Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Mon Oct 29 2012 09:53:11

Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

By: Ina Steiner

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eBay Vice-President of Experience, Search and Platforms admitted that eBay alters and rewrites the search queries made by users through its search engine. Hugh Williams was speaking at the Big Data Summit in Sydney.

And, according to the ZDnet report on the keynote, "Not only that, Ebay uses big data to make predictions on whether a listed item will sell and how much it will sell for, which affects how high an item ranks on the auction site's search engine."

eBay's ongoing search tests could be compared to Google algorithm shifts that disrupt sellers exposure in search results, but there's a major difference: sellers pay Google nothing for exposure in organic search results, while eBay sellers pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a month to the marketplace for guaranteed exposure in search results.

eBay sellers began reporting plummeting sales in May, rebounding over the summer, and then again falling off a cliff beginning in early September. The anecdotal reports have been coming in fast and furiously and have continued into October.

Sellers are finding it impossible to verify traffic to their product listings - when confronted by reports of falling traffic, eBay said its traffic reports, provided by Omniture, were broken. In an announcement board post in mid-September, it told sellers it would keep them up-to-date over the weeks it would take to fix the reports, but eBay has not issued an update about broken traffic reports in the past five weeks.

The marketplace said at the time that actual traffic to eBay Stores was not impacted by the glitch, but sellers remain skeptical.

eBay's other analytics tool is also broken, since at least mid-September. A week ago eBay spokesperson Ryan Moore told EcommerceBytes engineers were working to fix "a couple of bugs" impacting certain functionalities for the Listing Analytics tool - particularly the keyword search display and revising an item features.

As Williams tries to roll out eBay's new Cassini search engine, Wall Street analysts expressed concern about the possible "unintended consequences" of rolling out such changes this time of year.

In his keynote today at the Big Data Summit, Williams told attendees, "It takes several months of engineering to implement a factor, and it's very high risk because we don't know at the time whether its actually going to be useful for our customers in helping them find items." And, according to ZDnet, "Which is why Ebay usually runs a number tests on the website for a sample group of users first to gauge the response."

eBay is indeed playing a risky game by altering shoppers' search queries, assuming it knows what they are looking for, and by making assumptions about the viability of listings when ranking them in search results.

The emails from sellers frustrated by low traffic and sales continue. The latest emails received this morning read:

"I should have about $1500 - $2000 in sales for 24 hours and only have a couple hundred bucks. I should also be getting at least 1200 views a day. Can you please do a follow up with eBay about traffic? Thanks."

"I know that there have been several discussions about traffic or the lack of traffic to many seller's eBay website. Our traffic has been very sporadic for the last 2 months or so. Can you please explain why our traffic changes so drastically? Each weekend we normally receive 8-10 emails from customers with questions about items in our store with close to 50 orders to ship out on Monday. This weekend no emails and 23 orders to ship out tomorrow."


eBay's communications team has ignored EcommerceBytes' repeated requests for information about Cassini and search.




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Readers Comments

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Mon Oct 29 11:59:31 2012

Now you know why eBay is trying to make sure there are no class action law suits ...

eBay is activelyt manipulating searches so that the listings you paid for may or may not be found - SOLEY based on thier stupid software.

Where are all the hot shot lawyers?

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: mylifeisgood This user has validated their user name.

Mon Oct 29 12:57:47 2012

" Ebay's communication team has ignored ECommerceBytes repeated requests for information about Cassini and search "

Maybe they are trying to tell ECommerceBytes something...

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: Digmen1 This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Mon Oct 29 13:08:35 2012

Ebay have their own plan and they are sticking to it.
The best thing sellers can do is pull their listings and put them on the alt sites.
Most of the alt sites don't play with search etc.

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: tombaker This user has validated their user name.

Mon Oct 29 13:13:32 2012

I am particularly concerned about eBay not responding to questions from this site.  Because of the nature of the seller base, EB is sort of a designated proxy for the millions of users.

EB should attempt to contact some of the stock analysts publishing public assessments of Ebay, as they either know, or can get answers.  
Also Ebytes should be contacting Ebay investor relations to be getting answers in addition to other communications.   Investor relations will respond, and if the don't the covering stock analysts should be asked.

Investors are impacted by implications.  And they have the aggregate sales by each hour, by each category----every single day.

If the aggregate sales are dropping due to searches, A vs B, they know it will impact investors, unless they can fix it.  If the try to fix it, during this period, they will impact sales negatively.

Either its better (which nobody thinks) or it must be put on the shelf.

The idea of testing in a live environment is flawed software development.   If Cassini says it can only come to market if it has live user testing as major part of it, it means that Cassini is a flawed design.

