabilia on the site. In such a high profile event, however, there’s a very real danger of over-exposure, so media interest may quickly burn out. In other words, choose your topicality with care.

Apart from the five ingredients noted above, there are several other qualities that will stand you in good stead when it comes to conjuring up some Trade Me magic. To all the above, add perseverance, imagination, initiative and plain old luck (‘right place, right time’).

Your 15 megabytes of fame awaits.

PS: Of course, there’s quite a skill to creating effective listings. For a more in-depth look at “The Art Of The Listing”, may we humbly point you towards TRADE ME SUCCESS SECRETS the book (now in its second edition). In Chapter 14, you’ll learn about the eight different types of effective headlines, the pictures that sell a thousand words and the vital ingredients of a successful product description. The following chapter guides you (in rather more depth than we can manage in this blog entry) through many of the promotional options available to help you drive the sale — and suggests alternative actions if your item still doesn’t sell.

You’ll find the ‘Trade Me Success Secrets’ book in your local library, from leading booksellers or on sale at our Trade Me store.

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Google joins the Property party

Things just got a whole lot more complicated in the property market in New Zealand with the news today that Google is now inviting real estate agents and data providers to add property details to Google Maps — for free, in the usual Google tradition.

What does this news mean for prospective buyers?
Looking for a home to rent or buy? Now you can go to the real estate section of Google Maps, nominate a city or suburb and then be presented with available home listings in that area. [A little word of warning -- because Google Maps is a global service, you do need to be quite specific in your location, otherwise you're as likely to be presented with maps for "Hamilton, New Jersey" or "Epsom, UK" as their local equivalents]

Your search parameters can be further refined by:

  • whether the property is for sale or for rent
  • type of property
  • number of bedrooms
  • number of bathrooms
  • parking capacity (number of cars)
  • and even area sought, in square metres

Listings details are relatively limited, but include a link back to the real agents’ site or to aggregator sites such as realestate.co.nz where you can find more details about each property. Presumably in due course we’ll also see links back to Trade Me Property listings as well.

This new Google Maps real estate service has just launched, so you’d expect to see only a few listings — but already at least some of the NZ maps look like they’ve got a bad case of the measles, with spots designating available properties scattered everywhere, prepopulated courtesy realestate.co.nz and leading agents such as Harcourts.

What’s unique about this service, from a buyer’s perspective?
As more and more properties get added to the maps, it’s likely to become (as far as we’re aware) the only property listings site where you can look at a specific area such as a suburb on a map and see what’s currently available in that area. That’s likely to make it a good starting point for property searches.

In time we’ll also start to see the service integrated into Google’s main search  results: search for “townhouse for sale Christchurch” and you’ll eventually see a map at the top of the search results, with featured properties flagged.

And from a seller’s perspective?
Did we mention “free”? And, of course, there’s the small matter of all that traffic passing through Google — better to be included than not, especially if you can point viewers to a link containing full details.

What about from Trade Me’s perspective?
It’s another competitor, at least for eyeballs. And who’s to say that somewhere down the line Google won’t charge a fee for this service, once it reaches critical mass? Or remove the ability to link back to another site? Still, Google’s already gotten into the game, so Trade Me might as well tap into the promotional power of all that Google traffic.

As the cliche goes, better to have Google inside the tent than outside …

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A Trip Down Memory Lane

All this talk of a new-look Trade Me prompted us to cast our minds back to the early days of the site, when it looked just a little different to what it does now.

How different? Check out the site’s front page from April 1999, when Trade Me was just a month old:

Trade Me - partying like it's 1999

Trade Me - partying like it's 1999

At that point,  Kev the Kiwi wasn’t even a twinkle in his creator’s eye, so we’ll simply acknowledge that, as far as Trade Me’s logo was concerned, the best was yet to come.

We also draw your attention to the strangely compelling Banner Advertisement in the middle of that early page, inviting bids on the site’s banner advertisements (bids started at $1). We understand that the first of these banners (the first paid auction on Trade Me!) sold for the princely sum of $20. Actually, that was probably a reasonable pricetag given that Trade Me’s visitor numbers were still (ahem) somewhat limited back then — many if not most of the site’s users were friends or relatives of site founder Sam Morgan.

