Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Sun July 15 2012 21:34:23

eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

By: Ina Steiner

Sponsored Link

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?




Comments (23) | Leave Comment | Permalink

Readers Comments

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

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

Mon Jul 16 04:27:36 2012

I don't think this is a loophole.  Rather it is just another seller breaking the rules and benefiting from it.  Sellers are not allowed to use variations to sell distinctly different products (e.g. a watch in one and a pin in another).  I can't find the actual rule but I know this was one back in 2009 when the listings first appeared.  Report the listing until eBay takes it down.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

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

Mon Jul 16 04:30:56 2012

It is covered by eBay's fee circumvention policy.

http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/listing-circumventi
ng.html

''By
using listings with variations, sellers can offer variations of the same product in a single listing.''

''Not allowed: Offering a choice between two entirely different items, such as a watch or pair of shoes''

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

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

Mon Jul 16 07:15:24 2012

''report the listing until ebay takes it down''

Right!

Reporting is neither convenient or easy nor is it a worthwhile investment in terms of ROI on time wasted.

Tweet it as another example of sleaze on the site using the #eBay hashtag then go do something worthwhile with your time.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

by: go-figure This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jul 16 07:24:02 2012

@nullapps

Ha Ha Ha. That's funny! Report a listing until eBay takes it down. Unless you're one of eBay's "diamonds" or "approved reporters", eBay will ignore any report made by the vast majority of sellers (unless of course you can find a way to VERO them).

Now that particular listing is gone, but is it because it was reported, or because it's appearing here on this blog?

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

by: NotMyRealName This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jul 16 09:27:00 2012

Does the fact that the seller is in Hong Kong (China) tell you all you need to know???

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

by: savingmom This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jul 16 09:36:19 2012

Reporting does nothing.  Last week I reported several auctions selling an FDA-recalled item.  The items are still there today.  Posting it on eBay's Facebook page is about the only way to get their attention -- they don't like the negative publicity.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

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

Mon Jul 16 10:37:13 2012

This is not a loophole and I certainly hope eBay does not end this multi-variation format. It works great for clothing, shoes, appareal, flatware and a few other categories.

If a seller is abusing the multi-variation then eBay should pull that sellers listing.  I hope they don't through the baby out with the bath water.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

by: ebayseller_2011 This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jul 16 12:00:45 2012

Truth be told...eBay only ''selectively'' enforces what they want to enforce.  There's a much bigger loophole than this that gets exploited.  The fixed price duplicate listing policy states you can only list any item 1 time regardless of how many ID's you have.  Well if you look in the cell phone category many sellers just create multiple businesses with different addresses and log on from different cable modems so eBay does not link their IP addresses or name/business info and they can get away with listing items under each name.  Just do a sort of some items and you'll see that many of the listings are close to identical because it's the same sellers who just switch up a picture or two and alter the description slightly.  Nontheless, how can eBay enforce that when they're #1 seller Jack Sheng, owner of
(eforcity, accstation, everydaysource, and itrimming)does this as well and eBay obviously knows about this because they've even done an article in the past which they recognize him for his accomplishments with the multiple ID's.  Maybe everyone should question that on eBay's facebook page. I would love to hear their response to that.  This would be the simple question ''How come Jack Sheng, eBay's #1 seller can list duplicate listings by listing 1 item across his 4 ID's(eforcity, itrimming, accstation, everydaysource)?

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

by: JustTheFacts This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jul 16 12:14:01 2012

I do not blame ebay for this problem, it is the sellers who are at fault.  Just because you CAN do something wrong does not mean you should.

Unless of course ebay knew about it and did nothing, which would not surprise me at all.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

by: expertbenefits This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jul 16 12:29:47 2012

If a buyer doesn't pay attention and buys it, the buyer will file a claim, if it gets that far.  

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

This user has validated their user name. by: Spartacus

Mon Jul 16 12:44:31 2012

It's Chineses sellers doing this (of course). I ran into this issue when searching for a "USB thumb drive" a few weeks ago. Even if you select "US sellers only" you still get a proportion of shady Chinese sellers faking US address doing the same thing and most are selling knock-offs.

Way to go Donahoe, who said he didn't want a "flea market" atmosphere on eBay.. The old eBay saying of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is more true on eBay today than ever before.

Oh, and as for that USB thumb drive I was looking for...Went to Amazon and found one from a US seller without having to navigate the Chinese landmines.  

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

by: Grace This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jul 16 14:08:27 2012

I am so glad someone is addressing this issue. I sell prom dresses and if you search for prom dresses on ebay, the results are flooded with pages of listings from China starting at $1and some change. When u select.the dress,you can select two items...lace gloves or the prom.dress....the dress is actually 197
while the cheapie lace gloves are 1 and some change.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Mon Jul 16 15:13:42 2012

Some say Donahoe didn't want a US flea market atmosphere.  A Chinese flea market atmosphere is just fine.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

by: Will This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jul 16 16:06:48 2012

Yes, it is likely to aggravate shoppers. However, to some sellers, this is a play right out of the eBay Playbook: Get the volume of sales (fees), and if a few get mad, oh well. The revenue gained will outweigh the few who gripe.

