Researchers at the University of Essex have received a grant to investigate the online auction house eBay.
Their brief is to find out why the auction site is so successful, and how it has changed the way people shop.
The research team has been given £120,000 to set up the project, which will be carried out at the University's Institute for Socio-Technical Research, Chimera, which is based at Adastral Park near Ipswich.
The money has been made available by the Economic and Social Research Council, an independent body which funds research and training in economic and social issues.
Help for buyers
Dr Rebecca Ellis, who will lead the research, said it was expected the work would be carried out over the next two years.
She believes her findings will benefit many people, both users and businesses such as the Royal Mail, whose services are used by those buying and selling on the internet.
Dr Ellis also said she hoped to evaluate whether the site could be a viable form of self-employment for people.
She said: "The research will be designed to both help users and show businesses what improved services there can be."
eBay, which has up to 16 million items for sale at any one time, was founded in 1995 in California by a French-Iranian computer programmer, Pierre Omidyar.