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October 03, 2012

eBay makes two Q4 search changes causing sellers to scratch their heads

Yesterday (October 2, 2012) was a very unusual day in eBay-land.  eBay alerted sellers through non-standard (e.g. emails instead of pre-planned releases and transparent announcements) that they are making two relatively major changes to search pretty much effective immediately.  The two changes are:

  1. They are (mostly) ending what was called the 'New Product Shopping Experience'.
  2. eBay also announced that they are changing the way that auction listings work when there are duplicate listings.

In this post, we will share what we know and attempt to answer some of the questions we are receiving.

RIP Product Cards and (mostly) NPSE?

Many sellers were perplexed to receive this notice:

Dear XXXX,

We're in the process of simplifying the path between a buyer's search for popular products and your listings. As a seller who lists in a category affected by this change, we wanted to inform you, and provide you with a little background.

We have made significant improvements in our item-based search experience in recent years, and have learned that eBay can generate more sales for sellers like you by launching the item-based search experience everywhere. For that reason, we are removing the consolidated view experience (often referred to as "product cards"), at this time.

Note that the product details page—including the value box featuring great values from Top Rated sellers—will continue to be available to buyers, but only from a link on the view item page, onsite search widgets, or from off-eBay search results like Google and Yahoo!.

There's no action needed on your part to accommodate this change—just continue to follow all the best practices to maximize your exposure in search results —which includes listing with the eBay catalog. Listing with the catalog will become increasingly vital to your success, as eBay search uses the catalog information that gets appended to your listing, and will do so more and more as we release new features, such as finders in Electronics and filtering in Fashion.

We are always testing and evolving the site to ensure that eBay is a top shopping destination for buyers, and a powerful, profitable platform for valued sellers like you. We will continue to keep you informed of changes to the marketplace.

As always, thank you for selling on eBay!

Sincerely,

Michael Jones
Vice President,
Merchant Development

Here are the questions that sellers are asking:

  • What is a product card?
  • eBay is launching item-based experience everywhere, BUT the product detail page is available, but only from a link on the view item page, onsite search widgets and off-ebay search results like Google and Y! huh?!
  • Why would you have two different buyer experiences? (the eBay one and the google->eBay one) 
  • I thought these buyer experiences  are one of the benefits to listing with the eBay catalog - should I stop using it to help differentiate my listings as I used to do?
  • While shopping on mobile devices this was especially helpful because who wants to go through 80,000 listings on a small phone?
  • eBay was going down this path of being more like Amazon, does this mean that is off?
  • Is this something to do with Cassini?
  • We've had this for three years and they just now figured out it isn't working?

 Here's what we know so far:

What is a product card?

When you (used to) enter a general search term for electronics, you were presented with a set of SKU choices like this:

Product_cards

Then when you clicked on one, it took you to what is called the New Product Search Experience (see our detailed coverage from 2010 on the topic here).  Listing your items with Catalog allowed you to not only have more robust listings (with data from the catalog), but eBay also used that data to create the NPSE and the Product Cards.

Parsing the announcement, it seems like Product Cards are definitely dead and they want to kill the NPSE, but it's either going to take a while to unwind that one, or they essentially only need it for Google Shopping and other channels as they 'require' SKU.  That's interesting because given that NPSE had a ton of information around pricing, automatically picked the lowest eTRS sellers, and more, you would think it would convert better.  

One thing we did notice is that eBay has added a new filter, so maybe this experience is performing better than cards+npse:

Ebay_search1

 

Should I stop using the eBay Catalog?

This is a tricky one, because right in the notice it says you should keep using catalog.  However, I think there is a valid argument/logic trail that goes like this:

  • Cards and NPSE are gone except for google inbound traffic
  • Some relatively large % of buyers will see listings vs. NPSE
  • If I list with catalog, my listing will 100% match all those other catalog listings (yawn)
  • Therefore to stand out, you may want to deviate from the catalog (change the image, insert my own text, etc).  

