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eBay Spends Anniversary Fighting Severe Technical Issues

Severe technical issues marred the anniversary of the founding of eBay, which Pierre Omidyar called AuctionWeb when he launched the site on September 3, 1995. eBay had to cancel its scheduled community chat with users “due to technical issues with accessing eBay accounts,” and speculation was rampant that the site had been hacked.

eBay, usually reluctant to post information about glitches on its Systems Announcement board, was strangely speedy in reporting an acknowledgement of problems. eBay spokesperson Ryan Moore subsequently sent a response to EcommerceBytes’ inquiry via email:

“Today, some eBay users are experiencing issues when signing in to the site. Based on our initial investigation, this appears to be the result of technical issues that occurred during scheduled server maintenance. It is only impacting a portion of our users; most eBay users are unaffected. We’re working to resolve this issue quickly and will continue to keep our customers updated. We apologize for any inconvenience to our users. We will be updating our customers via our systems board and social.”

You wouldn’t know from reports on social media sites that “most” eBay users were unaffected, however. The first wave of issues started in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, reported on the eBay UK board. The message, “Due to a technical issue, some eBay customers may notice a problem or have trouble accessing My eBay. We’re working to resolve this issue and apologise for any inconvenience. Please try to access My eBay again at a later time,” was followed about half an hour later with the news that the problem had been resolved.

But that was just a preview of things to come. Sometime after noon – 12:55 PM EDT according to DownDetector.com – all hell broke loose.

While the site remained up, users were unable to login to the site, and eBay’s system failed to recognize User Names and passwords, causing panic among some users worldwide that perhaps either their account or the site itself had been hacked.

The issue caught the attention of the BBC, which referred to it as “the eleventh such outage eBay has suffered this year,” and referenced eBay’s data breach that took place earlier this year (February/March, not May as the BBC incorrectly reported).

Since Wednesday’s technical problems prevented shoppers from logging in, the impact on auctions was again on the top of sellers’ minds after another incident last week. In that case, eBay displayed a message to some bidders that they could not bid on auctions because the seller didn’t ship to their geographic location despite both parties being located in the U.S. eBay did not acknowledge last week’s glitch on its announcement board nor make any promise to remedy sellers who had been impacted.

As we blogged here on Monday, auctions are more vulnerable to glitches than fixed-price listings. Any auctions that are inaccessible during the last hours or minutes of ending may end with a lower selling price, which can cost the seller serious money.

eBay founder Omidyar and former CEO Meg Whitman had instituted an outage policy in 1999 for just that reason. But for the first time, eBay changed that policy this year under the leadership of CEO John Donahoe.

While the most obvious problem in Wednesday’s eBay meltdown was the inability for some users to log in, those who did access the site were unable to complete certain functions, according to reports. We noted that we were unable to view auction listings that had bids on them, a problem that may have proved quite costly to auction sellers yesterday.

Moore declined to respond to our specific inquiries about how eBay would remedy auction sellers but just before 9 pm EST on Wednesday evening, the company posted another update to the Systems Announcement Board stating in part, “And we know that some of our affected sellers may have questions about their selling activity; in the coming days, we will provide them with additional information separately on possible fee adjustments and related seller protections.”

Comment on the AuctionBytes Blog.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
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.