All the evidence is clear, Cassini is not working, as it should, and its developer team, does not have a working model to make it work.

Its like a space rocket team that keeps on sending up rockets that explode.   Then saying just wait until it works, it will be fantastic, world class.   Another rocket, and another explosion.   Guess what, the rocket team does not have a design that works, but moreover, there is no evidence they have a design that should work.

Cassini is based on changing the output of search, with users putting in the same search terms.  Millions of users get back unexpected results.  EVEN WHEN THE SORT BY PRICE.  

Best Match, never did that, sort by price and its the raw search again.

Since Cassini wants to be a NASA group.  Think of it this way, CASSINI is a nose cone that creates instability while still in the atmosphere, the new shape crashes it.   More importantly there has never been an example even in testing of this new nose cone working.
The the design group of Cassini says just put real people in the rocket for our testing and we will show it works.   Those sellers die, the rocket explodes, and then the Cassini team says we are world class, just give us some more testing with real people on the rocket, and it will all work out.

Cassini is a dream of something that will work, a new search that will work better.  Another rocket launch, another explosion, but just wait until it is done, it will be WORLD CLASS, better than the other site just like Ebay, and that site is called Unobtainium.com  

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

This user has validated their user name. by: Ed Gadfly

Mon Oct 29 13:14:13 2012

Have you tried Free Shipping?

People have been saying for years that eBa'al is a rip-off. The die hard eBa'al disciples continue to promote selling there.  

What does your ''Seller Advocate'' Uncle Griff tell you to do?

Did eBa'al keep their promise of releasing changes 3 times a year in batches? How many times will you accept the lies and abuse before you say you've had enough?

First they cheated the Small Sellers and NOBODY but EcommerceBytes stood up for them.

Now they're coming after you. Who will look out for YOU?  

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: Patricia This user has validated their user name.

Mon Oct 29 13:20:10 2012

Its amazing Ebay has any feet left....they keep shooting themselves in them!  This only seems to prove what we've all pretty much been saying...they have NO experience, NO real knowledge and NO brains...they simply throw things at the wall to see what sticks!  The result...is chaos!

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: tombaker This user has validated their user name.

Mon Oct 29 13:26:05 2012

The simple question is, does CASSINI change the search output when Sort by Price is toggled on.

If YES, Cassini can never work. Period.  

(Or as another article said, Cassini would invalidate the legal basis of charging a fee for listing exposure, and that model would cause investors to flee)

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: LUVFB This user has validated their user name.

Mon Oct 29 13:48:36 2012

USER PROFILE: 12 YEAR EBAY POWER SELLER - 100% FEEDBACK, APPROXIMATLEY 150 ITEMS UP FOR SALE AT ANY GIVEN POINT, 10 - 20 NEW LISTINGS A WEEK

RECORD SINCE OCTOBER

1. 90% DROP IN  PAGE VIEWS
2, 50% DROP IN SELLING PRICE
3. 75% DROP IN SALES
4. BEST MATCH USING KEYWORDS TYPICALLY AT TOP, NOW AT BOTTOM OF PAGE (OFTEN WAY BELOW MANY NEW NON POWER SELLERS)

NUFF SAID - ANYONE OUT THERE HEAR ME???  

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Mon Oct 29 14:13:50 2012

I am willing to be te lead in a class action suit against eBay - and put up some $ to get the ball rolling.

If search is being manipulated then our fees should be refunded as we are NOT getting what we paid for. That is theft. Its NOT in the TOS that eBay will serupticiously manipulate the outcome of your listings AFTER you pay for them.

As well, if there is ANY business loss due to manipulaition that too is fraud by deception.

Add in the 3 sets of ads on your listing page and theres quite an amount of issues that eBay should be sued for!

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous Annie

Mon Oct 29 15:05:47 2012

The word that comes to mind is: ''criminal''.

It's little wonder that they want to eliminate the possibility of class action lawsuits. Who has the time, money or inclination to try and recover this type of loss. I'm certainly not going to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to try and get ebay to refund $20 to me.

I've also wonder if eBay is shutting-out the Steiners. No doubt, this site, its readers, and our comments are a painful thorn in eBay's side... but eBay is doing itself no favors by not even responding with their typical bloviations and specious denials. (I'll definitely miss it... if for no other reason than to admire at their verbal creativity and the absurd comedy of it all!)

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: Patricia This user has validated their user name.

Mon Oct 29 15:25:33 2012

@pace - people still bring up class action suits?  ONLY the attorneys get fat on those suits....I just got a check from Google in settlement of the last class action suit I was involved in....a big check for 30 cents!!!  AND that's on the higher end of these settlements!

