Ecommerce has become a staple part of modern life due to big retail companies like Amazon and StubHub being an accessible alternative to searching independently online for deals. But none of these companies would be where they are today if not for eBay. The ecommerce website eBay, formerly known as AuctionWeb, was created in 1995 by Pierre Omidyar originally as a hobby sprouting from his intrigue at the possibility of an entirely web-based market place. A revolutionary idea to be able to hold auctions at any time of the day, as well as sellers, not just big businesses, being able to sell their items to a wider audience rather than having to rely on putting ads in the local newspaper. It appealed greatly to consumers, and this appeal was characterized the most in its web design.
eBay in 1999
To the left is a screenshot of what eBay looked like in early 1999. Two aspects stand out right away: the classic use of blue hypertext that was prevalent in the fledgling Internet and the logo. The logo is big and eye-catching with its iconic red, blue, yellow, and green color scheme. Having the letters be overlapping and disorderly, but still put-together in a way really exemplified how eBay was pushing to be seen as a new and exciting to consumers. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is perfect in making sure they do not scare off new users who may be confused by the concept of selling and buying online.
The different categories available on the site at the time show a focus on special interest. It looks like the site can be divided up into different, small niches, such as people who were interested in collecting coins & stamps to people interested in dolls & figures. This is fairly resemblant of how the Internet community was seen during the 90s: a conglomerate of very specific communities rather than an appeal to generality. Collectors must have been the main demographic for the site, but something very notable in this section is the Toys & Beanies category. A big reason why eBay was able to gain a surging amount of popularity is all thanks to the Beanie Baby craze in the 90s, where every child wanted one of these big eyed, lovable stuffed animals created by Ty Warner. It was a huge market and eBay was smart to use this to its advantage.
Another notable sign of the times present on the site is the hyperlink to a new AOL update, the service that everyone was using to login in to eBay. It shows how despite everyone coming onto the site for different reasons, there was still something that most users had in common. eBay in 1999 seemed to really value how the users made the site what it was; this fact is shown also through their News/Chat section where people could chat in rooms and get info about what was happening in the world. The stats section that showed the growth of the site, also doubled down as a way to show appreciation to the users who were responsible for that growth. A very uniting display for eBay, especially since they had begun anticipating a rising international demographic, demonstrated through their inclusion of hyperlinks for the UK and Canada at the bottom of the webpage. A very, very innovative concept to give regular people, not just companies, the option to buy and sell their items overseas. This concept carried eBay over into the new century as it grew more and more popularity.
eBay in 2011
On the right is a screenshot of what eBay looked like in late 2011. First notable change is how the logo has taken a step back from being the main eyecatcher of the site. Although, it still has not changed; a nice way to attribute how eBay has changed over the years, but is still true to its modest roots. The categories have also been modified, becoming a lot more mainstream with the introduction of new ones like fashion and home, outdoors & décor. Especially with a branded stores section being available, this no doubt is due to the site gaining more popularity that bigger companies wanted in on the ecommerce market.
The overall look of the site took on a more sleek, integrated model, something that was also very prevalent in 2010s Internet with the rising popularity of Apple and its company focus on making very sleek, simple models for consumers. Speaking of Apple, peek the huge demand for iPod Touches in the “Popular on eBay” section. When the iPod Touch was released, it was the big, new, hot tech item of the decade and everyone, adults and children alike, wanted to get their hands on one. Very in character for eBay to know how to appeal to its audience. Another way eBay was keeping up with the times was its introduction of a trending section (wonder why alleged murderer Casey Anthony was trending on an ecommerce site?) that was updated daily.
With the site gaining more popularity and the Internet in general becoming more widely used, safety was also becoming an issue that needed to be addressed. As shown in the screenshot, eBay wanted to be very upfront on their effort to protect their users from possible scammers that were on the site by offering buyer protection. While the site design wasn’t as fun and inviting as the older version, it still wanted to make sure that its users were catered to and felt welcomed. This is exhibited by them still having their staple section where new users could go to learn about how to use the site.
The site designs of eBay from 1999 & 2011 both resemble the culture that was present during that time. With the 1999 version resembling a newer, friendlier model that wanted to grow with its userbase that was also new to the Internet, to the more mature, established 2011 version valuing simplicity and efficiency for an already knowledgeable, large clientele, eBay seems to have always been on top of its game. It’s a site that has always known how to adapt and change with the times.