How Multi-Variation prices are displayed in search results

No primary category set

Multi-Variation listings are used by many sellers (and recommended by eBay) as the best way to display products on eBay when they are available in a selection of sizes and colours. They are also often used by sellers in various categories for offering different lengths (e.g. fabrics) or quantities (e.g. party invitations).

One of the interesting features of a Multi-Variation listing is how the price is displayed in eBay search results. In Best Match this often appears to be a random price selection and not usually the lowest or highest priced variation.

As an example I used the search term “Duvet” and one particular listing was shown in search results with a price of £17.97. Hovering over the “More Options” link displays a different price of “From £7.95” which is the lowest price variation available for that particular listing.

Using a slightly more specific search term of “Double Duvet” includes the same listing in search results, but this time the price is displayed as £13.97. That’s a 22% reduction in the price I’m being shown, so what causes the difference in pricing and how does eBay choose which price to show?

What appears to happen is that eBay are trying to show the price for the option that they think I’ll choose. This could be based on sales from that actual listing and/or historical data based on the search term I use and the option that previous buyers have actually purchased.

That makes sense, after all if almost all buyers that search for a duvet end up buying a king size duvet then showing prices for single duvets would be misleading. By narrowing my search for a “Double Duvet” that tells eBay to display the price for the Double, although they still have to predict which tog rating would be of most interest – again sales history on the listing as well as historical category sales would help decide which price to display.

eBay appear to be using similar technology to choose which price to display in the same way that Best Match decides which items to return first in search results. As a search is narrowed by using more keywords then the price displayed will be more accurate as eBay identifies which option on the Multi-Variation listing matches that particular buyer’s requirements.

The current solution for pricing isn’t elegant – it can lead to some items in search results appearing more expensive than others even if that’s not the case for the variation I’m actually looking for. The more specific my search the more accurate the prices displayed become.

It’s worth noting that if you change the sort order to say “Price: lowest first” that the lowest price item will be displayed from the Multi-Variation listing.

The big question is are eBay doing the right thing in displaying a price based on the option they think the buyer may choose? Should they display the highest or the lowest price for a listing or should a range of prices be displayed in search? If you were designing Multi-Variation how would you choose what price to display?

2 Responses

  1. I’d vote for displaying a range but that kind of breaks the look when all other listings only show one price.

    Random Fact: eBay internally re-titles the listings as “title” “variation1” “variation2” and so on. This means you can manipulate the keywords to show the prices you want. Both of these searches return exactly the same listings but with different prices.

    “Duvet Quilts 4.5 9 10.5 13.5 15 tog Double King Single Super King 4.5”

    vs

    “Duvet Quilts 4.5 9 10.5 13.5 15 tog Double King Single double 15”

  2. I would show the price as ‘from £2.99-£14.99’ (for example).

    I was recently searching for an item that most sellers used MVLs for and I ended up buying elsewhere because the prices I was seeing in search differed vastly from the ones in the actual listing.

    The particular item I was looking for was the top of the range/top priced item but more often than not the search view showed the cheapest price, and the only way to view the price of the item I actually wanted was to go into the listing and choose from the drop down menu, which invariably was out of stock.

    I have to say the whole experience was daunting and unfruitful.

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