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: OneDandelionWish This user has validated their user name.
Web Site

Mon Oct 29 15:53:03 2012

I've said it time and time again, one problem in the search is in it's data crawling.  It is picking up data from third party listing templates and translating it as duplicate content demoting visibility.  I've had my blog readers do an experiment, taking out ALL template html, listing straight through eBay and uploading pictures at 1800.  The results are that sales jump considerably.  If you don't believe it try it.  The results also do show up on the traffic reports as well.

This work around is working for us.

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: Jbyron This user has validated their user name.

Mon Oct 29 16:31:12 2012

Dear Ina,

I am a first time poster here. I wanted to take a minute to thank you for all the hard work you do. Without your reporting we sellers would have no idea what is going on at eBay. I have been selling on eBay since July 2000. I am a full time seller and like others here have seen their sells cut drastically. My sell through is now down to about 16% and my income is down about 75%. I am barely hanging on. I am sure there are many more sellers like me that never post here or complain on the eBay boards that are really being hurt by eBay. EcomerceBytes has become an invaluable resource to us. You seem to be our only advocate. Thank you again so much.

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: Steevo This user has validated their user name.

Mon Oct 29 17:57:30 2012

As to that class action lawsuit thing, all these big companies are doing that.

Ebay
AT&T
Microsoft

They all want to prohibit pesky class action lawsuits. Not that class action lawsuits are great, they aren't, they only  make lawyers rich.  But without that we the little folks would get not attention at all.

Congress should just prohibit those class action waivers, as well as forced arbitration as a matter of law.

Then companies would have to at least pretend they aren't ripping us off.

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: Terry in Texas This user has validated their user name.

Mon Oct 29 18:55:47 2012

@tombaker re:EB should attempt to contact some of the stock analysts publishing public assessments of Ebay, as they either know, or can get answers.  
Also Ebytes should be contacting Ebay investor relations to be getting answers in addition to other communications.   Investor relations will respond, and if the don't the covering stock analysts should be asked.

that sounds like a very smart plan. (but i wonder if those investors would be able to shut out Ebytes like ebay seems to be doing.) i agree with Anonymous Annie that it does seem like the Steiners are being shut out. which of course makes me certain we know what's really going on.

i tell everyone i know about this site (EBytes) and encourage them NOT to list on ebay but seek alternate sites.

@ OneDandelionWish. you seem to have a great knowledge about the data crawl and html. and your theory seems to have merit. by third party do you mean sites like Inkfrog? sounds like another thing ebay is trying to push sellers out of using. keeping EVERYTHING hostage to the ebay site. it sounds like a possible work around but the time commitment might be a little too much.

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous Annie

Mon Oct 29 19:56:20 2012

I believe the USSC has already determined that it's legal for corporations to include ''no-class-action'' language in their user agreements. (Not surprising, since this is the same court that brought you Citizens United and declared that corporations are people too. Ugh!)

True, the lawyers may be the ones who get rich from class action lawsuits, and the customers get a mere pittance. BUT, I think it's more important that the guilty corporations must PAY OUT something that's equal to or greater than their ill-gotten gains and that doesn't include the fact that they must also pay their own high-priced lawyers.

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Mon Oct 29 21:03:03 2012

There is no doubt in my mind that eBay can not succeed with out their small and medium sized sellers.  The community is what made it successful in the first place.  If a certain CEO is just to arrogant to change course, I only hope that he stays in office long enough to take credit and ownership for the implosion of eBay and the damage that he has done.  He deserves it.

Let their arrogance continue.  PayPal just laid of over 300 workers.  The cracks in the titanic get larger.

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: Tiffee Jasso This user has validated their user name.

Tue Oct 30 00:06:31 2012

I believe that a company that spends all its time developing a program on how to manipulate the search, instead, of improving the search, is on a downhill slide and rapidly gaining momentum. Searching Ebay has been so frustrating lately, that I usually just quit and go elsewhere. I guess my potential buyers are doing the same thing and I can't blame. A good search engine should bring up what you are looking for and not jump in with an entire different category or take you off site. Nuff said.

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: MADandCracked This user has validated their user name.

Tue Oct 30 00:08:47 2012

One word for y'all ...... AMAZON

Perminate Link for Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab   Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab

by: Red Ink Diary This user has validated their user name.

Tue Oct 30 00:16:45 2012

I wonder how many readers have bothered to send a snail mail letter to PayPal preserving their rights? I would bet very few.

This is just the latest in a series of outrages and indignities eBay will continue to heap on their sellers.

Take it or leave it, the choice is yours to make.

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