Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Wed Feb 5 2014 20:16:30

Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

By: Ina Steiner

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SLI Systems' Max Bunag wrote about a hypothetical shopping experience on the company's blog in December to highlight the importance of search engines on ecommerce websites.

In the post titled, "Which Shopping Experience Would You Prefer," he wrote, "Imagine yourself walking through the mall. You want that red shirt that you've seen your favorite singer wear on the latest episode of TMZ. You've got money in your pocket. You arrive at your destination. There are two stores that sell the very same shirt: Store X and Store Y. Let's walk through the shopping experience at both."

Hypothetical Store X has an attractive presentation and merchandising, but none of the employees can find the red shirt you're looking for - but they do show you a completely different item and ask you if you wish to buy it.

Hypothetical Store Y also has an attractive presentation and merchandising. The first employee you encounter points you to the corner of the store where you find the red shirt you're looking for along with similar shirts.

"The experience at Store X describes the concept of having a sub-par site-search experience," Bunag writes. "All too often, I visit a website and type in the search box "red shirt," only to find "black dresses," "leather boots" or even worse, "no results."

SLI Systems provides search and merchandising services and technology to large online retailers, and Bunag used the blog post to illustrate the importance of an ecommerce site's search engine. "If you're not thinking about site search, you absolutely should be," he wrote.

The blog post made me think about Google and Bing, eBay and Amazon, and what kind of job each of them would do if you went to their sites and typed "red shirt" into their search engine.

On Amazon, thanks to its tight restrictions about product codes and attributes and the way its marketplace is structured, search does a good job of showing you red shirts in the results. It also provides a way of easily filtering results in the sidebar.



On eBay, search does a good job of showing you shirts, but they aren't necessarily red. And unlike Amazon, which showed all product photos with a clean white background, the photos on eBay were of varying quality. I didn't feel like I was at a department store, I felt like I was at a consignment store, which, depending on your shopping goals and preferences, can be positive or negative.



Trying to be fair, I did the same search only adding the word "vintage." Aha - shoppers who are looking for vintage red shirts may be more satisfied with the selection on eBay than on Amazon, which brought back more listings for non-clothing items in this search. But that's not exactly fair either, since Amazon does not allow the sale of used clothing.

What the exercise highlighted was that Amazon can be more satisfying if you're looking for new items and you have a good idea of what you want, and eBay may be more satisfying when you want to browse items, both new and used. The exercise was actually less about how good the search engines were, and more about the types of items you'll find on each marketplace and the kind of shopping experience they offer.

I found it interesting that my search for "red shirt" on Google only showed clothing for sale in advertisements (from major retailers), not in the search results. Surprisingly there was no Google Shopping "one box" on the page.

Searching "red shirt" on Bing returned only one link related to clothing - to find red shirts on eBay. There were only two ads on the Bing search results pages, both for Audible (non-clothing). I tried searching for "red shirts" (plural), and it brought back ads for clothing. Why Bing Ads (or advertisers using Bing Ads) differentiate between red shirt and red shirts isn't clear to me.

This is a good reminder that when you're looking for an ecommerce platform on which to sell - whether it's to power your own ecommerce store or on a marketplace - it's best to test the search engine before you commit. If shoppers can't find what they're looking for, you may be throwing your money away.

What kind of positive or negative experiences do you have when searching for items online?




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Readers Comments

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

by: Bloggo This user has validated their user name.

Wed Feb 5 23:23:37 2014

"If shoppers can't find what they're looking for, you may be throwing your money away."

This describes what eBay did with their money when they threw millions into Cassini.

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

by: thebobman This user has validated their user name.

Wed Feb 5 23:45:47 2014

I hate when Amazon assumes too much and searches for things I don't want to find. Lets say one of the search terms was "Sony"... quit showing me stuff for Panasonic.

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

This user has validated their user name. by: Tula

Wed Feb 5 23:46:25 2014

Search can be hit or miss, no matter where you try it. Searching is only as good as the available terms associated with an item. If I'm searching for something specific, but the search engine doesn't look for that parameter or those who wrote the listing didn't include it (think item specifics or Google attributes), then I'll be out of luck. Garbage in, garbage out :-)  

Doing full-text searches consumes a lot of time and resources, which is why search engines like to use keywords or item specifics. Those can be more easily indexed in databases and are much faster to search. A lot of listings have very little for text descriptions, anyway, so those attributes are far more important.

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

by: blaumann2 This user has validated their user name.

Wed Feb 5 23:47:15 2014

So ebay has terrible search and many unprofessional sellers. What a shock.

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

by: Moonwishes This user has validated their user name.

