eBay Bans Auction Extenders to Improve Buyer Experience
By Ina Steiner
eBay appears to be putting its money where its mouth is. At a gathering of top sellers last week, eBay emphasized the importance of improving the buyer experience, and it confirmed this week it is banning auction extender tools on its site.
eBay changed its "Circumventing Fees" policy to prohibit the extension of auction durations, both manually and through the use of automatic tools. The new language is found in a section called "Extension of Auctions" that explains, "Extension of auctions by a seller for any reason is not only a form of fee avoidance, but also harms the finding experience for buyers."
The issue of extending auctions came up in a major brouhaha in the summer of 2005, when it was revealed that a developer called Ethical Technologies had been marketing a tool to members of the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance (PESA) that automatically revised listings for sellers. At the time, eBay waffled on whether the practice was allowed. When Ethical ceased operations, other developers created their own auction extenders to fill the demand from sellers.
Ethical had pitched its original Extender tool as marketing device that could increase sales by up to 50 percent on a sustainable basis. The tool automatically extended eBay auctions from a 1-day listing to a 3-day listing, 5-day listing and 7-day listing, as long as the item had received no bids more than 12 hours before the listing was due to end. The seller would pay one listing fee, but the auction would appear on eBay's highly-trafficked "Ending First" pages up to four times in a 7-day period instead of once. Some eBay users felt the ever-changing ending date of the auction made for a bad users experience, however.
According to Scot Wingo in a posting on his blog on Sunday, "Once Ethical went under, a plethora of these tools hit the market at near-free prices. Nobody but eBay knows how widespread the practice is, but if you were to survey 100 top sellers in each category, I think you would find 15-30 of them utilizing Extenders" (http://ebaystrategies.blogs.com/ebay_strategies/2007/01/ebay_to_end_con.html).
eBay spokesperson Hani Durzy said the company is in the midst of communicating the policy change with developers who offered such tools, of which there are not that many, he said. eBay will also make an announcement on its Announcement Board to alert sellers. eBay will begin enforcing the policy change aggressively in 30 days.
The new policy language bans automatic extender tools, but it also bans manual revisions of auction durations. Formerly, eBay allowed sellers to change duration in special circumstances.
Why the policy change, and why now? Durzy said eBay constantly reviews what is happening on the site and the interpretation of what its policies mean. "We are open to questioning our own decisions," Durzy said.
There has been speculation in the past that eBay might consider changing its fee structure to charge different rates for differing durations. eBay already charges a premium for 10-day listings. Durzy said, "We've made no announcement to that effect, and I wouldn't comment or speculate about what we might do down the road." No such change was announced in the latest fee changes that go into effect next week.
Update: This article generated some questions from readers, see the AuctionBytes blog for more on this topic: http://digbig.com/4qwhd
Link to "Circumventing Fees" policy:
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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