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EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 1627 - September 24, 2007 - ISSN 1539-5065    3 of 3

Searching for Answers on eBay's New Playground

By Lissa McGrath
September 24, 2007

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I love to try new programs. When Microsoft Office 2007 launched, I got it almost immediately. It was a shock seeing that so many of the functions (previously second nature to me) had changed. But in time I realized that it is a much better program and has some really cool new features that previous versions didn't. How is this relevant? Well, I think of the new search feature on eBay the same way. I've been trying to get into the test group for a while, so when the Playground was announced, I got right into it and I've been using it ever since.

At first, like Office 2007, it was a shock. There is a lot that is different. But as the months have gone by, I've come to really like some features and really dislike others. This article is based on my opinion having used the new beta site. I am a seller, but this is specifically from the point of view of a buyer and deals specifically with the new search feature. I invite you to visit the Playground with me to follow along: http://www.playground.ebay.com. (You'll have to manually return to the main site after you have finished your tour - there's a small link at the top of the Playground page.)

Things I Like
On the forums there are many people who don't like Snapshot or don't see the point of it. Personally, I love it. I buy a lot of children's clothes and shoes, so browsing pictures is important. I like that I can see so many results on one page (far more than on Gallery) and then hover my mouse over the ones I'm interested in to get more detail. It's like Gallery Plus...plus some. It shows the enlarged picture, the title, current price, time remaining, a link to the full description, and a link to Watch This Item. I know sellers hate Watch This Item being offered before the buyer looks at the description, but for me this is a great feature. I watch all of the items I'm interested in, and then I go back and look at the descriptions and delete the ones I change my mind on.

I also like that on the list view, you can change the size of the thumbnail picture. So if it is irrelevant for you, you can make it small and increase the number of items showing on each page. If it's important, but you prefer list view to other views, then you can make it larger.

I like how eBay has chosen to use a sliding color bar for the main color. I think this is a brilliant idea. Not only is it a space-saver, but it neatly removes the issue of what color has what name. For example, it's much easier to identify tan, brown, khaki, taupe, etc. by color than by name as everyone has a slightly different idea of what each color looks like. I'd like to see more color choices, but in general, I like this feature.

I also like the sliding scale for the price range. It's quicker, more visual, and shows you the maximum price of items in your results. It's a space-saver too, and ties in well with the color sliding bar.

Things I Don't Like
On Snapshot, when I expand a window, I then can't get access to the items that are now hidden by the box. I have to move the mouse away from all of the boxes and wait a few seconds for it to register that I don't want to look at this image any more, then go back to the one I want. It can be a bit frustrating. I know there are still some glitches to work out in the system, but I've found that sometimes the windows don't enlarge. Then, after I refresh the page, it works as it should. I can't really complain about this since I am choosing to use the Beta version.

On the list view, I really don't like how they show the total price. We all thought we would finally get an actual total price, not a + sign between the two columns we're used to seeing. I was very disappointed in this. Buyers want a real total. We know that if you add the current bid and the shipping cost we get our total. The point is, we don't want to have to do it. We want a figure total on the page so we don't have to do any adding.

Things I'm on the Fence about
I'm not sure I like how Gallery is displayed. It's like having the snapshot windows enlarged all the time, except the pictures are smaller, and it doesn't give you all the information you get through snapshot. There are far fewer results on each page, which really defeats the purpose for me. I think they got it right with snapshot and are missing the ball with Gallery.

I've heard buyers say that there is no point to having both snapshot and gallery. I think snapshot may have been an idea for redesigning gallery, but it's very different from what we're all used to seeing, so I think eBay is giving us the choice. I don't have a problem with having two different views. I will be using snapshot though.

I'm not sure about the keywords either. It's very similar to eBay Express in that format. I do like that you can remove one search term without affecting the others. However, I don't like that you have to scroll to the bottom of the Refine Your Search box to add another search term. I'd prefer to see that higher up.

Some buyers report getting fewer results using the new search. I tested this using the regular site and the playground. I found it differed by my search terms:


Number of Results

Search Terms

Regular Site Playground
6 pink (shoes,sneakers) 960 1110
Macbook Pro 1051 992
Military coin 372 524
Red iPod nano 478 464
Black coach (purse,handbag) 1711 2329
This is because of Item Specifics, according to Jeff King's discussion board post (http://forums.ebay.com/db1/thread.jspa?threadID=2000406482). His example was size 12 puma shoes. He said that eBay wants you to be able to find all size 12 puma shoes if that is what you searched for, even if the seller didn't put all of those keywords in their title. So, they're pulling the information from Item Specifics.

This is great in theory, but can cause a lot of mis-matched results too. Consider what eBay user Austin_Militaria discovered. He searched for West Point (meaning the Navy academy) and got over a thousand results for coins that were made at the West Point mint (completely unrelated). He can remove these results using -coin in his search term, but this is only just one example. It looks like the theory is there, but the application doesn't always work. Maybe a "smart search" option would be a good idea so buyers can choose whether or not they want eBay to find all relevant items rather than just searching the title keywords.

The common concern on the boards seems to be that this form of search is great when Item Specifics are used (clothing, electronics, etc.) but are absolutely awful when there are not set options for every item that would come up in that search. Buyers (and sellers) in the collectibles categories are up in arms about this. They find items by browsing. Item Specifics do not work in collectible categories where items are often unique, rare, or there are just too many variables to categorize. This is not accounted for in the new search and it is really frustrating people who frequent these categories. Let's hope eBay takes note and does something to make it possible for buyers to still find collectible items.

The results being shown are only from the most popular matching categories. I expect this is to make sellers use the popular categories rather than mis-categorizing items. The term "search manipulation" has been used numerous times on the boards. This is what many veteran buyers think it is. And I think that is the crux of the complaints: These changes are made for novice buyers, who don't know any better. In the process, it is alienating many veteran buyers. eBay is needing to show growth, and since most veteran buyers won't actually close their accounts even if they go elsewhere, the new buyers this draws in will make it appear like it is a success. However, in the next year or so I will be interested to see how the percentage of active users versus registered users differs from today.

All in all, I think there are some good and not so good changes. I'm certain there will be buyers (and sellers) who disagree with me, but the point of these redesigns is to appeal to as many people as possible. Features I dislike, may be just what another buyer was hoping for. It's a difficult task for eBay trying to please all buyers in all categories, but I think they've come up with some good changes. I hope they take on board the comments the testers are giving because there are some major bugs to work out and decisions on who they really want to appeal to that need to be made before the final launch.

Note from the Editor: eBay has not announced whether the new search technology, which it calls Finding 2.0, will be implemented across all categories when it rolls out on the main site.

About the author:

Lissa McGrath is the author of three eBay books, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to eBay" 2nd Edition (Alpha, 2010); "The Pocket Idiot's Guide to eBay Motors" (Alpha, 2008); and "20 Questions To Ask Before Selling On eBay" (Career Press, 2006). She is also the editor of eight other eBay books. You can reach Lissa directly at lissa (at) lissamcgrath (dot) com or through her website http://www.lissamcgrath.com.

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