Two wrongs certainly don't make a right. But it is eBay who created the marketplace as we know it, now.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

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

Mon Jul 16 16:59:40 2012

I agree... it's not a loophole in the software's capability. It's a loophole in eBay's willingness to enforce policies on their preferred Asian sellers and manufacturers.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

by: dans parts This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jul 16 17:54:53 2012

It's just as bad on Motors Parts, even without obvious bait and switch.

I'm buried under tons of car covers, xenon headlights, air fresheners, wiring connector kits and other garbage that ''fit'' any car under the sun, and it seems there's an individual auction title for each and every car, yet Compatibility lists hundreds of fitments in each of those auctions.  This is exactly what the Compatibility feature was supposed to weed out, but instead it made it much worse in some instances, if people abuse it.  Since there are some less than ethical sellers (WHAT??? REALLY????), it hurts us who play by the rules, as usual.  Report them?  Hah! What a waste of time, as eBay just winks at them.

If someone searches on nothing but, for instance, ''1958 Chevrolet'' or ''1966 Chevrolet'' (for which I have real, original GM parts), that search shows Titles for car covers for every individual Chevrolet under the sun, even though only 5-10 maybe have 1958 in the title.  After looking through 400-800 auctions (many of which don't even appear to apply to their car without digging into the auction), they don't take any more time to find me on page 11.

Plus, after 2 jerkwads DSR'd me out of my TRS last month (I got a total of 4 #1's on shipping charges from 2 people with combined buys), my business is now at about 15-20% of April and May levels, since I'm no longer on page 11 of that 1958 Chevrolet search, but more like page 89.

I also love the idiots who show a picture of 4 spark plugs in one picture, the other picture shows ONE plug, yet they're selling plugs that fit a V8.  How many plugs do you think you'll get for your $4.16FP plus ''Free'' shipping?  My guess is one, but I can't be sure because I checked this one auction, and NOWHERE on it does it discuss quantity for the price.  The only clue is from a chunk of the description where they are talking about a PLUG, not plugs.  Maybe it was a good thing I was paying attention in 8th Grade English all those years ago when we were discussing ''plural'' and ''singular''...

And that's life in the big city.  Most of the time it sucks, and we're reduced to pickup up crumbs.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Mon Jul 16 22:35:51 2012

@Dans Parts--

Thank you for posting the interesting "facts" on the absurd Chinese car lights etc.  I have a standing search for a rare motorcycle headlight and EVERY DAY I get tons of "headlights" to fit my bike--and when I did a search for a car headlight BULB I got the SAME thousands of listings from the SAME Chinese mega seller--sometimes for the SAME bulb!  

It's absurd--and sometimes they will change the punctuation in the title making it seem like they have changed the ITEM to the bots----grrrrr

The other issue here is that it is NOT only Chinese sellers doing this---I have seen it numerous times on clothing being sold from the US.  Very annoying to want to buy say a T-shirt for $9.99--click on the listing---get a drop down that lists that shirt for the $9.99 in some out of stock size--and then discover that the REAL price is more like $25.99.

I won't shop from these sellers.  

Oh and for the early poster who mentioned going to Amazon for a charger (or?)---Did the item you receive ORIGINATE IN CHINA?  Then you are just paying the "middle man" to source it FOR you.  Not being "mean" here but a lot of these sorts of things are simply NOT MADE IN THE USA anymore.  So if we NEED to charge that cell phone we are FORCED to buy these items made in---China.  

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

This user has validated their user name. by: TheCheapSkirt

Tue Jul 17 00:35:09 2012

Posting things like this on EBay's Facebook page can get you blocked from their Facebook page. Like you said, they don't want any negative publicity. Even if it something factual and you are simply politely asking a question about it to better understand the rules as a seller.

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

by: unconvinced This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jul 17 01:21:43 2012

Reporting infractions of any sort to eBay doesn't work unless you're bringing them enough fees that they pay attention.  

Found a bookseller with his url to his site in his description area (just not as a link - plain type).  Reported 5 of his listings (it is in hundreds) as that as been against eBay rules for many years now.  Checked back a week later and those listings are still there and still have that buried url in them.

Some enforcement of rules, huh?

Perminate Link for eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search   eBay Sellers Exploit Loophole to Increase Exposure in Search

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

Tue Jul 17 08:48:37 2012

Its a waste of time reporting frauds and con tricks to ebay.The only time they ever take action (and thats only occasionally) is if they think they lose out on fees or commission.
If I tried the same stunts as those that crop up on ebay on a regular basis on my web site,it  would result in a visit from trading standards or similar in double quick time.
Ebay is a haven for sellers pedalling junk and counterfeit items from China,but as long as ebay makes money out of them thats all they really care about.                                                                            

Click to view more comments
1 2  [Next Page]


Login is required to post comments.
To sign in to leave a comment using your AB Verify User Name, fill in the form below. If you have not yet signed up for AB Verify, or if you'd like more information, go to the Registration Page
.

Login for AB Verify
Be sure and use your email address and password to log in.

 
Email:
Password:
 
 Forgot Your Password?
 Even though you are signed in with the AuctionBytes Blog, you will have to sign in to the EcommerceBytes blog. But you can sign in with your existing AB Verify info.