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18 posts from April 2007

April 30, 2007

eBay launches TOGO Widgets

eBay has a neat new widget/gadget builder available at togo.ebay.com that allows you to build gadgets you can drop into a blog to highlight a single item, multiple items or search results in your blog, website or social networking (myspace, facebook, etc.) page.

 

Here's a sample widget/gadget that I built literally in two minutes to search eBay for the eBay strategies book:

April 29, 2007

Sellers in the UK feeling pain

In early February, eBay changed the way listings work for UK sellers.  Historically UK listings have been "mirrored" to show up on the .com/USA site, thus they got 'double' exposure (UK+USA) -note they showed in the us in pounds currency.

When I was in the UK for catalyst, this was causing quite a bit of pain for the sellers as most had a 10-30% amount of cross-border trade to the US.  The only viable solution we could think of was to list the items directly to both sites (because mirroring was gone, but if you have 20-30%+ sales from the US, there's clearly demand for your products).  Of course when you do this you are paying listing fees in both markets vs. one fee for 2 markets so that means a pretty substantial increase in listing fees.  Adding to this the US$ is at a very low point against the GBP which I'm sure is drying up demand from the US side as well.

Tamebay, the top UK eBay blog, has an excellent interview with a UK seller (who now leverages CA to manage the increased complexity) that is a good case study of what's going on.

eBay testing reduced store visibility

Sellers are reporting that eBay either has some unusual bugginess or they are doing some A/B testing on store discoverability.  On eBay search engine results pages (SERPs) you typically have two places for consumers to find store listings:

  1. Store discoverability – If eBay Core returns < 20 items, then up to 20 store items that match the search criteria are shown.
  2. “Shop eBay Stores” is a little box typically at the lower left that suggests eBay stores that carry similar items to those being searched.  An example of the shop ebay stores box is below.

Shop_stores

For the last two weeks, sellers have been speculating something is coming because this page changed.

Under the “Promote Your Store” section, it used to offer more exposure to higher-end stores and now as you can see, there is no increased exposure on eBay.

Then I started to get reports that sellers store traffic was dropping. Then sellers started to notice that the “Shop eBay Stores” box was not showing up on some SERPs (I unfortunately don’t have a screen shot of this).   Still others have reported that instead of sponsored listings showing up on null search results they have replaced store discoverability (I have not seen that or a screen shot of it).

Finally, a seller yesterday was able to get a screen shot that showed an interesting twist.  eBay had replaced the store discoverability with eBay Express listings. eBay Express already advantages core (fp/bin) listings over store listings so this gives stores some visibility, but it’s greatly reduced.   Also, I don’t understand how this improves the buyer experience to see eBay/EE listings all jumbled together. There are sure to be duplicates and confusion around the intermingling of the brands.

 Here’s a screen shot:

Express_test

Of course sellers are speculating that this move indicates eBay is desperate to get traffic to EE and is willing to sacrifice store traffic to get there.

It’s not clear which of these tests will stick or not, but there’s enough going on around reducing store exposure that sellers are getting concerned.  In fact, eBay really has two levers they can pull to slow down the SIF format:  Increase fees and decrease traffic.  It looks like they maybe pulling the second lever instead of the first as I had incorrectly speculated a couple of weeks ago. 

Readers are you seeing a decrease in traffic to your store listings? Any other testing that you are seeing?

April 28, 2007

Merrill Lynch Conference Call

Monday, April 30th at noon EST, I was invited to talk about the Q1 results we saw from eBay, Amazon, Google and Yahoo!.  It was definitely an interesting quarter (e.g. amazon's growth rate surprised everyone - is that related to eBay's core growth challenges?).

Of course I have lots of theories around what's going on and insights at a micro level from individual sellers.  Details follow.  If you are interested in attending shoot Betsyk (at) channeladvisor.com an email and she'll get you the dialin information.

Call with Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor
Please join us on Monday, April 30 at 12:00 PM EST for a Q&A conference call with Scot Wingo, Chief Executive Officer of ChannelAdvisor, a technology and services company that helps retailers and manufactures sell products across multiple online platforms including marketplaces (eBay, Amazon.com and Overstock.com), comparison shopping engines (Shopping.com, Shopzilla, Nextag and Froogle) and search engines (Google, Yahoo! and MSN). Mr. Wingo will provide us with his perspective on trends in eCommerce, with a particular focus on how merchants are managing the sales channel options at their disposal, and potential implications for large-cap. eCommerce companies. Other topics will include:
  • Drivers of Amazon's 3rd party business growth
  • Opportunities and challenges for eBay to reaccelerate GMV growth
  • ROIs in different markets/channels and anticipated dollar flow to search
  • eRetailer experience with Yahoo!'s Panama and various payment systems including PayPal and Google Checkout
About ChannelAdvisor
ChannelAdvisor Corporation provides technology and services that enable retailers and manufactures to sell their products across multiple online marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon.com and Overstock.com, comparison shopping engines such as Shopping.com, Shopzilla, Nextag and Froogle and search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN. In 2006, ChannelAdvisor managed over $1.6 billon in gross merchandise value (GMV) on behalf of its customers.

