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(Environmental) User Motivations on eBay Germany

And we're in the last paper session at Prosumer Revisited, which is kicked off by conference chair Birgit Blättel-Mink whose interest here is in the sustainability potential of online trading using eBay. This work is part of a larger research project which examines the online used car trade in Germany. For the purposes of this project, prosuming using eBay is defined as usage of the site to buy and sell products - a more active form of usage which also leads to the more frequent trading on and trading in of products.

The project has proceeded by examining the online auctions market and the motivations of participants in such sites; it is interested especially in the sustainability aspects of such online trading, and hopes to operationalise findings in this field in order to optimise online trading, mobilise deactivated consumer goods, and open up new markets.

This builds on a theory of goal-oriented behaviour, which requires the assessment of users' motives, their actual behaviour, their attitudes and knowledge, and their intentions and interests, and operationalises such understandings to explore possible environmental effects of resultant behaviour in the context of a number of variables. eBay may have certain environmental effects, as the promise of later reselling of purchased goods may lead customers to focus more on expected resale values in their initial purchase decisions.

The project undertook a survey of 2511 randomly chosen private eBay users in Germany (there is no direct guarantee that the results are representative, therefore), and found that of its respondents, some 57% were male; the majority were below 50 (30% in the 40-49 range), and most lived with their partners, and many with children. 61% had no children below 16 in the household. Nearly half had completed high school or higher degrees, and 58% were working in full-time employment; 48% as employees. Only 17% lived in cities above 500,000 inhabitants. Nearly 95% users of eBay Germany were German, and the majority earnt below €2,500 per month.

There was a substantial degree of environmental awareness amongst respondents; around half thought that citizens had some important responsibility in moving towards more sustainable lifestyles, but only 9% saw Internet use as contributing substantially to environmental problems. Some 11% were prepared to may more for environmentally sound products.

Participation on eBay was motivated mainly by ease of use and lower costs as well as the thrill of finding interesting goods; environmental aspects were of little importance here; this applied both to buying and selling through the site. Important categories of goods being bought and sold were entertainment electronics, clothing and accessories, other entertainment goods, and child and baby accessories.

It is possible to trace connections between environmental attitudes and actual behaviour, and to connect these factors with other socioeconomic variables. People with strong environmental awareness also cited this as a factor driving their use of eBay, and also cited it as a factor in their patterns of eBay use (choosing carbon-neutral shipping options, for example). This was an overall pattern, independent of other sociodemographic variables.

Is there a connection between online participation on eBay and sustainability, then? Is there a connection with users' life stages, for example? It appears that the willingness to act sustainably on eBay is related to existing attitudes towards environmental protection, for example, but what else is there? There is a need to further explore what changes in consumption behaviour may be brought about by eBay's auction culture, and whether there is an opportunity for establishing a 'green' section on eBay.

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