Changes to search results on eBay UK

No primary category set

eBay UK will be testing some new ways of displaying search results over the next two months. Today’s announcement says that 5% of users will see differences in:

  • The way that search results are sorted
  • The number of items shown on each search results page
  • The total number of items that are matched to a search
  • The way that postage is displayed on search results pages

That last at least is good news: buyers, and many sellers, have long asked for the ability to sort by total price including postage: it’s been promised before now, and we can probably assume this is it being tested.

Just what’s being intended by the rest of the changes is more ambiguous, but might incorporate some of the changes in ‘finding’ talked about at eBay Live. The default search on eBay has *always* been by items ending soonest; if eBay is about auctions with a ‘hard’ (fixed time) ending, this default seems the natural one, so I’ll be interested to see what other ideas they have.

Perhaps most worrying for sellers is “the number of items matched to a search”. Can this mean that eBay might not show some items which *do* match a search criterion? I can’t help hoping that this line has been very badly worded, because the alternative scenario seems to be that sellers might pay to list items which just won’t show up in search (remember last time that happened?!).

I’m also concerned how these new finding methods are going to interact with the reduction in categories and the rise of item specifics. Previously, it was easy to search by keyword and then filter by category: for example, over the last week or so, I’ve searched for “dell axim keyboard”. The first time I did it, I wanted the PDA with a keyboard, and the second time, I wanted a keyboard *for* a PDA: it was simple enough to choose either the actual PDA category, or the PDA accessories category. Now I seem to be faced with a scenario where eBay might decide for me what I’m looking for: dodgy enough if I’m a buyer, but horrendous if I’m a seller whose items or entire categories might be disadvantaged by these changes.

Any change to eBay is always worrying for sellers. Changes that can affect buyers even being about to find your items are especially worrying. This rather foggy announcement needs to be followed up with some real examples as soon as possible, so that sellers can see and plan for what they might be dealing with.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Sue,

    Thanks for the interesting post on eBay search changes currently being trialled in the UK. I agree that any changes to how buyers interact with the eBay marketplace are inevitably going to have an impact on sellers’ listing strategies and we should keep a close eye out for further announcements.

    However, my expectation is that eBay will not give any further details until a course of action (change or no change) is decided.

    Why? Because if they did, and sellers started to adapt their strategies during the course of this experiment, the results of the experiment would themselves become skewed and invalid. This would be a useless outcome for all involved.

    By keeping the exact nature of the changes a little ‘foggy’, sellers will be unable to respond and so will likely continue with unchanged strategies. This then allows eBay to experiment with the buyer experience (only 5% of buyers will take part in this experiment) and at the end of August they will be able to sit down and analyse the results, knowing that any effects they observed are primarily down to the changes they made on the buyer side and not down to sellers changing strategies mid-way through.

    In this respect I think they are doing the right thing and running a highly controlled statistical experiment, in whose results they will have a high degree of confidence.

    But, as a seller I might be thinking, what about those 5% of buyers that experience a different search and maybe as a result don’t buy from me? Well, my response would be as follows (and I know I’m not a seller, so bear with me on this one!).

    Firstly, within the sample set of 5% of buyers there will be millions of searches performed. As eBay try out different combinations of displaying search results, the effect on the buyers will vary.

    In some cases buyers will convert (to a sale) more often (+ve for sellers), in some cases less often (-ve for sellers). In some cases buyers will convert more for a particular type of seller than another type, sometimes less. Or favour a particular listing strategy over another.

    So the point I’m making is that there will some +ve impact on sellers and some -ve impact on sellers, but overall (if the folks at eBay are watching carefully – as I’m sure they will be) the search results formats that convert less often will be dropped from the experiment early, and those that convert more often will be given priority and fine tuned as the experiment progresses. Which means, if you take a step back, and look at the big picture – yes, there will be some very small downside for a small minority of sellers, but there will probably be upside for the majority of sellers – which of course is a good result for all.

    All this suggests that the impact should be, in balance, positive during the course of the experiment, and – the best part of it is – that when it’s all over, eBay should have some clear results that tell them how to make buyers convert more often – and they’ll be able to roll these changes out site-wide (with plenty of notice so sellers can adapt strategies if needed). This is of course the best possible outcome and good news for all sellers.

    So, in conclusion I think that this is a big step in the right direction and should prove to be a very positive exercise for anyone who uses the eBay marketplace to sell product. Only time will tell us whether I prove to be right or wrong!

    I hope that makes some sense (it’s late!) – love to hear your thoughts! Keep up the great blog.

    ChannelAdvisor UK

  2. eBay Playground

    A late reply to this post but, in case you’ve not seen it, the eBay test site for the new search system is public.

    Everything on the ‘playground’ site is live ebay (so bids are real bids etc ), but the search system is new.

    Here is the link



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