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How to Control Your Message to eBay Mobile Shoppers

eBay came clean last week about the way it displays sellers’ product listings to mobile shoppers, revealing that since last fall, it has been truncating sellers’ descriptions in the US. This summer, it will provide sellers with a way to better control the information it displays in those summary descriptions, and in the meantime, it has some suggested best practices for sellers.

eBay explained it uses an algorithm to automatically generate the summaries, pulling only 250 characters from the full description to show on mobile devices. This is a big deal to sellers, who say showing only partial descriptions of a product can lead to disappointed buyers – and can result in increased claims against sellers. The news came on April 5 as part of the Spring Seller Update.

“Because the new View Item description summary is automatically generated by eBay, no action is required from you. If you want to highlight information that isn’t captured in our auto-generated summaries, you can choose the specific listing information you want to show using more advanced HTML options. This functionality is ideal for items that have unique characteristics, such as arts, antiques and collectibles.”

How to Optimize the Mobile Description Summary
eBay published this page to reveal the “View Item description summaries for better mobile viewing” and explained:

“For the summary, we determine which content in your full item description is most relevant by identifying keywords that shoppers use to search for your items. If your full item description uses basic HTML, CSS or text-only descriptions, and is no more than 800 characters, we will display the full description when buyers view your item description on their mobile devices.”

eBay Senior Product Manager of Shopping Experience Justin House explained the changes on eBay Radio. He said the eBay algorithm currently removes sentences that contain certain “blacklisted” keywords such as shipping and payment method that eBay thinks are not about the item and uses an algorithm to identify the keywords that are most likely to encourage the buyer to click through to read the full description and purchase the item.

The algorithm “then ranks those sentences and shows the top 250 characters of those sentences as the summary,” he said. The algorithm slightly weights content that appears at the beginning of the HTML code in the descriptions.

“Best practice would be to include an introductory paragraph that hits on all the highlights especially about condition if it’s a non-new item, the use cases for the value the product is actually giving.”

When asked if a best practice would be to provide details such as a product’s measurements, House said those should be included in Item Specifics. “The purpose of the summary is a little more to provide a sales pitch to the buyer to encourage them to click through and read the full description.”

In the summer, “you’ll be able to add some tags to your HTML that tell eBay which sections you want to be used as your summary,” and for sellers who create a custom View Item description summary once it’s available in the summer, eBay will include up to 800 characters.

In the meantime, this page has some tips including, “Best practices for optimizing listings across all devices.”

Six Months in the Dark
While eBay had not announced the change, some sellers did notice that eBay’s software was automatically pulling text from a seller’s listing with no human editing, leading to what some called “jumbled” descriptions.

In a letter to EcommerceBytes, in October, one seller who noticed the change suggested to eBay, “At least notify sellers of these changes in advance so that we can adjust and make the experience more profitable for both eBay and sellers together.”

Responses from eBay to sellers’ questions revealed it was struggling to optimize the feature. In this thread in November, an eBay moderator said of the truncated descriptions, “As of right now, it’s a bit tricky for sellers to control, and I don’t know how exactly it is determine what information is put in there. Obviously, we’d like it to be as relevant as possible, and we’ll explore ways that we can give sellers control or make it more relevant.”

And during a live chat hosted by eBay in November, a seller asked, “Why does eBay truncate description on the mobile app in such a way that buyers are unaware they are not seeing the entire description?”

Jonathan from eBay’s Mobile team responded, explaining they were always working on a balance of how much information to display on the screen versus what to place behind Show More link or button. “We are working on optimizing how much of the description we can show to the buyers on the first screen,” he said. “There are problems when doing this, as the descriptions are HTML and it is difficult to show the more complex descriptions on the same page as the other details.”

But the seller said, “The current approach is just getting the buyers upset with the sellers because they get something in the mail they weren’t expecting” due to the truncated description.

With the Spring Seller Update, at least sellers now have better information on how eBay is truncating their descriptions for mobile shoppers, and more information will be coming this summer.

You can read more about the eBay 2016 Spring Seller Update in EcommerceBytes Update.

Comment on the EcommerceBytes 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/.