Wed Feb 5 23:47:36 2014

The hypothetical store X isn't so hypothetical. In a brick and mortar store a couple of months ago that happened to me! I still can't figure out why the clerk showed me what she did since it had nothing to do with what I was looking for. Store Y did and didn't even point it out, they took me right to the display and of course I bought it.

Generally on Amazon I can find what I am looking for with the search, but not on ebay although at this point I'm rarely there. I find Google shopping is really poor in showing results, even more so than the regular search. I have literally looked for sewing patterns on google and would be shown car parts or lamps, etc. in Google shopping--and they want people to pay for that!!!

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 6 00:06:05 2014

I have rarely seen completely unrelated search results on Amazon as I often get on ebay.  On ebay I am lucky if I get a result that vaguely matches the EXACT words I am searching for--and often times I find what I am looking for on Google--as being FOR SALE on ebay.  You can only FIND it via Google---even tho it is listed on  ebay.

Stupid ebay MBA's can't even figure this out.  How much are they LOSING this way??????  How hard could it BE?  

Andy WHY does someone ELSE not step up to reap these spoils?????  

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

by: Tiffee Jasso This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 6 03:04:30 2014

The other night I was wondering if all the jewelry sellers had left Ebay. When I searched for vintage Southwest bangle bracelet, there were only 7 bracelets on Ebay and two were not Southwest.  Tonight there are 79 bracelets on. So I guess it just depends on whether the search engine is actually doing searches or is just dishing up what it thinks you might want to see and whether the moon is full or new. And that is the problem, a machine is only as good as the engineering department and programmer behind it.  

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

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

Thu Feb 6 03:42:58 2014

The blue and green plaid shirt in the ebay screen shot above is what John Donahoe thinks Ina was actually searching for.

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

by: ewegolf This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 6 08:04:34 2014

Google Shopping has become practically worthless since their advent of pay-to-play. The after-the-fact payees such as Bonanza or ecrater generally have their products well concealed if that. I have a used item listed for $19.00. It is grouped with From 3 stores $89.92. The other two are the high-priced ebay and the other Bonanza listing at $20.00. The stand alones are all ebay with a top price of $26.00. No one will ever click on the $89.92. It's similar on other items. Many of the micro-sellers such as myself have seen their sales drop sharply since the pay-to-play at Google Shopping started. If your selling site doesn't buy enough ads or pay cost-per-click you'll need a shovel to find your items.

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Thu Feb 6 08:05:23 2014

I hope the powers to be at eBay read this.  They are so enamored with their big data and their machine learning that they have totally abandoned the customer.

Cassini is a disaster.  Go back to basic search. Give the customer what the customer is looking for.  Cross sell AFTER the purchase.

A customer looking for a red shirt does not want a pair of black boots, a red hat or a red haired chia pet.

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

This user has validated their user name. by: Ina

Thu Feb 6 08:59:47 2014

The seller of that plaid shirt put red in the listing title, and for Item Specifics entered:

Color: green/navy /red
Pattern: Plains & Checks

So should multiple colors be allowed in the Color attribute?

How would you recommend the seller fill in the attributes, and how should eBay's search engine treat this listing on a search for red shirt?

I think with searches like this one on both Amazon and eBay, it's up to the shopper to do more filtering to find what they want - just as you would enter the shirt department in a store, and then walk toward the racks with the style you prefer.

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

This user has validated their user name. by: Marie

Thu Feb 6 09:15:35 2014

I certainly agree that the search on Ebay has room for a lot of improvement as I've been complaining about it for quite a while.  Even in searching in my own items I have experience difficulty getting it to return the proper listing that I'm trying to get to.

However, I'm not too fond of this statement "And unlike Amazon, which showed all product photos with a clean white background, the photos on eBay were of varying quality. I didn't feel like I was at a department store, I felt like I was at a consignment store, which, depending on your shopping goals and preferences, can be positive or negative."  

The long time sellers I know do not want Ebay to be a "department store".  Nor do many buyers.  I see this as a huge part of the problem for Ebay currently.  It is loosing it's uniqueness in an effort to be something it was never intended to be.

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

by: Leesantiques This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 6 09:19:59 2014

Yes, I do think that multiple colors should be allowed in the color attributes.  Why not?

What I don't understand are the item specifics - they drive me nuts sometimes.  I deal in mostly vintage and antique items.  Why am I prompted to give an MPN - when virtually none of the products I am listing have one?  Makes no sense.  What also makes no sense are the country listings.  A lot of times all one can honestly say about a piece of antique porcelain is that it is ''Continental'', meaning the continent of Europe, but not the British Isles. No way to indicate this on the item specifics.  And some countries that used to exist, don't.  Where, for example, would one list something made in Czechoslovakia?  That isn't an option......

