Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Wed May 9 2012 10:23:42

Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

By: Ina Steiner

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eBay sellers have talked for years about rolling blackouts, "tap-on-tap-off" visibility, "rolling-region" visibility and other strange phenomenon that they say lead to odd sales patterns (see this AuctionBytes blog post from 4 years ago).

Last week, Anne Warrington of Wigs US sent us a graph showing traffic to her eBay store for the past 180 days that shows one of those odd traffic patterns.


 
Anne said Wigs US is one of the largest U.S.-based wig sellers on eBay, and the company also sells on Amazon and on its own website. She said this traffic pattern only occurs on eBay, and not on any of the other channels on which it sells.

Over the past 18 months, she has spoken to customer service reps who agreed the traffic pattern was very strange. But, she said, "Apparently every single person we spoke with over this time period has failed to properly register this issue so according to the latest CSR Matt in Technical Issues - the issue has never been raised higher up." And two days after speaking to Matt, she's heard nothing further from him.

"We aren't surprised, but starting to feel despondent... there's definitely an issue, acknowledged by everyone at eBay who sees this graph... but NO ONE seems to be able to get anyone to actually DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT."

She sent an email to eBay Vice President of Experience, Search, and Platforms Hugh Williams, but has not heard back from him either. In her letter to Williams, she explained that about every 2 months, traffic for Wigs US falls off a cliff. "Wigs are not seasonal in this way, so this is not because our customers are not looking for wigs. In fact, just before this graph takes up in October, our traffic hit ZERO on October 24th. October 24th should be our busiest day of the year. Wigs are huge sellers for Halloween and October 24th is one week before Halloween."

She also said that despite being one of the largest U.S.-based wigs sellers on eBay and being a Top Rated Seller, "if you type in wigs - you have to go 7 pages deep to find our first listing. We have nearly 1200 listings regularly."

If you have an eBay Store subscription, take a look at your analytics and see if you show any strange traffic patterns - send screenshots to ina@ecommercebytes.com.

Update 5/9/12: Anne received the following email from Matt yesterday:

I apologize that it has taken me so long to respond. The correspondence between me and the developers as taken longer than expected and is still ongoing. The general consensus has been that this is a common trend during evaluations on most accounts. While visitors have decreased impressions have not. They also pointed out that there has been no change in items sold in the months where the visitor count is low and months where the visitor count is high. I was only able to get trends for the last 2 years but the year to year sales trends were consistent with the above information.

I understand that this is not a good resolution and that is why the correspondence is still ongoing. Many of the specifics regarding how our algorithms work are not disclosed as a way to prevent manipulation. Because of this getting clear information regarding why items may be dropping or rising in the search rankings is not always possible. I am currently awaiting another response and will follow up as soon as more information is available.
Thanks,
eBay

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Readers Comments

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: Lawrence A Dickerson This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 10 14:47:53 2012

Many of the problems that eBay sellers  experience regarding traffic and sales would disappear if Best Match would be removed.Make it a 'class action' proposition and take it to the edge.

If you are concerned that eBay is manipulating the system then inundate the business and financial  media with solid facts backed up by empirical evidence.

Reading a seller from above who purports to be able to analyze their one competitor's business from the top down is pure conjecture.If one cannot back the claims up with the type of evidence that would  acceptable in a court of lawsuit is then everything is  nothing but a bunch of unfounded statement,rumors,assumptions and allegations.

Business is a cutthroat entity and competition drives the success.So many of the sellers have the same stale inventory and expect there to be a huge demand for their product.It doesn't matter to them that there may be thousands of like or same items available.How do the sellers expect their none changing presentations to stand out above all others?

It appears to me that the blame game is what soothes over the denial of bad business practices.It is always somebody's or something's fault that sales are down or non existent.Look in the mirror and examine the business plan  to see where changes can be made to better compete.The fact is that not all people are good business executives.That the venue is beginning to demand more than the 'Mom and Pop' way of thinking.That old saying of"If you can't stand the heat then get out of the kitchen",is applicable in business.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: ebayjim This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 10 15:06:48 2012

@ Lawrence A Dickerson

''It appears to me that the blame game is what soothes over the denial of bad business practices. It is always somebody's or something's fault that sales are down or non existent.''
I suggest you take your own advice and provide ''solid facts backed up by empirical evidence''.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 10 15:07:26 2012

Lawrence - I just quoted (page 2) what the new VP said - he said they are actively manipulating searches in favor of thier new partners ... how clear and how much evidence does there need to be?

