Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Tue Sept 13 2016 11:59:20

Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

By: Ina Steiner

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If 125 people go to eBay and enter the same search term, will they see the same results? 

Over the years, we've heard claims that eBay search brings back inconsistent results - a concern for sellers who expect their listings to be visible to shoppers. We set out to test those claims, launching an experiment to try and better understand marketplace search engines.

Over a 24-hour period, 125 readers volunteered to go to eBay.com and enter five specified search terms and report back their results in a blind survey. They searched using Best Match with no filtering. The survey was active for 24 hours to minimize the natural fluctuation of new and ending eBay listings. And we instructed users to "Make sure that you have "ALL CATEGORIES" enabled in the eBay search bar and "BEST MATCH" chosen in the Sort Order drop-down menu."

Here are the results across all browsers and time zones:

Diaper Bag:
84%: 37,000 listings (+/-200 listings)
12%: 50,000 listings (+/-200 listings)
4%: International participants

Tackle Box:
72%: 7,300 listings  (+/-200 listings)
24%: 16,600 listings (+/-200 listings)
4%: International participants

Hires Root Beer Metal Sign:*
44%: 49 listings
24%: 38 listings
12%: 41 listings
8%: 44 listings
4%: 50 listings
4%: 48 listings
4%: International participants
* Since it is a somewhat rare collectible, there may have been auctions ending (or starting) throughout the 24-hour testing period. 

Black Cocktail Dress:
63%: 453,000 listings (+/-2000 listings)
21%: 363,000 listings (+/-1000 listings)
8%: 376,000 listings (+/-1000 listings)
4%: 472,000 listings (+/-1000 listings)
4%: International participants

Star Wars Figure:
64%: 76,000 listings (+/-1000 listings)
20%: 117,500 listings (+/- 500 listings)
12%: 65,000 listings (+/-1000 listings)
4%: International participants

Note that we had a small number of international readers participate in the experiment, as indicated in the numbers above. All of them reported fewer search results than US readers because not all items show up internationally.

One thing the test indicated was that some participants did not realize that eBay's Best Match filters search by category in some (or many) cases. Shoppers may assume after conducting a broad search that it is as broad as it can get, not realizing Best Match may limit results to a certain category.

For example, those who took it on faith that searching "tackle box" without specifying a category would bring back all listings for tackle boxes may have only seen 7,300 listings. 

Note that we asked participants to indicate which browser they were using - those using Firefox were the ones who tended to report the higher results. Here's a breakdown of which browsers people used when searching eBay for this experiment:

Browser Used:
Chrome: 40%
Firefox: 40%
Internet Explorer: 12%
Other: 8%

We also noted that some search terms were more consistent than others - why would a commodity item like a black cocktail dress bring back a different number of results for different people searching within a 24-hour period?

The experiment indicates that sellers who worry that their listings may be excluded from eBay search results have good reason for concern, and we'll continue to run tests such as these.

Do you have any theories as to why eBay Best Match may bring back substantially different results for different people?




Comments (31) | Leave Comment | Permalink

Readers Comments

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

This user has validated their user name. by: iheartjacksparrow

Tue Sep 13 12:36:46 2016

Ina asks: "Do you have any theories as to why eBay Best Match may bring back substantially different results for different people?"

My guess is rolling blackouts. Option Two would be seller limits. But I doubt that Best Match is in reality the best match for anyone.

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

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

Tue Sep 13 13:17:06 2016

It is very clear that listings are being omitted,as to why , who knows but ebay needs to answer.I do not think ebay will say they are omitting listings because they charged you a fee. My suggestion to all ebay sellers is take some time to search from different ip address, maybe a friends computer, do not login and check your listings do a search and see where you stand so ebay does not know who is searching.It will open your eyes and you will see that all of your listings are not there. If all sellers with a store would call ebay and tell them to cancel there store subscription before October 15th I guarantee you would see the playing field fixed. I understand this is your income but you can list elsewhere study your options ebay does NOT CARE ABOUT YOU.

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Tue Sep 13 14:29:55 2016

A simple answer to Ina's question is that it may very well be like a rigged card game. Sellers who do not jump through eBay's hoops (accepting returns, managed returns, global shipping, etc.) may find their listings penalized and hidden more than a seller who marches to eBay's drummer.

It could also be that Best Match and eBay search simply don't work. I think that may be a better answer.

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

by: Beth This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 13 15:45:05 2016

I think Rexford is on to one scenario.  But then what's my problem. I jump thru their hoops and my stuff is invisible.  

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

by: SomeeBaySeller This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 13 16:52:29 2016

I've already gamed the system..I know exactly how it works and how to win on it. I will never tell all though, then it will no longer be a secret and everyone would be doing it.

