Several months back eBay announced that adverts for third parties would appear on eBay search pages when there were no other results. They were very keen to emphasise this when there are no other results – but I know I wasn’t the only seller who cynically thought it was the thin end of the wedge.
This week, eBay.com’s Announcements Board talked again about on-site adverts for third parties. It’s the waffliest post I’ve seen on the AB for a very long time, but the bottom line appears to be we’re going to put adverts where we like, when we like. This will “improve the buyer experience”.
Let me say it now: I’m absolutely in favour of improving the buyer experience, but this phrase is starting to be eBay shorthand for “it’s our site and we’ll do what we like”. And of course, it *is* their site and they *can* do what they like, but dressing up revenue enhancements as benefits to their users presumes a level of naivity that is close to insulting.
I’ve spent a long time looking this week, and as far as I can see, there are third-party ads at the bottom of every single search results page on eBay.co.uk, .fr and .com. (At least, they are there on every one of the hundreds of pages that I have looked at across dozens of categories.) eBay can state all they like that the ads are not intended to compete with sellers’ listings, but the fact is that buyers get to the bottom of a search page and they have to do *something*. Either they can click the “next” link to look at more eBay results, or they can click the ads. It doesn’t take much analysis to see that this is going to divert some traffic from eBay.
We can take it for granted that sellers won’t like this. eBay can make statements that advertising has “no significant impact to our core transaction business”, but no seller is going to believe it. If it’s true, I challenge them to publish the results of the usability studies. Myself, I’d agree with Skip McGrath’s comments: these ads are just distracting buyers from doing what I want them to do: buy on eBay.
One glimmer of hope might be that the default ads at the bottom of search results’ pages – presumably when no one has directly bought the advertising – seem to be to show results from Shopping.com, so now might be the time to consider advertising with them. Of course, this would be more money for eBay – and throwing extra cash at advertising isn’t a solution that’s available to everyone.
So how about the buyer experience? Is that improved? I don’t think so. If I’m searching on eBay, it’s because I want to buy from eBay. I don’t think of eBay as some kind of search engine for shopping: if I want random websites selling whatever, I’ll use Google to find them, and if I want results from shopping.com, I’ll go there. eBay are in serious danger of undermining their own brand here, which is sad, because sometimes, they get it. Removing home page featured listings cost them ad revenue, but they had a better, more streamlined site because of it. Why undermine that with slapping external ads on every bit of spare space? It smacks of desperation.