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 10 15:09:51 2012

@ Lawrence

again - see the quote from TWICE magazine - Noah was interviewed and VOLUNTEERED the information.

Its not imagined, nor are we just a bunch of people sitting around with an axe to grind - he said, we experience it - how much more proof do you need? Do you need a billboard on I95 with Noah's words on it before you believe?

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: BookBrowzers This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 10 17:46:48 2012

''It appears to me that the blame game is what soothes over the denial of bad business practices.It is always somebody's or something's fault that sales are down or non existent.Look in the mirror and examine the business plan  to see where changes can be made to better compete.''

@Lawrence:  And the fact that one day I have more sales than I can handle, and the next I have nothing, then all of a sudden it ticks back up to normal after a day and a half or so...this is due to some ''denial of bad business practices'' on my part??  

I think not.  ''somebody's or something's fault'' is a better explanation for it.

And my inventory is not ''stale.'' Brand new listings go up every day for unusual collectible items.  All I need is for them to show up in search consistently.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: Moonwishes This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 10 19:09:49 2012

I love the idea of seeing what the same search terms used throughout the country might accomplish. I would love to volunteer only with poot health that I have, I can't be depended on (which ticks me off) as I never know when a flare up of illness will hit and keep me in bed for days.

A suggestion, start those search terms from your favorite search engine using the same one or for those folks with lots of time, use the same search terms on several search engines daily at around the same time. You should get similar results daily, but if you have 20-25 people doing this throughout the country or around 100 throughout the world there would be some very interesting statistics coming out of that. May not be enough for a true statistical sampling, but it should spot a trend in where the searches are taking you and whether or not you get the same daily consistent results on all venues (I think we sometimes forget that this forum is about ecommerce not ebay!). I really love the idea and I'm sure that some of the idea guys/gals on this site could figure out a way to do this daily sampling in the most efficient effective manner.

as to Mr. Dickerson. I agree that not everyone is cut out to be a seller on line, but a seller that is deluged with sales one day and then has none for a day or week or so and then is deluged again, it has nothing to do with how they run their store or the staleness of their inventory. If you truly believe this, back it up with facts instead of telling everyone here that they are basically idiots.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: fashionableDEALS This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 10 20:02:54 2012

Oddly enough we cannot access our traffic reports at this time. Like many things at ebay, this too is exceptionally coincidental...

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: frustrated This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 10 20:10:58 2012

1) start using Sellathon's counters.

DON'T rely on ebay's word for, well, ANYTHING.

innerpuppy may be right, EVERYONE start keeping track of this.

So is Ric, but unfortunately instead of just helping us find out what's selling and then getting out of our way, ebay decided that it was too much like WORK to police their own site, and came up with best match.

NOW, with the new requirements, they will use that same bunch of stars, and other "carrots" to take away MOST of the sellers' discounts. On TOP OF burying your stuff in search.

They must be scratching their heads and laughing over drinks every night wondering "whatsitgonnatake for these small sellers to leave, anyways???"

If they are so desperate to get rid of everyone who is considered a PITA, why don't they just change the rules yet again, and dis-register the smaller sellers?

The only plauible explanation is that they discovered that most sellers are also BUYERS.

Whoopsie.

Hey EBAY!!??

Why not go back to just a venue, and have done with it. Then give everyone access to the highest selling items drilled down to however low we wanna go, and then leave us sell. Collect the money and stay out of our way.

DUOOH

Not a conspiracy, it's STUPIDITY.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: 2old4nonsense This user has validated their user name.

