Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Thu Jan 17 2013 22:55:01

Should This eBay Seller Follow the Rules or Copy Competitors?

By: Ina Steiner

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Sellers are misusing eBay's Listing Variation feature and are violating several policies in doing so. A reader says eBay will not consistently enforce its rules, making it impossible for sellers like her to know whether to abide by the rules or risk joining the fray.

The Background:

If you're selling Tshirts on eBay, you can create one listing for a particular design, but offer it in different colors and sizes. eBay added the "Listing Variation" feature to its marketplace to accommodate sellers of commodity goods. The biggest benefit to eBay is that search results aren't clogged up with that same design of Tshirts in all the different permutations, and it benefits sellers by offering ease of listing and a significant cost savings when it comes to listing fees.

But what if you sell a line of trading cards. Can you list each different card as a variation?

The Violation:
Our reader wrote, "I am an online-only merchant of toys and hobby items, including trading cards. Recently, many eBay sellers of trading cards have started utilizing listing variations in order to bundle similar cards together under a single listing."

She provided two examples, one a line of Pokemon trading cards, and said they were listed in the category:
Toys & hobbies > Wholesale Lots > Other.



"However," she continued, "single cards selling for $1-$2 are clearly not wholesale lots. My understanding is that as sellers, we are required by eBay policy to list items in the correct category. However, when I have asked eBay for clarification on this, they have not responded."

She said eBay intended for Listing variations to be used in cases where the item is fundamentally the same item regardless of whether or not the buyer chooses a "size small blue shirt" or a "size large red shirt."

But the items that she sees some sellers listing with Listing Variation are fundamentally different.

The Reason Behind It:

"Many sellers are intentionally listing their items in the wrong categories so that they can have access to listing variation options, which are disabled in the appropriate categories. However, the items being sold as "variations" are completely different items which are grouped together by one or more similar attributes."

She would immediately save $150 per month by using Listing Variations -  "and I have what is still a rather small business compared to some of my competition," she wrote.

"More importantly, I think, a seller will likely increase his or her multiple item sales if related items are all available from a single checkout page."

The Dilemma:
"The problem is that this selling practice is clearly a violation of eBay's stated policies. And as we all know, just because eBay doesn't take action against Seller A for violating a particular policy doesn't mean it will not take action against Seller B for violating the same policy."

"So a seller like me is left with a choice: should I take a chance that eBay will continue tolerating what it claims is prohibited and risk have my account suspended, or should I play it safe and continue allowing my competition to kick my ass?"

What do you think?




Comments (31) | Leave Comment | Permalink

Readers Comments

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This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen
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Thu Jan 17 23:24:39 2013

Dear me, this is a shocking abuse; surely, a capital offence, and you are looking to eBay CS for guidance … dream on …

PS: Against merchants that pay large amounts of FVFs, eBay will take no action for other than prescribed criminal activity … Oops, sorry, not even for that …

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This user has validated their user name. by: arcasmia-eCommerce-consultant
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Fri Jan 18 02:09:07 2013

I always recommend not flouting any rules to my clients. However I'm finding an increasing number of sellers I speak with are concluding that initially a warning is a more likely than a suspension, thus making it much lower risk.

eBay are in a strange position that they have people willing to help clean up their site for free, but seemingly refuse to take advantage of that opportunity.

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by: KathleenJohnson This user has validated their user name.
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Fri Jan 18 07:40:16 2013

Honestly, I am not sure that "exposure" wise, this is even working for the Sellers doing this.

I wonder how this is working with the eBay search function?

...

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by: nothingnew This user has validated their user name.
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Fri Jan 18 07:50:21 2013

I say break ebay rules until a snitch rats u out. ebay themselves breaks their own rules 100s of times a day. they only give a warning on first no life snitching lol. but keep in mind and ignore all the other listings exactly like yours they REFUSE to remove If that happens to you. "ebay the site with nothing equal"

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by: innerpuppie This user has validated their user name.

