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October 24, 2012

Recent eBay search (algorithm) changes - answers to your questions

On October 2, 2012, in a blog post titled: "eBay makes two Q4 search changes causign sellers to scratch their heads", we shared two changes that eBay emailed sellers about:

  • eBay is ending the New Product Based Experience
  • They are also changing the behavior of duplicate auction listings

In that post, we had a bunch of unanswered questions that we were fielding.  

Since that blog post we have continued to receive reports of sellers confused about the changes and also seeing decreases in sales due to the changes.  When we've helped these sellers dig into what is going on, invariably it is due to one of these changes, with auction duplicates having the largest impact to those sellers unaware of the change.

eBay's Vice President of Merchant Development, Michael Jones, was kind enough to spend some time with us going through our questions that we had about the changes from that post and provide clarity on eBay's thinking.  If you have further questions, feel free to post in comments and we'll do our best to answer or pass them on to eBay.

Note: These probably won't make much sense for you unless you read the October 2 post first, which is strongly recommended.

Product Based Experience Answers

Question: What is a product card?

Answer: Product cards consolidate multiple listings for the same product into a single entry in search results. This helped clean up search results and helped buyers hone in faster on the specific products they were looking for. At the same time, it also required buyers to click on the product card before getting to individual listings. This was initially a successful experience but we recently observed that buyers would rather go directly to search results than have another interstitial experience, so the decision was made to remove product cards from search results to give buyers a more direct path to purchase.

Question: 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?!

Answer: Product detail pages are static pages that aggregate similar listings in one place. We aren’t removing them so they are always accessible through search engines for buyers shopping by UPCs or these other avenues.  But when doing a search on eBay, buyers are now taken directly to search results. The product detail page is still accessible on eBay from the item page to buyers who want to see similar listings.  This page will continue to evolve as we do more testing and build out products.

Question: 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?

Answer: Our commitment to search and shopping experiences that rely on structured data continues to be very strong and we are continuing to make advances in that area. Structureddata and catalogs will continue to power SEO, merchandising, finders, fitment, and other applications. So it is still valuable to list with the catalog. 

Question: Will this impact the mobile shopping experience?

Answer: We never introduced a product based experience on mobile.

Question: eBay was going down this path of being more like Amazon, does this mean that is off?

Answer: We want to meet the needs of our buyers and iterate on improving the buyer experience. We also want to continue to do this while not competing with our sellers, instead creating a marketplace for them to compete and win.

Question: Is this something to do with Cassini?
Answer: No

Question: We've had this for three years and they just now figured out it isn't working?

Answer: The Product Based Experience (PBE) was launched in September 2010 with the goal of simplifying the search results by consolidating listings, eliminating redundancy across results and reducing pogo-sticking, and to help our users find the best deal for a product. It was initially successful, however, recent studies suggest that our buyers now prefer a shorter path to purchase and would rather go directly to Search results than have another interstitial experience.


Duplicate Listings Answers 

Question: I didn't think the duplicate listing policy applied to auctions, so what was the behavior before Oct 4th? 

 Answer: We have discouraged the use of duplicate auctions as far back as March 2011. We focused on a select group of sellers that were listing so many duplicate auctions that they were cluttering search results and hurting the buyer experience. We then formally added duplicate auctions to the Duplicate listing policy in the Spring 2012 Spring Seller Update. 

Question: I thought auctions were my only way to buy my way into search results and around Best Match? 

Answer: Listing duplicate auctions to buy search results harms the buyer experience and lowers sales.  Sellers with deep inventory should list multi-quantity fixed price listings and follow Best Match guidelines to maximize their sales. (http://pages.ebay.com/help/sell/searchstanding.html)

However, there are situations (fairly uncommon) where duplicate auctions are fine to list:

  • Liquidation inventory that does not have a set price (e.g. refurbished laptops) that a seller lists with a low start price and no reserve  
  • Items in very high demand that will get many competing bids and will maximize price realization. 

Question: Won't this be weird for buyers?  I find one item and bid and then suddenly another one is there.   

Answer: Buyers buy less when duplicate listings clutter search results.  It’s possible a buyer could see a duplicate listing after they bid on an auction and wonder where it came from, but more importantly we want to make sure we expose our diverse inventory to help buyers make purchasing decisions.

Question: 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? 

Answer: In the selling section of My eBay, sellers can find a list of the duplicate auctions that aren’t visible on the site.  Sellers can visit the Listing Activity section and clicking on the ‘Duplicate listings not visible to buyers’ link.  Once a duplicate auction is shown it is never removed - the key is that we will only show a duplicate auction once the listing on the site gets a bid or ends.

Question: 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. 

Answer: A duplicate auction is only shown if there are a minimum of 2 hours remaining before it ends.  Any duplicate listing with less than 2 hours left will not be shown and the seller will be refunded for insertion fees and any feature fees.  

Our research has shown that sellers with attractive inventory in duplicate auctions (e.g. refurbished iPods starting at $1 NR) tend to get bids very quickly, so their listings would be unlikely to receive limited exposure. Duplicate auctions that don't get many bids tend to get bids in the final 2 hours. This 2 hour value is something eBay will monitor and optimize over time, though we have no plans to ever make it shorter than 2 hours. 

Sellers that are concerned about getting less than the full exposure for their auctions should not list duplicate auctions that end at the same time or end close to one another.  E.g. if a seller wants to ensure they always get 24 hours of exposure for their duplicate auctions, they should list them so they always end 24 hours apart. 

Question: Is eBay essentially putting another nail in the auction listing coffin? 

Answer: On the contrary, Auctions continue to be an important part of the eBay marketplace and we want to ensure their relevance in search results by removing the duplicative listings that make it harder for buyers to find what they want. Our research has shown that when we remove the clutter of too many listings from the same seller offering identical items, it improves buyers’ ability to see a wider breadth inventory, resulting in higher sales.

 

Scot Wingo wrote this blog post, CEO of ChannelAdvisor.  I am long Amazon and Google. eBay is a minority investor in ChannelAdvisor.


 

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