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."