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 13 17:16:33 2016

LOL DUH ! :)

My friends - its BEST MATCH for THEM (eBay) not YOU the seller OR the buyer!

eBay beloveds, eBay Returns people (30 days or more), sellers with contracts, sellers with "guaranteed revenue performance" aka large feeds 20K + items - all these people go first. They also get shown 24/7 and in every market.

Its not theory or as some here say "its angry people with an axe to grind" its simply written in eBays TOS.

They have the right to show what they want when they want - and you agree each time you log on - ie you let them.

Its bizzare on its face - imagine McDonalds making you sign an agreement that they may or may not serve you ... or they may serve you late, or spoiled food ... !

Thats the equivalent of what eBays TOS is - an agreement that you MUST agree to before you are let on eBay.

http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/user-agreement.html#6


1)
Your listing may not be immediately searchable by keyword or category for several hours (or up to 24 hours in some circumstances)

2) We strive to create a marketplace where buyers find what they are looking for. Therefore, the appearance or placement of listings in search and browse results will depend on a variety of factors.

#2 gives eBay latitude to do as the please in order to ENHANCE BUYER EXPERIENCE.

3) To drive a positive user experience, a listing may not appear in some search and browse results regardless of the sort order chosen by the buyer

#3 is the answer!


Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

by: smallstuff This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 14 02:20:40 2016

Ina - I suggest you repeat your survey, but ask the participants to send you screenshots to verify the search settings.  I just tried one search term you used:   470,872 results for Black Cocktail Dress
When I first put in the search term, eBay changed the settings to be be ''auction only'' and category ''dresses''.  Of course, that resulted in a lower number (10,698).  I had to check the settings each time.  

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

by: Mog This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 14 03:21:30 2016

Can someone tell me what was wrong with the choice in the early days of searching for a "widget" and only getting results back with the exact words in the title with ending soonest order. It gave everyone a chance to be seen and didn't give you all the C"£$ you don't want to see.  

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

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

Wed Sep 14 05:10:48 2016

Ebay controls every aspect,they use search to promote the sellers who jump through their hoops and who pay then big bucks even though they have busy web sites of their own. Ebay has become like an octupus strangling the small seller while pretending to be their friend or partner. Amazon are as bad,start looking for alternative sites or start your own,ebay will never change,but hopefully it wont last for ever either.

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

by: frustrated This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 14 07:25:48 2016

Okay from the BUYERS point of view...

This is why sales are down. EOS.

You go in there and try to find some simple thing you're looking for and they filter the category (which you, the BUYER) may or may not notice) and you don't see what you want.

So what does a buyer do?? THEY GO TO AMAZON. I know I do. I haven't bought anything on ebay in a LONG LONG LONG TIME. Because after I stopped selling (voluntarily, who needs their cra*?) I didn't NEED them anymore, and cannot find the stuff I want anyway! It takes 15 searches and playing with categories etc. I don't have 45 minutes to search for a humidifier filter, thanks. So remember ebay, all the sellers you BOOTED off for very little reason, used to buyers. And they see no reason to come back. Especially since you can't find what you want anyway!

Even if you GOOGLE for a search, these dingbats over there cannot understand the simple truth. STOP CHANGING THE ITEM NUMBERS every 30 days and maybe the buyer will find our listings?????  

That is why Amazon kicks ebays as*.



Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

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

Wed Sep 14 08:23:13 2016

I haven't bought or sold anything off of ebay in years. I will at times do searches there to see the popularity of an item and what it sells for. Whatever search parameters you put in, it rarely 'holds' on to them for more than one search. Who wants to spend all their time reclicking the search possiblities. Especially reclicking 'completed sales' which is what I am generally looking for.

It is harder and harder to sell on line these days as more and more people jump on board, especially sellers that come to Amazon and can load 20K+ listings in a few minutes and suddenly we are in competition with someone that doesn't have over even seen what they are listing. People with no clue what they are doing and more and more rules that makes it hard for sellers to be able to list their goods.

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

by: Flying Childers This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 14 09:11:28 2016

Whatever Ebay is doing, ETsy is a million times worse.  They have destroyed many, many sellers who have amassed thousands of sales.

At this point I think the only option for many sellers is a platform like Shopify.  I know a few people who left Etsy and who seems to be building up sales very quickly with a stand alone Shopify store.

Anyone out there have that experience?  

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

This user has validated their user name. by: toolguy

Wed Sep 14 09:51:01 2016

It seems that my customers have no problem finding my tools.

Some of my items sell within a day or 2 if they are priced right.

I'm bidding on a Wild N3 Level, I had no problem finding it on ebay since only 1 is listed ~ LOL

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

by: FREDDY This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 14 10:37:22 2016

Ebay, Amazon, Etsy. All the same. They only show you what they want. Does not matter what you type in the search.
I don't think they (all 3 of them) have a clue as to the number of sales they lost or they just don't care.

