|Sun July 15 2012 21:34:23|
eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search
By: Ina Steiner
Any merchant knows the importance of visibility in search results, whether it's on Google or an online marketplace, so when they find a loophole, it's hard for some to resist exploiting it. A reader wrote to me over the weekend with what he said was an example of such a loophole on eBay and said some sellers were using a "bait and switch" technique to gain search visibility and get shoppers to click on their listings.
The seller provided an example of a listing in which the seller used eBay's Variation feature. "Take a look at this listing, it appears that a buyer would receive a 16 piece tool kit for $.97, however, when the tool kit is chosen from the "model" drop down, the price goes up to $9.99, deceptive bait and switch tactic, endorsed by eBay.... sleazy!" he wrote.
However, I could only see the higher price displayed in results when searching for the item. So he took me through another example:
Do a search for skeleton watch; change sort order from the default "Best Match" to "Price + Shipping: lowest first." He then pointed to a listing on the first page when sorted by lowest price - it showed a photo of watches and a title describing watches for sale, with a price of 99 cents.
Clicking on the listing showed a watch for sale for 99 cents. However, once you used the "variation" drop down menu, you had 3 choices: if you selected black or white, the price would change from 99 cents to $24.99.
If you selected the third option, "Watch Pin.2Pcs.20MM," it would display the price of 99 cents and show a picture of a watch pin, which is a tiny bar used to attach watch bands to watches.
To put it simply, a shopper looking for low-priced watches would see a listing in search results for a 99-cent watch, but upon clicking on the item, would be taken to a listing for watches that actually cost $24.99.
(Don't assume every listing with a low price is using this technique. For example, as I write this, there is a listing that comes up in a search for skeleton watch that is listed in auction format for 89 cents, and does not use variations.)
Either eBay doesn't know about this loophole, or it knows about it and can't stop sellers from using it. (The reader was able to find examples from two different sellers - it's hard to know how many listings employ this technique.)
I had written last year about how sellers were exploiting the Variations feature to "keyword spam." I said at the time, "Since Variations are used by sellers who have multiple quantities of the same item, it's widely used by large merchants on eBay. Sellers who use variation fields improperly are putting sellers with one-quantity items at a disadvantage in search results."
It's not clear sellers are actually doing themselves any favors with this current strategy. Yes, it gets them increased visibility and click-throughs, but it is also likely to aggravate shoppers.
What do you think eBay should do about variations and such loopholes?