This is a compelling argument and my recommendation as with all things like this in e-commerce is test, test and test some more.  I think it will be interesting to test listing both catalog and non-catalog because you would argue that's the best strategy - that eBay in a way is splitting into two buyer experiences now:

  1. The native eBay buyer - they will be shown lots of listings, so we want our listing to stand out.
  2. The google->eBay buyer - they will be shown NPSE so we want to list for catalog for this buyer.  I suspect this is a large enough 20-40% of traffic that it warrants a different/focused approach.

Of course there are considerations around listing fees and duplicate listing policies, but again the upside probably justifies figuring those nuances out.  Said another way - you need to list with catalog so you are still in NPSE for google traffic, but listing outside of catalog may make sense for on-eBay traffic.  We will be testing this at ChannelAdvisor and I'll report any insights we gain.

Bottom line: eBay sees more data than any one seller or software provider, so they must see something in the data that justifies this move.  I'd recommend staying alert to both traffic trends and the buyer experience over the next 30 days to make sure you adapt quickly to the change and don't lose market share/momentum.

eBay also changes duplicate auction listings behavior

In addition to the above note, sellers were reporting this additional note on search changes around auctions as well.

Dear Seller

We're writing to you because you have had duplicate Auction-style listings on eBay in the past. We are changing how these listings will appear on the site, and wanted to inform you that these changes could result in reduced visibility on the site.

Starting October 4, if you create or have duplicate Auction-style listings on the site, only one listing without bids will appear on the site at a time. Once that listing receives a bid or ends, the next listing for the same item will be eligible to appear. If a duplicate Auction-style listing expires before appearing, Insertion Fees and Feature Fees will be refunded, whenever applicable. If your duplicate Auction-style listings are not receiving bids, the duplicate listings could get as little as two hours of visibility on the site.

Get more information on eBay's Duplicate Listing policy.

As always, thank you for selling on eBay.

Sincerely,

The eBay Seller Team

Sellers have this question:

  • I didn't think the duplicate listing policy applied to auctions, so what was the behavior before Oct 4th?
  • I thought auctions were my only way to buy my way into search results and around BestMatch?
  • Won't this be weird for buyers?  I find one item and bid and then suddenly another one is there.  
  • How am I going to know if my auction listing was never seen and I am owed a refund - isn't eBay incented to maybe show it one time to keep the fees? Will there be some new dashboard/data that tells me how long my auction items were shown so I can make smart decisions?
  • My item has 2 hours to get a bid.  When are those two hours - end, beginning, random?  Doesn't that seem a bit unfair.  I am paying for a 7 day auction (on average) which is 7 * 24 = 168hrs and it's only showing up for 2.  That's 1.2% of the time I effectively paid a listing fee for.
  • Is eBay essentially putting another nail in the auction listing coffin?

In trying to find answers these questions, one seller pointed out that eBay's help documentation is very confusing on this topic:

  • There's this page  (http://pages.ebay.com/sellerinformation/sellingresources/duplicatelistingpolicy.html) which says: "Auction-style listings are not subject to duplicate listing policy...."
  • Then there's this page (http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/listing-multi.html) which says: "In general, sellers shouldn't list duplicate auction-style listings. Only items that tend to do well when sold in an auction-style format—for example, hard-to-find or high-demand items—and sell nearly 100% of the time should be listed in duplicate. If you aren't sure your items will sell at a very high rate, you should create one listing at a time." 

Again, unfortunately we're not exactly sure what is going on here, but reading between the lines, our best guess:

  • eBay is definitely further limiting the use of the auction format.  It needs to be for $1 NR type goods that have a lot of bid momentum/velocity.  It used to be that you could use the auction format to turn a lot of items into cash and they seem to be turning that feature of auctions effectively 'off'.  Deal of the Day is the preferred 'deep sku' sales channel now.
  • Our recommendation which we've been giving for a while is use the auction format for very select situations and focus on fixed-price because a) that's where the growth is and b) eBay is definitely tilting the playing field that direction.

Be alert, attentive and reactive

 Changes to search in the key Q4 timeframe can have an impact on the most strategic part of the year for eBay sellers.  We recommend sellers stay alert for any more changes coming down the line and a best practice is to frequently 'act like a buyer' and search as a consumer would for your products -not only on eBay, but do some google searches and follow the trail from Google Shopping and AdWords down into your eBay listings to make sure you understand each buyer experience and can optimize appropriately.

 

 

 

 

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