Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Sat July 21 2012 16:11:13

eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

By: Ina Steiner

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eBay sellers have been reporting disruptions to sales, and EcommerceBytes has confirmed it was due to tests eBay has been running on its "Best Match" search algorithm. "Best Match will be using relevance and popularity factors and reducing the importance of end time in sorting auctions," a spokesperson explained. New information provided by eBay today reveals this is likely to be a permanent change.

Many eBay sellers have been complaining since April that their sales are down because their product listings have been moved lower in search results in eBay's default "Best Match." (See this EcommerceBytes Blog post and several reports on the "Letters to the Editor" blog, such as this one.

Wrote one frustrated seller to me on April 8th, "I am really upset and at wits end on this. I am a power seller, a top rated seller, I have 100% positive feedback, I have 9 listings ending today WITH free shipping yet I am buried in search. The seller above me as well as many other power sellers is NOT a power seller, not a top rated seller, does not have 100% positive feedback, their listings are not ending today and they are not providing free shipping. What this seller does have is 620 listings, I have only 40-50. What the heck is going on?"

The reports increased dramatically around the period of July 13 - 15th. eBay confirmed in an email to me a week later (July 19) that the changes sellers noticed to the order in which their listings appeared in search results that began around Friday the 13th were caused by a Best Match test.

The uptick in complaints can be explained by eBay's typical approach to testing. First, it runs tests that affect a subset of buyers, sellers or listings, and then expands the testing before rolling it out to all users. As one reader Tina wrote on a discussion board, "I am not surprised at all! I've been convinced we were in A/B testing before, now the next step would be the test on the entire population..."

eBay spokesperson Johnna Hoff confirmed on Thursday that eBay had changed the Best Match algorithm - see our exclusive story on EcommerceBytes Newsflash.

Today (Saturday), eBay spokesperson Aileen Abaya confirmed that eBay would run the test for another week. She said eBay would then launch it "if buyer engagement continues to show great improvements."

That sounds like eBay-speak for, "get used to it, we're rolling out this change permanently."

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt
While eBay picked the right time of year to conduct tests (months before the start of the holiday shopping season, though overlapping with back-to-school shopping), the company gets a failing grade for not giving sellers (or buyers) any advance warning. In fact, there's been no notice at all.

Wrote one EcommerceBytes reader, "Since 7/12, all my items dropped from the first 2 pages of the eBay best match to the last few pages. For instance, I have one item had been on the 1st spot for the past 3 month, now it is on the 7th page if you view 200 results per page, that means that item is now rank below 1400. This happened to all my items, it has been 5 days, and eBay still can't find the problem."

Adding to the frustration is that many sellers report that when they contacted eBay customer service to find out why their listings had fallen in search, they were not given straight answers. See this discussion board thread to get a sense of the frustration - many of the sellers posting say they are Top Rated Sellers, and some are trying to organize to file a class action lawsuit against eBay over the changes to Best Match.

One PowerSeller wrote, "Many sellers still have no idea what is going on, and none of the 10 eBay reps and member of the leadership team from eBay know what they did to the BM. At the very least, eBay needed to inform its own customer service reps of this major change."

Why is advance notice so important? First, eBay committed to giving sellers 60 days notice of significant changes impacting their business (and clearly from the emails I'm getting, it is impacting sellers!). Secondly, a lot of sellers are spending a lot of time trying to figure out what's going on - that time could be better spent on daily operations. (Not to mention the time wasted by eBay customer service reps fielding these calls.)

But most importantly, while eBay sellers should already be optimizing listings for Best Match, this test changes the algorithm. Optimizing for an algorithm that emphasizes time-ending-soonest is different than optimizing for one that does not!

Optimizing for Best Match

Rather than using price or time-ending to sort results, eBay uses Best Match as its default sort order, which attempts to rank listings by relevancy. eBay's algorithm considers a number of factors - some are based on relevancy, others are based on seller's track record on eBay.

eBay's Hoff said on Thursday, "Many factors are considered in ranking listings including seller track record, competitive pricing (including shipping cost), and the relevance of the listing in relation to what the buyer is looking for."

In Friday's Newsflash story, we included best practices recommended by eBay spokesperson Johnna Hoff, such as, "Offer a good start price and reasonable shipping." Some readers were incensed, feeling that eBay was blaming sellers for their lower ranking in search results. "I think it is some bs that eBay put out to make sellers look like the bad guy. Oh yeah we just bitch with new change and don't know how to adapt our ads." He said his listings met all of the recommended best practices and wrote, "So is this the list to assure dead last in the results or first?"

