eBay devolution
July 31, 2013 8:05 PM   Subscribe

What is with the bad photos on eBay?

I've sold used clothes, shoes, and accessories on eBay (from thrift shops and my own wardrobe) for over 5 years now. I cut my teeth on the principle that you should have the best possible photos, with as much salient detail as possible, and I try to adhere to this. I do my best with an amateur point-and-shoot camera. I'm a moderately successful seller with less than 400 feedback points, but I sell about half or two thirds of what I list, being selective about what I list. Everything I list is my own pick (no consignments). I also do a fair amount of buying; the selling funds the buying, in fact.

I have noticed an increasing trend of terrible photos of eBay clothing items, especially for much-in-demand brand items. There will be only one or two photos, underlit and blurry. It's become virtually impossible to search for dark-colored clothing as it appears featurelessly dark under this treatment.

What is causing these photos? Is there a dominant consignment model, where a professional seller takes charge of items and photos sent by the consignor, maybe phone photos (they often look that bad)? When buying, I've often noted that the seller and the shipping address are not the same, which suggests consignment.

Is the problem sheer volume? Is it possible to make a successful business selling clothing etc. on eBay with such terrible photos, through sheer volume alone? (Internet-of-Things spam.)

Or are sellers trying to encourage a Storage Wars mentality of gambling on the condition of an otherwise desirable item? The worst photo I saw was a wadded-up pair of Uniqlo dry denim jeans, when usually the denim otaku lay their jeans out and take obsessively detailed photos of every pocket, label and seam.

Sellers do other crazy photo shit like stretching the aspect ratio of their photos to make clothes and models look skinnier.

I don't want to bitch about bottom-of-the-barrel behavior on eBay, as I try to mentally filter it when I search, but it's getting me down and I have fantasized about migrating to Etsy, where I'd have to build a rep all over again and cope with the level of pretension. Also I can't afford to buy anything on Etsy.
posted by bad grammar to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (9 answers total)
How many of these sellers are also adding photos of the item found from elsewhere on the internet, that they didn't take? Like, "here is this picture from Gilt where you can see what this item is supposed to look like" and then "here is sad, blurry proof that the item is actually in my possession"?

I've noticed a lot of eBay auctions that use photos that the seller didn't take/which are not of the specific item in question.
posted by Sara C. at 8:11 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have been told that it is the new "list from your phone" thing - a lot of people who don't know what they're doing list things very quickly and the mere quickness of the process tempts people to be sloppy. I've noticed this too.
posted by Frowner at 8:18 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lowest common denominator.

It's simple, the entire site will slowly slip to whatever the absolute bare minimum is that will still cause things to sell and move smoothly.

In an actual world where ebay cared they'd moderate postings in some way, and add a "this item has a shitty description or photos" button where you could flag someone at their office to check it.

But in the real world, they get the fees whether or not the listing was shite so they can't be made to give a fuck. They don't actually care anymore(or, did they ever? they've always been a shit company, especially paypal. But still)

The problem isn't volume, the problem is that you can still sell shit even with crappy photos

I sell a lot of stuff on there too, but i sell almost entirely electronics/computers/laptops/computer bits and bobs. I could write a big rant about how fucking dumb some listings for that kind of stuff can be.

Although, whether the "storage wars" thing is intentional or not, i have made some obscene scores because of sketchy photos like this. I don't think it's necessarily an intentional thing by the sellers since these kind of posts nearly always go for under market value, but buyers definitely chomp on to the "thrill of the chase" element.

Really though, i just wish there were some rules about this kind of shit and like... actual enforcement and moderation.
posted by emptythought at 8:32 PM on July 31, 2013

I think people think their phone-camera-fu is better than it is.
posted by padraigin at 8:48 PM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Probably the result of using camera phones and the eBay mobile app. Not a lot of people actually have a digital camera now that most mobile cameras will do. The slowly slipping standards are also probably indicating to most people that it's acceptable to post bad pictures.

Regardless, I do appreciate good photos, and I'm sure that other people do too. Convince yourself that this likely gives you higher rates of sale than the bad photos. I, for one, wouldn't buy clothing from eBay without a good picture because of the likelihood of stains. Keep up the good work!
posted by the_wintry_mizzenmast at 12:37 AM on August 1, 2013

With the "much-in-demand brand items" it may be that the seller is trying to obscure the fact that the item is counterfeit. I see this a lot with counterfeit handbags. To authenticate certain brands of handbags you need to see particular details of the bag and at certain angles. The good sellers will be sure to provide these photos in the listing; if I don't see what I need to see I assume the bag is counterfeit and move on.

Another factor may be that eBay didn't used to require photos, but now each listing must have at least one photo, so if a seller is in a hurry they'll probably just slap something up there quickly. Maybe intending to replace it with a better photo later, and they just never get around to it.

I don't think mobile phones are the problem, as the latest phone cameras are very good if lighting is decent. I think it's either an attempt to obscure something about the item (a stain, tear, missing button, or that it's fake), or it's just garden-variety laziness on the sellers' part. There are a lot of lazy sellers out there who just do the bare minimum to throw a listing up and see if they get any takers. A good example of this is measurements. It's pretty critical for a buyer to know the measurements of some items and it takes the seller all of ten seconds to grab a tape measure and do this, but many just don't.
posted by payoto at 5:02 AM on August 1, 2013

I've been buying and selling on eBay for 13 years and I've noticed this too, especially in the last couple of years.

I agree that phone cameras have a lot to do with it, especially when combined with the ease of listing items straight from your phone. You don't even have to transfer photos from a camera to your computer anymore.

However, I also think that it has a lot to do with the fact that the majority of people are a lot more comfortable buying things online now. I don't think people need that much reassurance anymore in the form of super detailed high-res photos - especially considering that eBay's rules are really stacked in favour of buyers these days.

I'm much more willing to take a risk on something with a blurry photo or a stock photo than I used to be, because if the items turns out to be non-existent or not as described I can easily file a dispute with PayPal and get my money back.
posted by RubyScarlet at 6:27 AM on August 1, 2013

I've noticed it too, and have made an effort as a seller to have several really great photos and a good description - what I would want to see if I were the buyer. I've found it's given me higher than average sales for the stuff I'm selling, so I figure it's working in my favor. But it is certainly not your imagination. In my categories (tabletop and miniature gaming) I think it's just the other sellers thinking their items are just so cool/unique that they don't have to bother with a good picture. You should just *want* their cool RareWhateverThing. Maybe it's the same for clothing.
posted by RogueTech at 9:58 AM on August 1, 2013

I've noticed that Smartphone Syndrome has affected the item descriptions too. Quite frequently I see stuff like "will describe later..."
posted by MonsieurBon at 10:16 AM on August 1, 2013

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