Fri Jan 18 08:33:36 2013

To be totally honest, I have seen numerous sellers who don't play by the rules on eBay but I'm here to tell you, the first time I would try something like that I'd be caught and probably denyed selling on eBay until the world comes to an  end☺.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Nolle

Fri Jan 18 08:39:29 2013

When it comes to variations, I think you can do whatever you want.  I reported about a dozen sellers with variation listings of completely unrelated items, in price ranges of .99 to $300, that kept coming up in my searches for various garden tools.  It pissed me off because those listing always appeared first when I did a ''by lowest price'' search.

Not one of those listings - which have been online for months - was taken down.

So you gotta figure ebay doesn't care - at least right now.

When they DO start caring, they will take them down along with dozens of sellers using variations correctly, but were mis-dentified.

That is ebay's MO.

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This user has validated their user name. by: elpereles
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Fri Jan 18 08:55:54 2013

I'm not sure how "variations" work, but I don't remember see it with non-sport trading cards. I saw it with toys. In specially Lego parts and figures.  

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by: Mark This user has validated their user name.
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Fri Jan 18 08:58:34 2013

I'm sure eBay wants to have the proper categories for each product. However, since they are allowing sellers to provide their own content and not latch on to a single product listing (Amazon for example), that makes incorrect product categories/attributes a very hard thing to manage.  

We love that eBay allows you to use your own content and hope that never changes, that differentiates them from most other marketplaces.  

If there is a system that can be game'd to save a seller money or get additional exposure it will be used until policies can be put in place to prevent it.

Its unfortunate to those that play by the rules however.

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by: bb6 This user has validated their user name.

Fri Jan 18 09:45:59 2013

You need to do whatever will make or save you the most money. The bottom line is making money. That is such a gray area for eBay so I wouldn't worry about breaking any rules. Just because you are using the variations different then how ebay intended doesnt mean it is a violation to ebay. It just means you found a hole in their system and you should use that to your advantage as much as possible if it helps you make or save money. $150 is a lot of savings. Im pretty sure EBay will only take your product down if their ''bot'' finds an exact duplicate.  

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by: FREDDY This user has validated their user name.

Fri Jan 18 10:14:12 2013

Ebay, Amazon play by the rules all the time. Make up rules and/or change as they go along.day by day. Enforce when they feel like it. They do not have to explain to anyone.
Different subject: Do not see much about Amazon jumping rates on electronic access. from 8% to 15%. with minimum of $1.00 ''referral'' fee. Big line for them. I guess they do need to make a bigger profit?????

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by: JoJo This user has validated their user name.

Fri Jan 18 10:32:42 2013

Do whatever you feel is right for you and work on establishing your business off of ebay.  The only mindset that works with ebay is to use them rather than let them use you.  You may get to the point where you don't need them at all.  It's a happier place, let me tell you.

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This user has validated their user name. by: iheartjacksparrow

Fri Jan 18 11:05:46 2013

I often see listings (magazines, pins, coins) where the photo shows multiple items (sometimes in the hundreds) with a starting bid of, say, $3.00, and when you read the listing, it is for one item (usually chosen by the seller, but sometimes you get to pick from a list set out within the listing). I would think that would be a violation as well since the seller is paying for one listing and selling many different items.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ric

Fri Jan 18 11:11:15 2013

OP... you are more worried about ethics than eBay is.

If your action is a minor infraction or simply stretching the rules to your advantage carry on, but make sure you have an airtight reason for doing what you do.  

With multi variation listings are concerned, you need to weigh the savings on listing fees versus the visibility factor. The question becomes will your widget get more views if you list variations in individual listings, or will you sacrifice visibility by lumping variations into a single listing.

Always keep in mind, eBay drops an thousand ton anvil on small sellers who violate policy and drops a feather on the big boys who do the identical thing.

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by: Ed This user has validated their user name.