But readers expressed a small measure of relief just to get an answer. "Well, at least now I understand what happened. I was having a strong week (for July), when suddenly, on Friday, I stopped getting bids. I had several items (vintage collectibles) with over 100 views (which will almost always guarantee some late bids) and from Friday morning through close on Saturday night, NONE got even one bid! The price they were at on Friday morning is the price they closed at on Saturday night. That just didn't happen under the old system."

And not everyone is being negatively impacted by the testing. Tina, quoted above, wrote, "I don't know if I was A or B before, but either this is bad news for everyone, or those of us in the cold black hold side will finally be out. This morning I awoke to plenty of good sales so I choose to believe the latter."

Another seller on a discussion board wrote, "I hope we were in the control group since our search results returned a lot of irrelevant results, and rank the irrelevant above the relevant."




Comments (43) | Leave Comment | Permalink

Readers Comments

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

by: nsc This user has validated their user name.

Sat Jul 21 16:44:30 2012

So, to sum up: eBay gave no notice of a major change in Search, in violation of many previous promises, nobody knows whether their own search results are pre-change or post-change, and nobody can describe what the change is, certainly not eBay customer reps.

Aside from that, complete transparency.

Never before has a such a major service company been run by such a set of unethical slimeballs. Are they trying to reach the tipping point where only diamond sellers of cheap Chinese crap use the site? This is the way to go about it.

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

by: mylifeisgood This user has validated their user name.

Sat Jul 21 16:55:33 2012

Just goes to show you that being a power seller, TRS, 100% feedback, and all DSRS of 5 mean about as much as being a buyer at 100%.

Keep jumping for the carrot people. Fleecebay doesn't care as you are not a big diamond seller, just useless noise.

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

This user has validated their user name. by: Ric

Sat Jul 21 17:00:54 2012

The series of unannounced changes effecting sellers continues and even seems to be picking up speed. From here on, it is obvious that eBay will be imposing changes willy - nilly whenever they see fit regardless of the impact those changes may have on sellers.

Sellers should note that in his quarterly results conference call John Donahoe lowered expectations for Q3 sales volume. This has two purposes.

First, it covers eBay's ash with regard to reduced lowered sales volume which will likely result due to this change.

Second, reduced expectation estimates were likely dropped below what eBay expects sales to drop while the new search burns in across eBay as part of the smoke and mirrors employed by eBay's leadership... Report an expected drop in sales that is greater than expected, then when it is time to report Q3 results, they come in higher than eBay projected to make them look good to their Wall Street Masters.

Any remaining long term sellers will recall the last time Best Match was changed, the same scenario played out.



IF eBay were still making announcements to sellers ( and it appears they are not), they should simply announce that from now on, changes will go back to being imposed on their timetable and without announcement to sellers.

Sellers who called in and were connected with engaged CS reps were serving no other purpose than confirming eBay was hitting the targets they intended - small sellers.

That Top rated sellers find their items demoted in search should not come as a surprise either.

eBay went to all the trouble of raising TRS standards to eliminate significant numbers of sellers from the program, and the resulting purge did not meet expectations in San Jose.

Now, to avoid handing out that precious 20% discount, eBay will simply render TRS listings harder to find. Lower sales by TRS equals less revenue loss for eBay.

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

by: bcoog This user has validated their user name.

Sat Jul 21 18:17:43 2012

Yes I have noticed that there are alot of items not selling anymore.Some may say it's summer economy etc.
I have been taking lots of pictures thinking about listing above the 50 free they offer,but why bother if nothing is selling because no one find items on the site.
I have been with them since 1998 and one can see where we small sellers rate. I'm not located in the foreign land that they so desire to promote on their site.

For some reason or another I am listed as a TRS. I sold alot less than I listed the last few months so go figure.

I have tried other venues,but still not much success. I would only hope someone would expose Wal Street's darling for what it has become. Yeah guess I'm stupid to have put up with it this long  

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

by: rqtball This user has validated their user name.

Sat Jul 21 19:43:30 2012

My store sales have gone way up the last week...

Auction sales have been ok I guess,I will get a bunch of auction sales then I will get none the next couple of times they end.

All in all I would keep this new search cause I think its actually helping me.

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

by: rqtball This user has validated their user name.

Sat Jul 21 19:44:28 2012

although the day they rolled it out on the 13th was one of my worst selling days this year so I dont know what changed since that day to get my store sales doing so well now

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

by: nsc This user has validated their user name.

Sat Jul 21 20:56:18 2012

rqtball, Best Match is now like playing the lottery. Your sales went up, my sales went down -- does that say anything about the quality or value of our merchandise? Not a damn thing.

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

by: rqtball This user has validated their user name.

Sat Jul 21 21:03:08 2012

not at all but sales have been steadily getting better since the 14th, auction sales looks like have gone down a bit in the last day or 2 but store sales are great since then.

