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How much do companies really know about us? eBay has revealed that it knows when you’re buying your first house, and it’s using this information to boost sales. But is this good PR for the company? While research suggests that people do prefer relevant ads, they may not be happy with companies knowing their every move.

Storytelling has become a guiding principle for great marketing, and where brands fit into people’s personal stories can equate to big bucks. New homeowners are embarking on a new chapter in their lives, and they want to buy all the appropriate props; in the US, they splurge $9,700 on items for the home within 180 days of moving. "A home purchase is a key life stage,” confirms Rob Bassett, eBay's head of UK and multinational advertising. “It often triggers a change in philosophy, inspiring shoppers to buy new brands. It’s a significant milestone and is a golden opportunity for marketers."

eBay's Home Mover 'Advance Targeting' tool can track existing search and shopping habits to accurately understand where in the home-buying process someone is. And by using this data to better target shoppers, it's been able to increase spending in three of the e-tailer's home categories; over a three-month period, sales of ‘home’, ‘furniture’, and ‘DIY’ goods rose 552%, while sales in the ‘sound and vision’ and ‘garden and patio’ categories increased by 109% and 449% respectively.

Research suggests that 54% of people prefer relevant ads, but is exchanging our most personal information too much of a price to pay? With 86% of internet users masking their digital footprint, there’s speculation that eBay could see a backlash from delving into the personal details of people’s private lives – even if it is using data that’s readily available on its platform. Either way, the sales surge eBay has witnesses proves that people spend more when brand take the time to get to know them. “Storytelling isn’t just how we construct our identities, stories are our identities," says John Holmes, professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo. And brands are increasingly ensuring that they’re a part of the memories, too.

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Marco Pilkington is a Film Studies graduate from London with an interest in brand strategy. When he’s not writing reports, he’s pretty hard to find.

Lore Oxford is Canvas8's deputy editor. She previously ran her own science and technology publication and was a columnist for Dazed and Confused. When she’s not busy analysing human behaviour, she can be found defending anything from selfie culture to the Kardashians from contemporary culture snobs.

27 Jul 16

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