April 25, 2007

Feedback 2.0 is coming to the USA!

Brian_burkeToday Brian Burke, eBay's T+S Director of Feedback (that must be a fun title to explain at cocktail parties) announced that Feedback 2.0 is coming to the USA.

I was in the UK last week and the only reaction I received was:

  1. Why do we have to be eBay's guinea pigs on everything?
  2. So far everyone has a 4.5-5.0 stars on their DSRs so how will this help eBay differentiate sellers from each other.

It will be interesting to see if the US sellers have the same feedback (sorry for the pun).

April 23, 2007

Catalyst UK Wrap-up...

London_catalyst What do Amazon, Google, eBay, Yahoo!, MSN, PriceRunner, Shopping.com/Doorone.co.uk, Kelkoo, PayPal and Cybersource all have in common?

Last week this all-star line up presented at our Catalyst UK event in downtown London.  The event was sold out with over 150 attendees representing customers, partners and prospects.  As evidence of the room we have to grow in the UK, the potential customers outnumbered the existing customers!

It was great to meet with so many of the UK's top sellers and learn about what's working for them, where their challenges are, etc.  One overall theme I came away with is that the UK sellers have the benefit of seeing what eBay is doing in the more mature US+DE markets and thus they are able to make strategic decisions before they become a challenge to their business.  For example, more of our UK customers (by percentage) appear to be actively working on paid-search campaigns and learning about channels like Comparison Shopping Engines than in the US/DE.  The demo sessions on SearchAdvisor and ShoppingAdvisor were very full and the level of questions was more advanced than we typically see from internet retailers with eBay origins.

Another interesting point was the level of excitement around Google Checkout.  The sellers really 'got' how GC can boost your web business by increasing CTR while reducing payment processing.  I suspect we'll have 80-100% GC adoption in the UK by end of Q.

James Scott who runs marketplaces in the UK had some interesting stats about the market:

  • The UK is at > 50% broadband adoption due to landgrabs from their cable/phone/dish companies.
  • In 2006, UK consumers spent over £30bn online. That’s up from £19.5bn from 2005 and puts UK online spending at between 45 and 50% of the US. Which is pretty incredible when you stop and think about it. 45% of the US online spend with only 20% of the population count. 
  • Royal Mail can get most packages to anywhere in the country next day which means shipping times are on average a lot quicker than US. Customers who are happy to wait 24 hours for delivery are making the purchase online.
  • UK consumers are spending more online each year, per capita than their US colleagues and the total amount spent online is increasing more rapidly than in the US.
  • Nearly 75% of buyers visit two or more venues online before making their purchase decision. So, for example, one might visit a shopping comparison site, like Kelkoo, and a marketplace like eBay before making a purchase decision. (Scot note: Thus it's important that your products are on ALL channels - this is a zero sum game.)
  • Even more interestingly, 50% of buyers visit three or more venues.

I presented on the state of global ecommerce and gave a brief ChannelAdvisor update.  My slides are available for download here. Download Catalyst_UK_SW_Keynote.pdf

Congrats to the CA UK team for an excellent event and kudos for all your hard work making it happen. Finally, thanks to our platinum sponsor Google and gold sponsor Cybersource.

Tuesday listing promo and thanks for listening!

At our USA Catalyst event, during Bill Cobb's keynote, one of the points of feedback BC said he would work on is longer notification for listing promotions.  In the UK they have gone to giving at least 24hrs and many times as long as a week to let the seller base prepare for a listing promo.

Last night eBay announced a $.20 auction-style listing promo for Tuesday April 24th.  The timing of the announcement gives sellers a little over 24hrs to prepare for the promo.

This is a great example of eBay listening and acting on a seller recommendation - Thanks BC!

April 20, 2007

eBay Top-sellers Getting TKO'd by TKOs

The battle against online fraud can be a complex and ever changing fight.  The good guys come up with counter measures to the bad guys. The bad guys react by changing their tactics, the good guys react, and so the wheel turns.

Thus, as eBay fights fraudsters, sellers are exposed to new behaviors.  One problem that we've seen substantially escalate in the last several weeks is TKOs.  It took me a while to get to the bottom of that name (most sellers assume it has to do with Technical Knock Out - the common usage of the TKO acronym , but we have a couple of ex-eBay folks in our UK office and they were able to enlighten me after some digging).