Thu May 10 22:00:42 2012

And I thought I was crazy for thinking the same things I read here! You know the schizophrenic thinking the CIA is after him or put a bug in his brain.We can't all be nuts. Can we? Every Asian product I have bought has been terrible quality. They do not give correct measurements for clothing. I think they started the ''free size'' as a way to get around the fact that they are selling to the American buyer and their sizes are 3 to 4 times smaller than what we expect when we choose say a size 3x or 2x. I always see their listings in places they do not belong. I was in the Maternity section and their was another skinny Asian girl wearing a red sexy corset! In the maternity clothes. That was no mistake.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: spirit-of-shiloh This user has validated their user name.

Fri May 11 06:21:33 2012

Before I read this I never really gave any thought to the selling locations? Now I realize that one month my sales are the East coast,then at other times the West coast? Thanks eBafia for a wonder selling experience.:( Get rid of the FAKE crap China sellers. Or,have a separate search for the Diamond sellers and a separate search for the mom and pop small sellers. Make is a FAIR playing field.My money I pay in insertion fees,and FVF's to eBay is just as good as the Diamond sellers.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: flyingdutchman This user has validated their user name.

Fri May 11 08:49:15 2012

I get the 'traffic reports unavailable' notice on one of my accounts, but then I log into my other selling account and it works just fine and if I change the user name and password to the previously non working traffic report account it also works fine.  Is the account that is 'unavailable' on an aux. server somewhere?

I had an hour long conversation with my friend that has a master's degree in IT and programming and he stated that 'Best Match is solely designed to hide manipulation of the company offering the items to favor selected vendors, products or items that they want shown first.  Best Match has nothing to do with the buyers' interests rather the issuing company.  Best Match allows for hidden manipulation of search.'
He goes on to explain that regional search results are caused by search queries hitting servers in certain cities, i.e. starting in LA, then Austin, the Miami and up the Eastern seaboard, etc.  Therefor if your items are 'down' on a server in Austin due to manipulation but are visible in Miami, you will notice sales to specific states or regions since that is where the search query is finding the data.

He goes on to explain that 'placing limits on impressions, views, monetary daily, weekly, month, yearly totals, total items sold, etc. is an extremely easy script to write and is a completely normal process in setting up a site like this.'

My only suggestion is the have many selling accounts and have multiple IP addresses fixed throughout the US or abroad.  It's a shame that this is what we are left to deal with but there are far too many people reporting the same exact issues for this to purely be speculation or conspiracy.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: erratic*attic This user has validated their user name.

Fri May 11 11:30:27 2012

I think it's best match...If you aren't a top rated seller your item 'may' show up on the 1st page in the last few minutes.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: basset

Fri May 11 13:37:53 2012

I always think of the movie Lord of the Rings when I think about my store inventory visibility on eBay. When the Eye of Sauron searchlight is beaming all around in the darkness looking for Frodo & the Ring, I'm reminded  that  one small bright moving beam & spot of light is like the measurement of the visibility of my items to the vast masses. Sad. Of course the Eye of Sauron DID implode in the end.  

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: Harry.Fodder This user has validated their user name.

Fri May 11 14:26:06 2012

Here is an interesting read. - http://seekingalpha.com/article/568331-april-2012-same-store-sales-eba
y-amazon-search-and-comparison-shopping-engines

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: innerpuppie This user has validated their user name.

Fri May 11 16:28:54 2012

The drop in sales has nothing to do with Best Match. I am a Silver Powerseller and a TRS with all 5s in stars. I have had 3 sales since the beginning of this month and what's really weird is only 3 new feedback comments and those are from customers who purchased over a month ago. Something smells. Whatever is taking place is costing eBay money, too. If I don't make sales I have no fees. Right now at nearly the middle of the month my fees are less than $25 instead of being close to 1K. My 1K might not look big to you but multiply that in the thousands and thousands and it's a big chunk of change.

In addition, I have had NO traffic whatsoever for the past three days - nothing.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: MoTech This user has validated their user name.

Fri May 11 17:03:06 2012

This has been ongoing for a few years.

As Ming said, this is calculated on ebay's part.

Those of you who don't think ebay has anything to do with it, please try explaining WHY sales don't trickle in day or night.

For the past 2 years it has always been back to back. A few sales within 10 minutes and then NOTHING for the next 12-24 hours.

Funny that website sales don't show this same thing. Sales come in at all times of the day or night, not just within X minutes like on ebay.

