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What researchers found after analyzing 15 million words in eBay listings

Tobias Schwarz
The “authentic” article, not the “genuine” one.
  • Corinne Purtill
By Corinne Purtill


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

DVD “seasons” are worth more than “series.” “Authentic” items are more valuable than “genuine” ones. A product for a classy “gent” costs more than one for a regular “man.”

A pair of UK researchers reached these conclusions after analyzing 15 million words in 68,000 eBay listings to determine how language affects product sales on the auction site.

Andrew Kehoe and Matt Gee from Birmingham City University’s School of English found that the terms used in a product listing can make a big difference on the final selling price.

For example, “men’s” watches sold for an average of £30 ($43.48), but those marketed to “gents” fetched £70 ($101.46).

DVD listings referring to “seasons” drew an average of £28.43 ($41.21), while those selling “series” got just £10.49 ($15.20).

Punctuation and precision matters too. Car sales posts using “I’ve” earned an average £775.95 ($1,124.69), compared to £595 ($862.41) for the grammatically-incorrect “Ive.” Posts using the full “Mercedes-Benz” name garnered an average £4,251 ($6,161.53), compared to £3,450 ($5,000.54) for those who went with just “Mercedes.”

A “reliable” car (£695, or $1,007.35) is worth more than a “sensible” one (£455, or $659.49). Terms that tended to drive down the value of car listings included “minor” and “slight” (as they’re almost always related to damage) and “timewaster.”

The research has not yet been published in full, Kehoe said, but highlights are available here.

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