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eBay Is in the Middle of a Tech Transformation

eBay is in the middle of a “transformation” of its technology, its Chief Technology Officer told computing magazine InfoWorld. Steve Fisher took over from Chief Technology Officer Mark Carges in 2014 prior to the split with PayPal and just months after eBay experienced its major security breach.

Fisher told InfoWorld in a recent interview that eBay is “taking search to the next level.” He described the initiative that eBay CEO Devin Wenig calls Structured Data Catalog when speaking to Wall Street and what sellers know as Product Identifiers. Fisher explained that eBay could have 20,000 listings for an identical item, but because eBay gives sellers flexibility in how they can list them, he said eBay is unable to connect them to know that they are the same item.

eBay is requiring that sellers add Product Identifiers (specifically UPC codes at this point) to much of the inventory listed on eBay.

It’s interesting how eBay’s chief techie explains the initiative: eBay is setting out to “layer structured data on top of free-form listing data” so it can recognize identical products. “That allows us to understand pricing and supply and demand, and identify deals and give better recommendations and better search results and make onboarding inventories much easier,” Fisher said.

Here’s an interesting piece coming out of the interview. The magazine wrote:

“How important is this initiative to the business? Important enough that the current generation of search technology required a “multi-hundred-million-dollar investment” to deliver the scalability and reliability that eBay needed. No existing search solution, open source or commercial, came close to filling the bill.”

After reading the article, a dedicated eBay buyer named Richard left a comment on the InfoWorld site in response. Here’s an excerpt:

“As a collector-buyer I have stopped running 80% of my weekly eBay searches. I faithfully ran these searches since 1997. Two years ago I had to stop when John Donahoe gave us the nearly unlimited free listings, and free listings allow a seller to set unrealistically high prices on items because if there is no sale, they just relist it for free.”

He goes on to explain his growing frustration with eBay search in his comment. A big complaint: relisted items – eBay keeps showing him the same listings that he has declined to purchase over and over again, he says.

eBay’s former CEO John Donahoe had promised (for years) that the Cassini search engine would help turnaround the marketplace. eBay is arguably worse off now than it was when Donahoe made his pledge to improve its search technology.

eBay’s current CEO Devin Wenig is promising that the addition of the Structured Data Catalog that Fisher described will help turn eBay into a discovery-based markeptlace, but warns it is a multi-year approach.

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). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.