|Mon Oct 29 2012 09:53:11|
Sellers Are Guinea Pigs in eBay Search Lab
By: Ina Steiner
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.