EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 298 - November 06, 2011 - ISSN 1528-6703     3 of 5

Kicking the Tires of eBay's New Shopping Cart - Exclusive!

By Julia Wilkinson

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eBay is rolling out a new shopping cart right as we head into the holiday season. eBay sellers are understandably leery: Will it encourage more sales, including more multi-item sales from the same buyers? Or will it frustrate buyers, possibly leading to lost sales due to forgotten items languishing in carts, and the inability to offer an extra combined-shipping discount on-the-fly for multiple "free shipping" items?

I decided to take the cart for a spin and see how it fared during an intense pre-holiday shopping spree.

Organizing Your Purchases in One Place
I started out shopping old-school, bidding on an auction for a pair of Levi's 501 jeans for my son, who seems to outgrow his every other month. Then I found another pair of Levi's, this time a "Buy It Now" listing for a pair of 560 Comfort jeans, and I clicked the little blue "Add to cart" button.

Above: A fixed price listing shows the "Add to cart" blue button as seen from a buyer's perspective.

The first thing I noticed when going into the new shopping cart screen after adding the Buy It Now jeans to my shopping cart, was that the cart showed the auction item on which I was currently the highest bidder. I wasn't expecting to see that, as I had not yet won the item and did not know if I would. But I liked having all my purchases or potential purchases available to view on one screen. Later, I was outbid on the Levi's jeans auction, and the cart reflected that too, displaying an "outbid" message.

My only quibble is that as both a buyer and seller I'd like to see the "Sorry, you've been outbid" message "pop" more; it could be in larger type, red, bold, or some combination of the three, for example. Otherwise someone who added a lot of auction items to their cart and did not keep a close track on their emails might not notice they were outbid when they went in to review their cart.

Above: Auction items shows in Cart summary, including the bidding status (e.g. "Congrats! You won this item. Check out now," or "Sorry, you've been outbid").

If you do not win an item at auction, you can delete that item from your cart summary, so it doesn't clutter up your cart. Auction items on which you are bidding and have not yet won, or on which you were outbid, do not show up once you "Proceed to checkout."

"LAST ONE" Banner Gives Sense of Urgency
Another thing I liked both as a buyer and a seller is that fixed-price items that are one-off/one-of-a-kind show up in the cart with a bold red "LAST ONE" diagonal banner across the thumbnail picture. So although just putting a fixed-price item in the new eBay Shopping cart does not mean the shopper has committed to buy, the banner gives that shopper a sense of urgency that the item may get away if they do not check out.

Above: "LAST ONE" banners show across thumbnail photos for the fixed-price one-of-a-kind items in my cart.

Continuing on my spree, I added a pair of sweatpants, a white shirt, and a pair of emerald earrings (my sister's birthstone) to the cart. (The latter was a multi-item listing, so did not show up with the "LAST ONE" banner in my cart).

I wasn't worried about adding too many things to the cart, as you can add as many as 100 items to your Shopping Cart at a time, according to eBay. Also, you can have items from up to 10 different sellers, with no more than 40 items from any one seller.

At one point during my eBay shopping excursion, I had four items in the shopping cart, including the auction for which I was still the high bidder. The cart gave me the subtotal of the three fixed price items only in the cart. It doesn't include in the total the item(s) on which I am bidding, auction-style. This seems to make sense, as I don't know yet whether I will win the auction-style item.

eBay, to its credit, does try to avoid confusion for auction-style items during the shopping cart checkout process by explaining in the "Review your purchase" screen after you "Proceed to checkout": "Missing some items? Active auctions or items that are unavailable will remain in your cart, but won't show in checkout," right below the "Review your purchase" heading.

Above: At the top, the message "Missing some items? Active auctions or items that are unavailable will remain in your cart, but won't show in checkout," shows right below the "Review your purchase" heading.

The "Add Message to Seller" Debate
At this point in checkout you can check the prices of everything, and make sure the total looks correct. eBay also gives you a place to "Redeem a gift card, certificate, or coupon," as you could in the old, regular checkout. You can also contact any of the sellers of these items by clicking the "Add message" link under the item.

The "Add message" option, however, is so tiny that it's not clear many buyers will find it. On an eBay discussion board, one seller who sells mostly custom-made items wrote, "it is crucial that the buyers are able to include a note with their order," and asked if this "message to seller" option would be made more prominent/easy to find for buyers with the new cart.

eBay's Product Director of Checkout Experience and Shopping Cart Andrew Shearer responded, calling it "a fairly polarizing" topic for sellers.