2000AD
Fast forward to the first year of the new millennium. Like most of us, Trade Me survived the Y2K bug, audience numbers were starting to grow — and the Trade Me home page scrubbed up a little bit.

Trade Me launches into the 21st Century

Trade Me launches into the 21st Century

Ah, the retro charm of those big BUY and SELL graphics!

Things were starting to happen with Trade Me in 2000. Traffic was still just a blip by today’s standards, but word was getting round that you might find a bargain on the site. Membership began to grow.

Financially, the little site wasn’t doing so good. Gobally the dot-com boom was turning to bust and all those wonderful internet business models (all potential and no income) started going to the wall. Trade Me’s original plan called for its money to come mostly from advertising — but, alas, risk-averse Kiwi marketers really didn’t understand this interweb thingy, and weren’t going to pour much hard cash into a small “garage sale” operation with limited penetration. Perhaps they hadn’t noticed how popular eBay was becoming offshore.

Anyway, times were tough in the fledgling Trade Me business. So Sam introduced fees for premium listings (bold headlines, featured auctions and the like), which helped somewhat. Finally, in September 2000, Trade Me introduced success fees (sell your item, pay a fee) and finally Trade Me had a real income stream. Time for Kevin the Kiwi to make his entrance.

2001 A Spacebar Odyssey

2001 A Spacebar Odyssey

Looks pretty familiar, doesn’t it? Most of the look and feel of the site was established way back then — what we’ve seen since has largely looked like a steady evolution based on the established theme (although in saying that we do the designers a great disservice for all the development work that’s been put in along the way — please forgive us for our artistic ignorance).

Anyway, here’s a year-by-year journey through the many faces of Trade Me, for you to form your own opinions:

2002

2002

2003

2003

2004

2004

2005

2005 (first edition of Trade Me Success Secrets published)

2006

2006 (Year of the Sale to Fairfax)

2007

2007 (Second Edition of Trade Me Success Secrets)

2008

2008 and today

And, of course, there’s the proposed new look site:

2009

2009 - the preview

Can’t wait to see how Trade Me looks in 2019, after another decade of makeovers …

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The wisdom of the crowd

Trade Me is embarking on a site makeover — this time a predominantly cosmetic refurbishment of our favourite auction site, with a fresh new skin.  Head over to http://preview.trademe.co.nz to check it out. A word of caution: the preview site is live and linked in to the Trade Me database, so if you place a bid on the preview site you’re actually making a legally binding bid.

In an unusual move, Trade Me has gone public with this preview of the site and invited member feedback via a dedicated section of the Message Boards. Some of the TM team may be regretting that crowdsourcing decision right now — the flames are burning bright on the Boards, with some 143 spleen-venting threads within the topic “New look Trade Me“. The Message Board contributors, not exactly shrinking violets at the best of times, are relishing the opportunity to give feedback — often of a cantankerous nature.

What’s interesting this time round is not the fact that Trade Me is listening — that happens far more often than its critics care to admit, because Trade Me constantly monitors the Message Boards and takes user comments on board — but that the invitation to comment has been extended so widely.

Inevitably, the result is constant carping, with the occasional bouquet.

Will the feedback improve the outcome? Yes it will — since going public, Trade Me has already reassessed some design elements, released a “new, new version” and reported back to the Message Boarders thus:

We’ve released an updated version of the preview site that addresses many small issues, and includes a few bigger changes. Auction descriptions now wrap to the full width of the page, rather than staying in a narrow column on the left. We’ve also heard a lot of feedback regarding the amount of whitespace on larger monitors. Some feel this makes the site appear floating, while some find the white distracting or straining on their eyes. We’ve updated the site design so that the content is framed with a neutral colour, in order to improve readability and to better anchor the page.

But the most important function of this feedback loop: reinforcing the fact that, despite its big-corporate parentage these days, Trade Me remains a community-centred operation. For all the griping that goes on, Trade Me members still consider themselves part of something unique. They can still speak up and someone in Trade Me will listen. No, the community doesn’t always get its way — but it is at least heard.

And that still counts for something pretty special.

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