September 8, 2008
Some Righteous Bidding
A new eBay partnership presents a socially conscious way to shop
EBay, internet giant and seasoned purveyor of pop-culture collectibles, and World of Good , a start-up devoted to fair trade and ethical consumerism, have just partnered to create a new frontier for online shoppers. WorldofGood.com is the new online marketplace for ethically sourced and eco-friendly products, whose beta version launched on September 3. Featuring 15 product categories including bags, baskets, and musical instruments, the website is billed as the market “where your shopping shapes the world.”
WorldofGood.com adopts a more traditional market model than eBay’s groundbreaking auction style, in which sales transactions occur on a person-to-person basis and with little arbitration by the host company. Eschewing the auction model, WorldofGood.com features products at fixed prices drawn from over 70 countries worldwide. However, because it highlights socially conscious e-commerce, the site heralds consumer education as one of its primary organizing principles. In so doing, it still nods to the original ingenuity of the self-created marketplace that was eBay’s allure. EBay targets online shoppers with very specific motivations: self-selected consumers know what they want, and they seek self-elected buyers to supply it. That consumer demographic still thrives, apparently – it merely coalesces under different motivations, according to changing consumer trends. In a 2007 BBMG Conscious Consumer Report used as research for WorldofGood.com, 88 percent of American’s “self-identify” as “conscious” or “socially responsible” customers (To see this research applied, read the site’s “one-pager” PDF here).
In 2007, the uber-familiar eBay hosted nearly 200,000 auctions per month, according to the New York Times. Judging by its dramatic rise to fame, “self-identification” as defined in the BBMG report seems a critical component underlying the success of online, commercial marketplaces. The self-identified customer is the self-aware consumer. Web sites like WorldofGood.com provide expression and affirmation of those values. The market, in turn, becomes a vehicle for material acquisition and cultural validation.
As one such vehicle with high-profile origins, WorldofGood.com will provide more parent authority to ensure that customers are continually reminded of their effort to affect social impact. “Trustology” is the website’s term for its system of transparency between buyer and seller. It draws on 25 “trust providers” such as Sustainable Furnishings Council, C.E.O. Women, and Aid to Artisans. These programs are the commercial analog to architecture’s exclusive LEED certification program and are meant to brand the “socially responsible shopping experience” with a respectable level of consistency. In the end, however, it will be up to the buyer to discern the true impact of purchasing power.