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EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 1649 - October 24, 2007 - ISSN 1539-5065    1 of 4

eBay Change to Sort-by-Price Is Catch-22 for Some Sellers

By Ina Steiner
October 24, 2007

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A visit to eBay's discussion board devoted to the topic of Search shows buyers and sellers continuing to cope with changes eBay is rolling out to the site. eBay's new approach to search (which it began calling "finding" this year) is reminiscent of its rollout of Item Specifics a few years ago. The reasoning behind the change is logical, and outsiders are likely baffled by sellers' resistance to changes that may appear to be improvements. But because eBay does not control the "inventory" for sale on its marketplace - and because eBay's platform itself is less than perfect - the moves are awkward and jolting and can put some sellers at a disadvantage.

eBay's replacement of sort by price with a sort by "price plus shipping" is one example. eBay only supports UPS and USPS in its shipping calculator (and not every service from these providers). For sellers who use FedEx, DHL and other carriers and don't specify flat-rate shipping, their items will show up at the bottom of search results when sorted by price. It's a good bet many sellers are not even aware that their listings may be appearing on the bottom of search results when sorted by price.

eBay said the changes have not rolled out to every category. But shoppers who visit eBay.com and enter a search term generally do not specify a category, so if they sort their results by Price Plus Shipping, items with no shipping rate specified would appear at the bottom.

eBay said users have asked for a total price sort option so they could better compare listings. eBay knows listings with excessive shipping rates may surprise shoppers after they've already bid or bought.

But eBay has no control over which carriers sellers use. eBay said sellers who can't take advantage of its shipping calculator could choose to select a flat-rate shipping rate. However, this option may not work for some sellers or for some items. For those sellers, their only option is to leave the shipping rate blank and know that their items will show up last in results sorted by price.

Sellers who do choose to use flat-rate shipping rates face another potential problem - negative "DSRs."

Flat-Rate Shipping and DSR
The cost to send an item generally varies, with higher costs when sent to customers farther away. Sellers who choose to specify flat-rate shipping fees usually take that into account, coming up with an "average" rate - they'll make money on some orders and lose money on others. For customers located near such a seller, the cost may seem "excessive," however, and they may choose to give a negative rating to the seller on their Detailed Seller Rating (DSR). The "Shipping and handling charges" criterion is already shown to get lower scores than other DSR criteria due to buyers' sensitivity to S&H costs.

If flat-rate shipping rates harm DSRs, there are consequences. Sellers with sub-par DSR ratings will soon be disadvantaged in eBay's search results when sorted by Best Match, which some believe may become the default sort in the future. eBay will also begin to factor in DSRs in its Seller Non Performance policy enforcement.

Collectors May Lose Out
Collectors looking for items that have been bid up - an indicator that the item is desirable - often sort search results by highest price first. They may be unaware that the new sort may leave some high-priced items at the bottom of the sorted search results. eBay said shoppers will still be able to view those items in the default sort, which is "time ending soonest." But that requires shoppers be online during the ending hours of the auction.

For higher-priced items in which a seller has not specified a shipping rate, there is no way for collectors to easily find them except for a short window of time, at which point the collector may or may not be on eBay conducting a search.

This week, the change sellers are coping with is a sort option - soon, eBay will roll out an entire new search technology that it is currently testing on a percentage of visitors to eBay.com. Throw eBay platform glitches into the equation, and it's easier to understand why changes are not welcome by users - particularly during the holiday shopping season.

But for outsiders who may not grasp the complexity of selling on the eBay marketplace, it may be a mystery as to why sellers are complaining yet again over eBay's "improvements."

More background on Price Plus Shipping sort on the AuctionBytes Blog:

About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.

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