Lee

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

This user has validated their user name. by: Basset

Thu Feb 6 09:36:08 2014

I would have listed the plaid shirt as multicolor. When buyers search for clothing items they have eBay’s pre-set color choices on the side to choose from. The “Multicolor” choice would probably be the best option if a buyer wants multiple colors. If one color is pre-dominant you can always add your own item specific & trait for “Main Color” or similar wording.


That being said, I have used things like blue-green and yellow-gold to describe color if it fits the shade. I have found in teal, aqua or turquoise, for example, that one persons green is another person’s blue. So I hyphenate in hopes that people will end up with results for the color they want.


At least the keyword ''sexy'' did not show up on any of the red shirt results shown. Many times when I searched for clothing, ads at the sides & many of the results would contain the word ''sexy''. Even Hello Kitty ''sexy'' items. Almost all would be located in asian countries. I don't know if that says more about the profile of american buyers or the asian sellers who feel compelled to use that keyword.


Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

by: FREDDY This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 6 10:18:27 2014

Do not think it is possible to have a search engine that is even close to being perfect let alone good.
Amazon search is far from perfect. If they have an item listed but none are in stock, it goes to the back of the list after everything under the sun is shown. I agree with the previous comment about search for sony and everyone else jumps on the bandwagon. The good part is that AFTER the fact you can use the filter.
ebay cassini search shows you what you want. NOT what you think you want because you (the buyer) do not know what you want. They also only show you a couple of items or not found. However, go to google and all sorts of the items pop up for sale on ebay.  Go figure.  What and who is screwed up.
Google search can drive me crazy. Almost always Amazon is right there  in the top ten. However, they take you to the site but not what you are searching for. Amazon just wants you on their site.  Waste of time.

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Thu Feb 6 10:45:18 2014

As Basset stated, the plaid shirt should have been multi-color.  It is not red.  It is multi-color.  Red is an accent color of the shirt.

As for the item specific "Color: green/navy /red", the lister of the plaid shirt is mis-using the item specifics.  I don't think this is what eBay intended.

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

This user has validated their user name. by: Puck

Thu Feb 6 11:45:46 2014

""If shoppers can't find what they're looking for, you may be throwing your money away."

This describes what eBay did with their money when they threw millions into Cassini"

Check.

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

This user has validated their user name. by: Puck

Thu Feb 6 11:47:59 2014

"The blue and green plaid shirt in the ebay screen shot above is what John Donahoe thinks Ina was actually searching for."

"Buyers often don't know what they want..." - J. Donothole

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

by: Orwellwasright This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 6 12:35:38 2014

ebays "search engine" is not designed to show a buyer what they want.

Ebays "search engine" is designed to find any relatable items available from their preferred sellers and display them to potential buyers. BIG DIFFERENCE

So long as ebay uses their search/filter to highlight preferred partners and punish undesirable (in ebays mind) sellers, buyer satisfaction will be a SECONDARY concern

Ebays filter system it seems would rather show you a close or even Non match from a preferred partner, then a dead on match from a seller they deem unworthy.

You cannot have a tool from a dishonest marketplace produce honest results.

The bizarre parameters they need to program in, such as what the sellers rating is, if they have hit their selling ceiling for the month, which of ebays flavor of the month rules they adhere to ,and on and on can only serve produce a mish mash of confusing results, turning off buyers and alienating sellers...

But hey its better then allowing a ten year veteran with one tenth of a percent short in one of the punishment catagories to be seen ... Right?

Perminate Link for Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon   Searching for Hypothetical Red Shirts on eBay and Amazon

by: Steevo This user has validated their user name.

Thu Feb 6 13:32:35 2014

Search engines are tricky to create. They have to be a little fuzzy, they have to know about synonyms and other equivalents.  There are a lot of details to make them work satisfactorily.

Ebay's programmers are in way over their heads, and they have been for a long time.  

The goofball manipulated search where what you find is as much a matter of whom you are (new customer or not), the price of the item and the amount a seller charges for shipping, how fast they ship, how many of that item they sell, it's all that now.  Even what happened on the sellers account 3 months ago matters more than it should.  ''Big Data''.

As long as you are searching for a chinese cellphone charger, you'll find it easily.  Cheap, high volume, low price, free shipping, that is obviously the item a buy would be likely to want!

If you search for a OOAK item or rare, uncommon IT or computer item, you may not be able to find it because it's just not popular, and it's not ''free shipping''.  

But if it weighs 70#, that would explain why it's not free shipping, but for ebay, no free shipping=bad.

No wonder sales are so slow on ebay.

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