TKO stands for - TaKe Over (the T and K are from Take the O is from Over). I realize it's not a true acronym, but that's what I'm told internally eBay uses as an explanation.

This is a long post, but it's an important issue to understand.  In this post we'll give a detailed overview of what a TKO is, the impact on top sellers, a case study and finally our suggestions to eBay for fixing the TKO problem.  Finally, as reference we were able to obtain the emails that go to both buyers and sellers so you can see the wording for yourself.

What is a TKO?

Here's how the TKO scenario plays out:

  1. Non-fraudulent large seller lists items for sale all the time in auction format (larger sellers list more remember)
  2. A bad-guy uses phishing or password guessing, Trojan horses to take control of a buyer's account.
  3. Bad-guy now uses this hijacked account to bid on hundreds, or thousands of items - they go on a frenzied bidding spree.
  4. Good-guy seller's listings end with winning bidders.  Bad-guy could have won some, most likely he is just one of many bidders.
  5. Good-guy buyer who is the victim of account hijack reports to eBay
  6. eBay blocks the hijacked account and through a series of steps returns control of the account to the good-guy buyer
  7. As part of this process, eBay looks at the bid activity for the hijacked timeframe and deletes (yes totally removes) those listings from eBay
  8. eBay emails seller to tell them that due to the fraudulent bidding activity, the auction is totally invalidated and has been removed from the system
  9. eBay ALSO emails EVERY bidder of the impacted listings to let them know that the item has been nuked and the transaction is null and void

For under-bidders that receive the email, it's not a big deal.  For winning-bidders it means they no longer will receive the item they won so they now have to go and find another item or explore if the seller has it.

The real victim in this fraud scenario is the seller and increasingly top-sellers.

Top-seller impact

The TKO actions taken by eBay Seem logical enough, but this is causing serious economic damage to sellers as it ramps up:

  1. Top-sellers by the nature of listing more, have a higher probability of being hit by the problem and as they grow, the number grows at a faster rate.
  2. In steps 8+9 of the TKO scenario above, the email to the seller (included below due to length) is very clear that a fraudulent bidder/taken over account was involved. HOWEVER, the email to the bidder (included below due to length) is very unclear and in fact doesn't even clearly state that it was not the seller that caused the listing to be TKO'd.
    • 2A. The email to ALL bidders hurts the seller's image/brand on eBay by not making it clear they are not fraudulent
    • 2B. The email frequently causes a raft of emails to the seller and increases customer service
    • 2C. The email does not point the buyer back to the seller to try and bid on a similar item or once the seller relists, let them know about it (more on relists - see number 5).
  3. Since the item is deleted from the eBay system, the seller can not recover the listing fee
  4. Also, if the TKO happens after the item has been won, the seller also loses FVFs
  5. If your read the seller notice, you will notice that since the item is totally deleted from eBay's system, there is no automated way to relist.  If you use the eBay seller tools, the information is completely gone.  If you use a third party system to list, you can at least post the SKU again, but you will not get a relist credit as you normally would if an auction was ended (versus TKO'd)
  6. Sometimes this happens so far after an auction has ended that the winning bidder has already paid.  Now the seller has a refund problem, but this is hard because the item is deleted and the seller can't even look up what the item that was TKOd 'was' to be able to re-offer it to the buyer, refund, etc.  When this happens you are in a really sticky situation.

To be fair, I've heard that if sellers document the TKOs, call their TSAM and complain a little they will get the FVFs credited and if you complain a LOT you get the listing fees too.

In any case, these six economic impacts really add up and TKOs appear to be occurring at a near epidemic pace over the last 60 days.  Let's look at a recent, real-world example.

Case study: TKO'd vintage poster seller - emovieposter.com

eBay's largest vintage movie poster seller, emovieposter.com, runs weekly auctions that customers know end on Tuesday nights.  emovieposter is a multi-million dollar GMV seller and amazingly (given the volume and product sold) maintains a 99.9% feedback rating. I haven't seen a negative in 2yrs.  Everything emovieposter sells starts at $.99 no reserve so this is exactly the seller eBay wants to keep and grow so they can bring the fun back to core.

Unfortunately, it's exactly these elements that make emovieposter a target of fraud in general and recently a relentless barrage of TKOs: lots of listings, lots of bidding, .99 start price, high ASP put them in the fraud bullseye.