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

by: toyspast This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 14 11:08:23 2016

I'm not all that concerned with these types of searches. Who cares if a search result brings back 220,000 results or 100,000 results. A typical search does not involve such wide keywords. If you look at the Hires Root Beer sign, the numbers are fairly close, which is a more telling search result for me. I would prefer to see more search experiments involving more specific items that brings back less then 500 results. Most people are not going to search through 200,000 listings, and even if they were, your listing is probably going to be missed anyway when the buyer falls asleep on the keyboard or their eyes have started blurring after looking at the 180,000th listing.

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

by: JAY This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 14 12:12:32 2016

Unfortunately, the results of this survey are useless as it is clear the participants were careless and did not follow the "rules". I tried a search in ALL CATEGORIES and BEST MATCH for one of the test searches- TACKLE BOX.  My result was 7204- remarkably close to the survey's result of 74% of the survey respondents.  BUT- if you checked the top of your screen- eBay had probably sneakily changed the search from ALL CATEGORIES to TACKLE BOXES AND BAGS, a much narrower and  more specific category. It did this to me. IF you noticed this, as apparently the remaining 26% of the respondents did, and while staying on the same page changed the TACKLE BOXES AND BAGS back to ALL CATEGORIES, hit enter, eBay left it in the ALL CATEGORIES ln this second try. I did this and got 16,429 items- again, remarkably close to the result achieved by the remaining 24% of the test repondents. So eBay is NOT "withholding" search results from some searchers. This survey only shows that many people did not carefully check to see that they were indeed doing the same search as the rest of the respondents. Invalid. I tried this on several other of the test search items, and found eBay BEST MATCH will often NOT hold your chosen ALL CATEGORIES but bounce you to some subcategory without you wanting it or noticing it.

I agree that there seems to be rolling blackouts of some sort, and a test for this would be VERY interesting. Suggestion to Ina- take an actual listing that is not in a huge category.  Pick out 3 or 4 words from title and do a ALL CATEGORY search for them- juggle words or listing choice so that eBay comes up with a small number of hits- say 10 or 20. Have survey respondents do a search using those exact words at a specific time or short range of time after informing them of the exact full title or some method by which they can easily identify the test item to see if it turns up in their eBay search. Report back YES or NO with other general info- such as geographical location.  If some of the respondents do not find the test item in their search, we definitely have some sort of an eBay "blackout" program.  Further similar testing could narrow this down. To search for your own listed item from your OWN computer will probably always turn up the item- as this could easily be programmed into Cassini to show your item to YOU so the seller assumes his item is being shown to everyone.  Unless you call friends in other parts of the country to do a search for your item you have no idea if anyone else is able to find it. THIS is the problem we all seem to face.

I have experienced several times a sudden flurry of interest and sales in a type of item I had been listing a long time with little interest- and the sudden sales of these items are often geographically localized-like all east coast, or deep south etc.  Comments?

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

This user has validated their user name. by: toolguy

Wed Sep 14 14:11:15 2016

Is ebay smart enough?

Lets say there are 400 cosmic bowling balls on ebay.

When you search you see 300 of them, when I search I see 300 of them, if anyone searches they see 300 of them, but not the same 300! We would all assume there are 300 cosmic bowling balls on ebay when in reality there are 400 of them.

Is ebay smart enough to give us all the same number but with different results?

Just a though as at times I have many sales from one part of the country or another and it seems really weird at that this happens.

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Wed Sep 14 17:45:17 2016

No TOOL they arent "smart enough" or even "smart".

Underhanded maybe, and thats being kind.

Regardless of "whats in the TOS" - %99 out of %100 of sellers FIRMLY believe that their items are being shown 24/7 world wide in what ever/where ever eBay shows listings PERIOD. That theres some tiny print that no one reads isnt the point nor is it how "lucky" you are that you have little to no competition.

On Amazon - ALL listings (offers are shown) ALL the time. You may NOT get "the box" but your offer is shown in the "available from these sellers" box. THAT is (at least) fair.

It should come as no surprise to anyone how sneaky and underhanded eBay is. It shouldnt suprise anyone that eBay isnt "on the level" - at least they could do is not hide these facts and explain it to people.

But its easier to defraud people and deceive them, then it is to tell the truth.

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

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

Wed Sep 14 23:34:57 2016

@toyspast
in an earlier thread I posted examples of searches that brouhaha back different single digit results bed upon the order of the words.  There is definitely something fishy with the eBay search engine.

Perminate Link for Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In   Testing Claims about eBay Search - the Results Are In

by: justsaying This user has validated their user name.

Thu Sep 15 07:29:33 2016

Hi everybody--I reported this category-changing phenomenon on ecommercebytes last year.  It is called ''implicit category navigation''.  Check out this link to ebay forums, post #44:  https://community.ebay.com/t5/Selling/BIG-reason-why-your-not-se
lling-category-search-manipulation/m-p/25112902/highlight/true#M699827

It
looks like the boards are full of complaints, and if you search using that phrase, you will see many posts about it.

Yes, it truly sucks!

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