Fri Jan 18 12:33:32 2013

ebay is the worst site when it comes to selective punishment. We had 65 listing removed when one of our disabled workers followed an example of another Top Rated Power Seller. We couldn't believe we were singled out when there we over 2,000 listing with the same problem. All ebay said is we can't remove every one or we would not have any product to sell.

All I can say if you don't have Free Shipping you could be singled out for punishment what ever they want to choose.

When is ebay going to let the seller run there stores and stop using the search as a punishment tool. How can we control our purchases when they are playing games with our sales.    

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

Fri Jan 18 13:16:11 2013

This type of thing is pervasive throughout eBay, and is the result of, as Mark said above, people trying to game the system, looking for loopholes that give them an advantage.  It probably matters not to them that the advantage is an unfair one, and their shenanigans are unscrupulous, at best.

This kind of attitude is also found on Motors Parts & Accessories with Sellers now selling ONE spark plug, when quite obviously, your car takes 4, 6 or 8.  It also rears its' ugly head when using Parts Compatibility (Fitment).  Most larger volume users opt for 500+ auctions listing 10 cars each, instead of 10 auctions with 500+ cars each, the latter being how eBay intended the system.  On top of that, of course, you have to repeat with new listings for each and every color of the rainbow in which they are available.  Search for a part by low price, and you have page after page after page of ''car cover patches'', before you actually find a real car part.   Some of my Saved Searches have gone from 25 pages (of 200 per) to well over 1000 pages over the last few years - a sure remedy for Sellers being buried, and Buyers giving up before they find anything they might be looking for.

Reporting does no good, eBay either doesn't care, or doesn't have enough people to police.  In the end, it doesn't matter anyway, we're all screwed, thanks to ''disruptive innovation''.

What should the Seller that Ina was referring to do?  Their only choices are sink to the lowest common denominator (copycat their competitors), or sink down the rathole (lose their business).  Neither alternative is fair.  And people we Sellers talk to wonder why we are so upset and bitter and rail on about eBay?

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

Fri Jan 18 15:36:15 2013

My vote: BREAK THE RULES!

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by: RCL This user has validated their user name.

Fri Jan 18 15:36:48 2013

Take the high road and abide by your promise to comply with eBay policies and rules. Trying to fool or cheat a programming house-of-cards system like eBay is reckless--unless you don't need eBay.

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

Fri Jan 18 15:42:30 2013

I wonder... even though it's pretty obvious that this technique can save money on listing fees---does it actually IMPROVE SALES?

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by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Fri Jan 18 15:58:29 2013

@ED--

Really?  "Blaming" the "disabled worker"?   Isn't that a bit--low?

Was the LISTING disabled?  

Was the WORKER handicapped--ie like me missing a few crucial body parts?

Does the worker have a condition that does not allow them to discern between the "rules" at ebay or just following what other sellers do?

In which case perhaps you need to re-train or better supervise YOUR workers.  

Follw the rules or not ED this is a low blow to actual handicapped workers such as myself.

Guess I am glad I don't work for you!

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Fri Jan 18 17:31:02 2013

Selling on ebay makes cynics out of most people. Most of the rest were cynics before selling on ebay.

The fact of the matter is that unless the bullies invoke the VERO program, a law enforcement agency investigates someone or something on ebafia, or the media uncovers something, crime and dishonesty DO pay on ebafia.

Ebafia probably makes many millions annually from fenced stolen merchandise, counterfeit merchandise, grossly misrepresented products, and fundamentally dishonest listing and sales practices that give some sellers huge advantages over other sellers who are honest.

So the next time you hear that crime that doesn't pay, refer them to the SEC's website that shows how much money The Ho and his associated sociopaths earn from stock options alone each year.

Ebafia greed has created the lawless wild west of sales venues, and the only solution is the figurative lynchings of the outlaws responsible.

Start with just a very few listings in the wrong category for plausible deniability and see what happens. If nothing happens, gradually expand.

Ebafia itself is a rogue criminal corporation that conveniently looks the other way when some of their rogue customers engage in a little fraud.

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