So I will probably list less auctions(will save $$$ that way) and just rely on store sales until something changes.

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

This user has validated their user name. by: Spartacus

Sun Jul 22 02:19:43 2012

Each time I read another article like this, I'm glad I pulled all my 10,000+ listings from eBay/Amazon and focused on driving clientele towards my own website.

Etsy, Bonanza, etc.. eBay alternatives... all a waste of time...

In all honesty, eBay did me a huge favour.

I was going through so much stress with eBay/Amazon it wasn't funny. Never in my 20+ years of business have I ever dealt with such incompetent yet self absorbed companies and I've dealt with egotistical distributors (like Hummel, Chilmark, etc)

Late last year, I started reading Napoleon Hill's ''Think and Grow Rich'' and decided, if I can't do it ''my way'' I'll go back to my $80K per year day job as a software engineer.

See, I was willing to sacrifice that bi-weekly paycheck (and my cubicle) for freedom when I started my eBay/Amazon business several years back.

What I got was worse than the corporate day job. In essence, eBay/Amazon make a slave of anybody stupid enough to play their game.

They have to, they're publicly traded companies. Manned by slugs that follow the Mitt Romney school of thought that everyone is expendable except them.

So, in the course of my reading, I realized something very important that most eBay sellers already know... ''People like buying from someone they feel comfortable with''...

I also realized I can compete with eBay and Amazon in my particular niche by providing quality product, service and going one on one with my customers.

That being said, I do sell OOAK items, collectibles and antiques. If I were selling Chinese made iPhone cases or USB thumb drives, I'd probably be SOL but you know, eBay was built on OOAK and collectibles you couldn't find elsewhere. Currently there is no marketplace for the items I sell so I was forced to make my own.

Etsy is too anal to figure out they need to expand their basis, plus they charge listing fees which I hate.  Bonanzle/Bonanza dropped the ball and it will never, ever, ever come back. they missed their window of opportunity.

The best thing any of us can do is hold out on our own. Ideally, there will come some sort of crowd-sourced marketplace that allows merchants control of their store and banish customer reviews but as long as e-commerce is dominated by Harvard MBA's who have never worked in a store, the best thing we can do now is move into our own spaces as merchants.

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

by: nsc This user has validated their user name.

Sun Jul 22 02:28:49 2012

@ric, there's another reason Q3 growth is likely to be lower than Q2: eBay fees on shipping came online in early July 2011. eBay has enjoyed 4 quarters with an artificial bump in the YoY comparison. Starting in Q3, it's apples-to-apples again.

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

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

Sun Jul 22 02:42:34 2012

@Spartacus, how do you even list on Amazon if you sell antiques? I have generally found there is a reasonable business argument for Amazon's controls.

Unlike eBay, where management chases a new stupid decision every week that was purely necessitated by their previous stupid decisions.

eBay had such tremendous internet presence a decade ago, now no one even mentions them as a leader.

There was a point where eBay could have become the leader in the technologies that made Amazon a leading innovator -- digital distribution, social networking reviews, cloud computing app development, fulfillment by Amazon -- and in each case eBay management didn't do it or shut it down. Amazon plays the long game, while eBay doesn't manage beyond the next quarter end.

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

This user has validated their user name. by: Island_Sam

Sun Jul 22 03:12:54 2012

My store traffic just took a nose dive the last 3 days! Sales following it of course. This is outrageous! I am a top rated seller, offering 1 day shipping, outstanding track record, etc, etc... What gives.

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

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

Sun Jul 22 06:54:40 2012

You want to know how they get the algorithms or why they do it?

If you want to know why, sift though this for the answers you need.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_manipulation
>What
methods have you seen eBay and PayPal use?

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

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

Sun Jul 22 06:56:15 2012

Sorry. Better link.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_manipulation

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

by: ebay refugee camp This user has validated their user name.

Sun Jul 22 09:14:47 2012

How can a search be fair? Many Sellers are going to be left out of the loop. It has been and will be if your item sells your on top. You can be a dirty rotten scoundrel, small sellers are going under as eBay moves to the huge retailers, unless you have a niche you are screwed. eBay will.be going to free listings soon to avoid chargebacks from angry sellers. As PayPal goes mainstream in brick and mortar stores you will see those large retailers visibility on eBay skyrocket because it is all tied in eBay,PayPal, GSI Commerce. This is Donahoe's plan. He is big business, wall street. Small businesses bother him, they are not traded on the Stock Echange, we are just noise.  He has been replacing small sellers and getting small. businesses to leave for years. The answer is go elsewhere, evevtually buyers will find you, if you have a lower price because of low overhead that will be your advantage. I see eBay as a sinking ship. JD has lost millions in fees because sellers have left, he has not gained anything on eBay marketplaces.  He has not kept pace with online shopping sales that has skyrocketed, his acquisitions, PayPal, and the charging final value fees on shipping are totally masking the fact that he is a complete failure as far as eBay marketplace or the core site goes. It is a house of cards at eBay and smoke and mirrors sellers also rolled the cost of shipping into their price with the almost forced free shipping policy. The big brokers do not cars but the small guy does. The search will get worse so get out while you can.

