Today I went to the BBC to answer questions on “You and Yours“. I went because I disagree with the court case which the program discussed. At times I’ve had plenty of niggles with eBay and I’ve often voiced my concerns quite vociferiously. This isn’t one of them.
The court case concerns whether a listing appears on the site the instant you click the submit button. The real answer is that it hardly ever does! It doesn’t matter how much computing power you have, it takes time to index ten million listings and to make sure every word, in every title, appears in default search results. It’s even worse when you consider how many words there are in a typical eBay listing, that have to be catalogued for “Title and Description” searches.
Now eBay do a pretty good job but even at the best of times it may be a couple of hours before your listing is correctly indexed. If you’re worried that your listing isn’t on the site you can search to make certain that it is. eBay have a facility to tell you exactly where you auction is, just enter the item number and select “Find location of item”.
Back to the court case, eBay are being sued because of the delay between submitting an auction and it appearing on the site. No one has been able to indicate just how this harms a seller, John Fabry, the Houston lawyer leading the prosecution when asked what actual harm is occuring avoided the question and instead talked about California’s strict auction laws. When asked what damages he hoped to win he simply said for eBay to either deliver the exact time period offered or to clearly explain there may be a delay before the auction appears on the site.
It seems trivial to me, there may be a delay until my auction appears in search results on the site but does it really matter? Suppose Fabry wins his case and eBay run all auctions to the second, I list at 8pm Sunday evening for seven days, there’s a delay of six hours so eBay tack six hours on the end to give me my full seven days – Do I really want my auction finishing at 2am Monday morning when all the bidders are asleep in bed? I think not!
Due to delays sellers will claim Fixed Price listings may have missed out on sales, which is a very valid point. Fixed price listings are a seperate matter and aren’t addressed by the current court case. The few hours delay at the start of an auction don’t in my opinion have any major impact as most bids come in the closing minutes. It’s at the end of an auction that visibility is critical.
There could be a case for eBay to make partial refunds or extend auctions where the delay is more than a couple of hours. Partial refunds (especially for auctions with low starting prices hence low insertion fees) would be negligable. Listing enhancements are not charged according to the length of an auction so no refund would be due. Extending an auction by a day may be a suitable option, but that in itself would cause problems – if Thursday evening is your best night for sales would you want your auction finishing on a Friday instead?
The best option for sellers is to list items knowing exactly when their auctions will end. Time them to maximise on buyers placing bids. Accept that there may be a delay and choose your start times accordingly, but don’t call for eBay to tamper with an auction finish time.