"For those who don't need the field, they have asked us to turn it off entirely because buyers sometimes use it even though it's not being looked at by the seller," he said. But he added that eBay was giving thought to a solution that would help "BOTH sellers who need it AND those who specifically find it problematic." (The seller of custom-made items noted that eBay's older, non-cart checkout system hides the message box, and that "many buyers cannot find it.")

Checking Out the Checkout
During the checkout process, you can also change the quantity of any of the items you are buying. For example, since a "Men's Button Down Polo Golf Shirt" I had in the cart was a multi-quantity listing, I could change the "Quantity" field there and then click "Update Total" to get a new total for all the items. This would seem to encourage buyers to buy more than one of an item, though how that will play out in reality has yet to be seen.

At this point in my test, I went ahead and proceeded through the rest of checkout to pay for all these fixed-price items. You can also pay for one item at a time using the "pay only this seller" button. I used that option at one point in my spree for an item I had won at auction, and left the fixed-price items I had not yet committed to in my cart. (I don't like to leave items won at auction unpaid for, lest I forget to pay for them later, although the cart should help me remember).

Above: Changeable "Quantity" field for a multi-item listing, and a "Pay only this seller" button shows for fixed-price item in cart.

At one point during my shopping, when I returned to my cart the day after adding some items to the cart, I noticed a new message: "The seller has revised one or more of the listings in your cart. Please review the updated listings before proceeding."

Above: Cart screen with "The seller has revised one of more of the listings in your cart. Please review the updated listings before proceeding."

I could tell which seller had revised the listing because their item had a little orange flag next to it; it was the "NWT MENS LEVIS 560 COMFORT FIT JEANS." Clicking into the listing, I tried to figure out what had been revised, but wasn't sure. This may be a source of confusion for buyers, if sellers do not clearly state at the top of listings what they've revised, or if eBay does not give them some way to delineate what has been revised on the cart summary screen.

"Who's Got My Stuff?" Seller Concerns
Sellers have voiced various concerns about the new cart, on eBay message boards and other Internet venues. Many sellers are frustrated that they will not be able to "see" whether or not buyers have added an item to their carts, and therefore won't be able to do anything to incentivize these shoppers to make the purchase.

After all, an item or items can languish in a cart indefinitely, until they or someone else commits to purchasing it; it works similar to eBay's Watch List in that way.

However, Shearer said that eBay is thinking about adding that feature. "Further down the road, we think it would be effective to allow sellers to extend special offers to buyers who have an item in their cart. But we're just in the early stages of brainstorming those ideas," he said in an eBay message board session.

"Based on sellers we've talked to, we've heard a desire to potentially lower prices or do other things to market to those buyers to get them to commit to the purchase. This is potentially a great opportunity for our sellers to drive sales or increase order size," said eBay employee Jordan Sweetnam on the discussion board.

Combined Shipping Worries
Perhaps the biggest issue over which sellers have voiced concern is how combined-shipping discounts will play out in the new cart system. Many sellers offer free shipping (to help their standings in search, for one reason), but offset those costs by raising the item's basic price a bit.

With the new shopping cart, sellers would like to be able to add an additional discount to buyers who purchase multiple items from them, where the seller can save them money shipping two or more items for more or less the same cost. Without that ability, they say, buyers will, in effect, be eating the extra costs built into each individual item.

In other words, because the item might be already priced a bit higher to account for the free shipping, sellers reason, a buyer would not want to add multiple items from the same seller to their cart, because all that "built-in shipping" would add up to too much.

Sweetnam said eBay does have plans to offset this problem of not having a combined shipping discount option for multiple free-shipping items from the same seller in a cart: "This is definitely in our plans and we hope to be able to offer something for our sellers later this year. Some of the ideas are offering a % off for: total purchase price, # of items in cart, related items, plus many more are on our radar. We think this should help sellers increase order size while at the same time deliver great value for our buyers."

I believe such features would be critical to sellers benefiting from the new cart. Allowing sellers to communicate with buyers who have added any of their items to their cart in order to offer them special discounts, or to lower a price to simulate a combined shipping discount where the "free shipping" has been built into the price of the item(s), would help both buyers and sellers.

eBay's reassurances are no doubt of some comfort to sellers. But as we plunge head-first into the critical holiday season, the proof for eBay sellers will be in the peddling. Will sales be up or down, and how much of that will be due to eBay's new shopping cart?

Let us know what you think - post your comments on the EcommerceBytes Blog!


About the author:

Julia Wilkinson is the author of "The eBay Price Guide" (No Starch Press, 2006) and "eBay Top 100 Simplified Tips & Tricks" (Wiley, 2004-6). Her free "Yard Salers" newsletter is at available at YardSalers.net where you will also find her latest ebook, Flip It Again.


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