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

by: frustrated This user has validated their user name.

Sun Jul 22 10:23:19 2012

Okay, well I don't KNOW if I like the new sort order or not.

WHAT IS IT?

If not time ending soonest, then what goes to the top? (if buyers are too stupid to change it to price+ shipping, that is)

Another secret?

Beginning to think the top level brass at ebay sniffs glue.

Notice??

Why should they give notice? Just because they said they would? So WHAT? So now they aren't, that's all. If you don't like it, list on another venue. Then promote it. YUP I said spend a couple bucks. That is always how this worked before ebay and how it will go after they are gone. It is tax deductable. The reason anyone stays is due to the traffic at ebay, the only reason anybody is there, still paying. So pay someone else, and list somewhere else. Just pay for ads, is all. If you opened a B&M store, you wouldn't expect people to just walk in, right? You would have had to raise some CAPITAL, and advertise.

If enough people leave due to this disingenuous BS then buyers will leave, and we can all relax and worry about something important.

Like SALES, and MAKING MONEY, which is how it used to be over there.

This is the reason why everyone should be keeping a presence elsewhere, even a small one, jsut in case.

One day ebay will be nothing BUT Chinese stuff, or that will be all that shows when you search for Gucci bag, so be prepared.

Take this last several years trashing of us sellers as a GOOD THING:

Learn to run your business like a business.

Raise some capital, make a plan to leave, start your own site, drive trafic to it, and then LEAVE. (plenty of tutorials for free on how to get all your customers e-mails)

Someday you will thank those glue-sniffing dingbats. All they ever had to do was police the site better, and sit there and watch the money roll in, but NO....

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

by: RCL This user has validated their user name.

Sun Jul 22 12:06:48 2012

An algorithm can sort by any almost any value. I'm sure when Joanna was told ''popular'' it meant preference is given based on revenue per month. Top sellers absolutely will get the best exposure. (A rep told me that there is a seller who gets in the area of 6000 sales a months and have over 500 negative feedbacks a month. He's going to get top priority no doubt!) How else can they attract top sellers of items everyone under the sun is selling?

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

by: RCL This user has validated their user name.

Sun Jul 22 12:09:14 2012

eBay is not a fair or "open" market (or a venue for that matter). It has become a fixed market.  

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

This user has validated their user name. by: LDS Brother

Sun Jul 22 14:26:32 2012

Talked to eBay today, and was told it is permanent.

I am finally out of business, sold a popular item, sales almost everyday and just a few across the board since July 13th

I will NEVER reccommend eBay to anyone Buyer, or aspiring seller, I am taking my frineds and family with me after what you did to Auctions Donahoe

Your new sort is the most evil rotten thing ever, you have ruined literally the lives of so many good people and sellers who absolutely relied on ebay for their lifeline. I am one of them

I cannot believe this best match sort if for real, auction items ending in 5 minutes on page 2 or 3 and items ending in 2 days auction style page 1

And forget your advice, it matters not about free ship, hoops, return policies for me.

Know this ebay, I am a real person with a real family, who gave my all and my life to ebay since the 1990's and your new sort not emphasizing auctions as time ending soonest, initiated June 13th is bringing down financial hell on my family and myself.

No warning, no care just a new policy and out of business people like myself who rely on auctions must suffer.

You have chipped chipped and chipped my booming business since 2008 down a barely a few Hundred a week, and now $64 last week

I cannot believe this injustice down to real people by eBay Execs, who don't have a clue what it is like to depend on a few hundred dollars a week income to literally survive

This is a sort for the Big Sellers, the chosen, the preferred, good service, Top Rated, not helping me at all

Dear God, PLEASE help me and all the other small to medium good sellers, who have been drastically affected/impacted by this horrible new search that there is no way to get your items seen

Perminate Link for eBay's New Search - Get Used to It   eBay's New Search - Get Used to It

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

Sun Jul 22 18:12:05 2012

@Spartacus
I doubt that anyone would leave a job on 80K to set up an ebay business.
You would have to sell a lot of stuff to net 80k a year.

@LDS Brother.
Yes we would all like more views.
If ebay got rid of all their alogrtyhms and just went to ending first, do you think we would get more views ?
Or is it that with 150 million listings it is just too hard to get views ?

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