Last week after their weekly Tuesday night auctions closed, emovieposter received noticed that 97 of their listings had been TKO'd.  While only 97 listings were TKO'd, eBay emailed EVERY bidder the bidder TKO email (emovieposter averages about 7 bids per item so that's about 700 this week.  As mentioned the bulk of emovieposter's bidders are previous buyers so their first inclination is to email emovieposter and ask what the heck is going on.

The impact to emovieposter for ONE weekly auction:

  • 97 listing fees and FVF's not refunded
  • 700 bidders that have received an unclear email about emovieposter
  • hundreds of calls and emails from anxious bidders+buyers wanting to know what's going on
  • 97 buyers that need dealing with
  • 97 posters that didn't sell and now sit for another week costing time and money to warehouse/move/etc.

Suggested solutions for the problem

Here are several ways for eBay to address/fix this situation:

  • Get even more aggressive on protecting the site from phishers.  Key fobs for accounts, require buyers to register with payment/addr info, stop sending out emails that have clickable links (yellow button), etc.  We've been covering this topic for a while.  Oh yeah - require passwords to be a mix of chars/other, longer and get a seller to change them frequently
  • If hijacks do occur, don't nuke the listing, simply put it into a closed state so it can be relisted.   When relisted email all the bidders that it's back.
  • Rework the email that goes to bidders making it 100% clear the seller was not involved in any fraudulent activity
  • Give sellers the ability to reduce the number of bids a single bidder can make in a short window of time.  e.g. Limit bidders to 5/10/20 bids per 24hrs
  • Of course 100% fees should be credited - it's eBay's job to police the site and stop account take overs.  With the seller paying they have no incentive to start to get more aggressive on this.  They need to feel the pain.

Are other sellers out there hitting this issue? Feel free to post your comments/suggestions/experiences as well.

And now for those that are interested here are the emails sent to the seller and buyer respectively:

Note: To protect the personally identifying information of the buyer+seller, I have replaced anything personally identifying with a description in brackets.

Seller TKO Notice:

Subject: TKO NOTICE: eBay Listing(s) Removed
-----------------------------------------------------------------
Dear [seller], [seller email],

The results of the following listing(s) have been cancelled due to bidding activity that took place without the account owner's authorization:

[list of titles ]

We have cancelled the listing(s) to maintain the integrity of the eBay site, your account, and the bidder?s account that was accessed. We are working to restore the bidding account to its rightful owner, and we are working with the account owner to prevent any additional unauthorized activity. Since the account owner did not initiate these bids, fees resulting from the listings in question will be credited to your account.

Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to automatically relist these items for you. Instead, to relist these items you will need to start from the beginning of the listing process, either through the "Sell Your Item" process or through your third party listing service. We know that this is an inconvenience and we apologize for the negative impact it may cause you. We are working on tools to allow you to relist your items without starting from the beginning, but they are not available at this time.

Do not respond to this email, as your reply will not be received. If there are issues that have not been addressed by this message, you can contact us by clicking the "Help" link located at the top of most eBay pages and selecting "Contact Us" from the menu on the left hand side of the page.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Regards,

eBay Trust & Safety

Bidder TKO Notice:

Dear [bidder user ID],

The listing in which you were a bidding participant:

[item number and title ]

has been ended by eBay. Since the listing was ended by eBay, the transaction itself is null and void.

Due to privacy concerns, we cannot disclose the exact reason the listing itself was ended.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you, and we thank you for being a part of the eBay trading community.

Regards,

Customer Support (Trust and Safety Department)

April 18, 2007

eBay to Acquire StumpleUpon? and Why?

The Blogosphere is buzzing with a rumor that eBay is on the verge of announcing a $40m+ acquisition of StumbleUpon - SU.  SU is a toolbar/website that allows you to discover new websites that the COMMUNITY recommends.  Personally I've found it a bit of a time hole, but hey isn't that what community is all about? ;-)

Om@B2 speculates that eBay will use SU+Skype to do an end-run on Google's search dominance.  Ok, not sure I buy into that.

Personally I think eBay is having a really really hard time with the finding experience on eBay and they could use the SU system to fix that problem.  Imagine an addition to the eBay toolbar that helps you find stuff on eBay tailored to a) what you like and b) what your social network likes.  That would actually be pretty useful IMO.

Interesting enough Meg spent a fair amount on today's Q1 conference call talking up all the work they are doing on Finding (what all other inet co's call search) and how strategic Finding is to improving the slow-growth seen in the USA marketplace biz.  Could she have been laying the groundwork for the SU deal?  Only time will tell, so stay tuned true believers.

RIP Froogle - Viva La GPS!

Many eBay sellers love(d) Froogle because it was, well free, but also a great way to get ramped up on Comparison Shopping Engines (CSEs).  Over at CSE Strategies we have details of what Google has done to Froogle today.