The traffic stats combined with the spurts of sales within a short amount of time and then ....NOTHING... is every indication that there are ebay blackouts and this is more than likely server balancing. Ask the IT people who work for large companies with these issues and they won't be afraid to clue you in on how this works.

It is real. Very real.
eBay can play dumb all they want.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Fri May 11 22:31:13 2012

AC_in_Mich says: "What would be great would be if Ina got a group of people together from throughout the country and/or world who would be willing to search for, let's say, ten items a day using the same search terms and compare results.  I'd be willing!"

I would love for David and Ina to bring in a professional organization to do just this.  I am referring to a company who has expertise and the ability to find out what is going on.  

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Fri May 11 22:38:00 2012

Oh look, Lawrence A. Dickerson is back.

Lawrence, you never fail to entertain.  Don't fall off that soapbox.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: eBelly This user has validated their user name.

Sat May 12 04:38:42 2012

So, do the sudden slow sinking sales have you even more dependent on your eBuser now?  How many of you have your listings set for 'free looting accepted?  If not yet, don't.  Just let it all hit the fan in the next month and all the suckers who want to re-sell open, used, dirty, pre-rented 'new' items that they paid 'free shipping' to deliver, only to have the new 'Money-Back, all buyer-remorse returns accepted', returned item broken, smelling like their ashtray, and lose buyer paid 'free shipping'.  Have a fantastic time politely convincing the confused free-product-rent buyer to 'accept the cancelled transaction' or you lose your FVF!  If your new item returns with flesh-eating bacteria, you'd better wear gloves during reconditioning!

Are you ready for lots of refunds, even out of the 14/30/60 day range that you cannot control for fear your buyer might give you a bad rating?  Ready for some serious eBuse?

Get ready for the worst selling environment ever cultivated by the eVultures and sign up for 'all returns accepted' anytime for any reason, and make sure to have a BIG cushion in your checking account for the full time job of refunding and refurbishing your own items; now used and opened.. some fees not refunded, an exponential increase in your emails, with lots of ''Hi, I just received my item and would like to return it now.''

Oh, yes, get ready for a big boost up on a very unstable ladder that will simply take every waking moment of your life to service - then you'll end up a junk dealer of your own 'new' products!  Enjoy eBankruptcy!

Have fun with the new 'top service' BOOST in your chargebacks!  Those of you smart enough to stay out of the slaughter will see your competitors' DSRs and profits plummit very soon.

Go ahead, list an item now and see if that 'exchange only' option exists within your return policy where it's always been!  Either take the pill, or no big search boost!

If you make it past 3 months without this 'free item rent' option, you might notice your competition getting hit with lots of buyer confusion and sudden instability - then you'll be on top again?  In the meantime, spend every waking moment where you used to feel safe - your local flea market where at least you can reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, and go home with a daily pocket full of cash, corporate free like you used to be.

Perminate Link for Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay   Seller Shows Strange Traffic Pattern on eBay

by: nsc This user has validated their user name.

Sun May 13 00:42:09 2012

Of course eBay is rationing visibility. The tiered servers, the rolling blackouts, the favorable exposure of the diamonds, it's all by design.

What I would like to know, just to set these developments in historical persective, is when did eBay first ask "the question". What do I mean by "the question"? Here's my take. One fine day, eBay management (perhaps egged on by some bright consultant) asked themselves this question:

"Why are we putting every listing onto a level playing field? We're being stupid! We are giving people way too much visibility and success for their money. Besides, we know that buyers can't handle the number of search results they get now, so we have to throttle search back anyway. If we are clever, we can ration out just enough success to each seller to keep them coming back, and sell ten times as many listings. Even if it does cut average results per seller, sales will soar in the aggreagate -- we'll make four or five times the money! And we must have that quarterly growth -- The Street demands it. Mustn't let the sellers know what our plans are, though."

I would guess "the question" was first asked either in 2004 (the year that trees stopped growing to the sky for the old eBay) or 2005-2006 (when it became clear that eBay Express was a flop). I suspect that Best Match was commissioned precisely as the vehicle for implementing rationed search. At any rate, the throttled search results we are seeing have been planned for a long time. Of that much I am certain.

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