EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 3174 - October 15, 2013     1 of 4

eBay Sellers Theorize on Reasons for Low Sales

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Sellers who experience low traffic and sales on eBay often take to discussion boards to theorize on why it's happening and to solicit advice on how to combat the problem. Sellers also reach out to EcommerceBytes directly, such as the letter received on Monday by a longtime seller who asked, "Has anyone contacted you about how slow eBay traffic was this weekend? It continues today. I've never seen anything on this level."

A perennial theory for low sales offered by those affected is a phenomenon called "rolling blackouts"; a more recent favorite has to do with the age of the listings, and a new theory has to do with mobile shoppers. However, sometimes it's a major shift in eBay's Best Match algorithm.

Stale Listings
Does eBay hide old listings in search results, and if so, should they? And, if that's the case, should eBay do a better job explaining that practice to sellers? The issue arises periodically in which sellers find "refreshing" their listings nets them better exposure in search results and higher sales.

Another EcommerceBytes reader wrote on Thursday that after 2 "devastating" weeks on eBay, he went back to re-writing his listings from scratch, which resulted in a 50% sell-through rate, up from a dismal 10% experienced the prior 2 weeks. He said re-writing from scratch meant new photos, titles, descriptions, etc. "Writing ads from scratch each week gains sellers exposure," he said.

The EcommerceBytes Blog wrote about this phenomenon in January in, eBay Search Algorithm Penalizes Stale Listings, but noted, "if you have a consistent best seller - it gets lots of impressions, clickthroughs and sales - you probably want to keep relisting it."

In the October 2013 issue of the Online Seller's News newsletter, Skip McGrath shared advice from a reader who echoed this premise. "It seems that if you have a fixed price listing that has not sold in one year, eBay just drops it from the search results altogether. So go through your listings and look for any old listings - end the listing - now list it again as a new listing (don't use the relist feature). Give it a day or so and check your search results and you should see your listings come back."

McGrath also shared another tip based on the fact that eBay gives higher position in search to listings with recent sales: "If you have a slow moving item, try lowering the price temporarily so you get a few sales, then once you are showing up again, raise the price back to where you want it."

Mobile Un-friendly
On the eBay Sellers LinkedIn group, Judi Johnson of Niceties said eBay Seller support advised her to optimize her listings for mobile shoppers. "If you have any apps with embedded photos or logos in your description of your listing, remove all of them. iphones and smart phones do not recognize them and will drop them from searching on mobile," she wrote.

(Of course, third-party vendors will not be happy to hear that eBay is advising sellers to stop using them.)

Among the other advice eBay Seller Support provided her was to avoid colored fonts and to refresh listings, echoing the premise above about the age of listings. "Good Until Cancelled listings should be taken down and refreshed every 6 to 9 months. Any older than that are pushed to the bottom of the searches," Johnson said. "Example for us was shoes that we continuously restock and some styles have been active for about 2 years so we are taking them down now twice a year." Presumably that would not apply to consistent best sellers, as noted above.

The thread received many comments. eBay seller Ruth Weaver said she has been revising all 900 of her listings in an attempt to make them search- and mobile-friendly. "I don't own a smartphone, but a friend (who also sells on eBay) recently showed me how my listings appear on his phone. He advised me to shrink my font, get rid of my backgrounds, get rid of my photos in my listings, and left-justify my listings (instead of centering)."

Weaver said she has also been adding item specifics, simplifying the wording in her listings, removing duplicate words in her titles, replacing numbered items with bullets, and adding an express/get if fast option. "All of this has been time consuming, but I feel it has been worth the effort. My listings are easier to read, cleaned up, spiffed up and ready for all my buyers shopping on their iPhones and iPads. I have been with ebay since 1999 and through the years have had to go through many major changes and revisions. This is certainly my biggest overhaul to date."

Rolling Blackouts
eBay sellers have talked about strange traffic patterns for years, dubbed "rolling blackouts." This AuctionBytes Blog post from 2008 refers to the phenomenon as "tap-on-tap-off" visibility and "rolling-region" visibility. Sellers shared their own experiences in this more recent EcommerceBytes Blog post from last year.

While many eBay sellers have referred to rolling blackouts for years, eBay has never provided an answer to why this occurs.

Changes to eBay's Best Match Algorithm
Just as websites optimize for Google's search engine, eBay sellers try to optimize their listings for eBay's search engine. However, eBay uses many factors in its "Best Match" alogrithm that determines the order in which a seller's listing will display in search results. It provides best practices (for example, quality of photos, Item Specifics and Views versus Sales are some of the factors used to determine sort order), but eBay can adjust and fine tune those factors on an ongoing business.

Sometimes it's not a matter of tweaking, but major changes - last year, eBay sellers began reporting disruptions to sales, and EcommerceBytes confirmed in July it was due to tests eBay had 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 told EcommerceBytes at the time. These unannounced changes, whether tweaks or major changes, can be devastating to sellers.

Let us know if you're experiencing changes in the exposure your listings receive in eBay search results, and why do you think some sellers experience bouts of low traffic?

Comment on the EcommerceBytes Blog.

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

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