In answering a question about eBay's long-held "level playing field" philosophy, Bill Cobb opened the door to volume-pricing for large sellers. The needs of eBay's largest sellers, business sellers, are real, Bill said. "We are looking at things we've never looked at before, but the notion of equal opportunity has to stay with us forever more." Bill said eBay has probably overused the term level playing field.
The question arose at eBay's monthly Town Hall meeting held on Friday broadcast over Internet radio. eBay buyers and sellers submitted questions via email and called in to the broadcast over the phone. eBay also had some "Voices" program members in the audience who asked questions.
Bill Cobb said he had talked to eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and that Pierre said he never intended for the term level playing field to indicate the site would never offer volume discounts. Bill said it was more about the small person being able to compete with large corporations (I'm paraphrasing). eBay's current management has changed the company so far from Pierre's original vision - as outlined in the book, "The Perfect Store" - that one wonders what Pierre would say if confronted by users today. While not involved in daily operations, as Chairman of eBay's Board of Directors he is responsible for oversight of the company.
Other topics covered during the Town Hall event included recent changes on the marketplace, such as 1-click bidding; Detailed Seller Ratings (DSRs); PayPal fees; shipping; eBay's new Price Plus Shipping sort feature; eBay Giving Works; Blackthorne usability issues; and Bid Assistant.
One eBay member asked why eBay deletes items when it cancels a listing. (I have heard there is a way for eBay to bring them back, but they don't generally do it for people.) Bill Cobb said it was not something eBay is proud of, and it is a top priority to fix it so sellers can make listings compliant and get them back up on the site. He said eBay would change this in 2008, hopefully early in the year.
Matt Halprin said eBay is trying to get more of a spread in DSR, though they are happy that the scores are high. I know this messaging worries sellers who feel eBay will try to get buyers to give lower scores in DSR and then punish sellers. In 2008, eBay will use DSRs in Seller Non performance, PowersSeller eligibility, or search visibility, but "we'll be cautious," Matt said. (Note to readers: if you receive messaging from eBay on how to leave DSRs for sellers, let me know - I think it would be irresponsible to encourage or even hint to buyers to leave low ratings.)
eBay said next year, it would introduce "master accounts." Just as parent/child accounts may exist on PayPal, eBay will do something similar in 2008, but executives could not give concrete details and dates. I'm not sure exactly what this means, but if sellers can link their accounts but have those relationships be invisible to other users, it might help eBay fight fraud. It could also help give sellers more leverage in PowerSeller eligibility, for example. Naturally it could have some potential pitfalls as well.
eBay said it is using Item Specifics on some Title searches to give better results sets. I've heard complaints about this from buyers doing searches and not getting back what they wanted - and not understanding why. I have not seen much explanation from eBay on this, let's hope they figure it out before rolling it out in full force.
eBay said the reason for replacing the old Andale counters that had been on its site was because they had problems scaling to the amount of traffic. It was actually slowing down the performance of the View Item page, they said. I bet Andale (which was subsequently acquired by Vendio) would argue the point. What really goes on between eBay and its developers would make a fascinating book, in my opinion.
At some point eBay will make the archive available on this page.