David Brackin is the managing director of Stuff U Sell, the leading eBay trading assistant in the UK and a regular Tamebay contributor. This week he explains why he is not selling Apple products on eBay at the moment and raises concerns about the implementation of the marketplace’s catalogue and product page system.
Today, I’m not selling Apple products on eBay. This isn’t a statement of tech tribalism: I do own a Blackberry, it’s true, but I also have an iPod and I’m not blind to the fact that Apple products are a premium product and command a high price among their loyal followers – even in the second-hand market in which we sell.
Nor is it some spiteful protest at eBay’s rules. In fact, it was a complete surprise to me to wake up and find that I wasn’t selling Apple products at all: all our listings for Apple products failed to relist at the weekend as a result of eBay’s latest policy changes.
The policy change is a requirement that Apple products – even second-hand ones which previously have escaped the notorious barcode requirement – are matched up to a catalogue entry in eBay called a product page. I don’t know if catalogue shopping is a good idea – the few product pages I’ve looked at in detail had significant errors in them and were misleading to buyers, but there are Google search benefits to having product pages, and some argue that buyers weaned on Amazon’s single product pages expect this from a retail experience. My own view is that eBay’s winning inventory proposition – broader selection across a spectrum of value – means that catalogue will only ever cover a fraction of the site.
However, I do know that if eBay are to experiment with this, they must do so in a way that does not take sellers and their inventory off the site. That means building tools to solve the search problem, making it easy for sellers to opt-in to help the catalogue build-up and never ever preventing sellers from putting items live, simply to boost entries into an experimental catalogue.
“Weren’t we warned?”, you might ask. There was a message that came out earlier in the year, but it wasn’t personalised to our inventory or sent to our direct emails, which makes it incredibly hard to tell if the changes affected us. As ever, the details were vague and the specifics of how to implement the change were “to follow”.
So what about the tool in seller hub? There was a mysterious message that appeared on hub – “link these items to your catalogue”. Unfortunately, that tool didn’t work. As often as not, the link showed no listings affected when clicked as it did show listings with a problem. I have often banged on here and elsewhere that tools to help sellers migrate when policy changes are announced are a vital step. I apologise that I perhaps wasn’t quite clear enough: those tools should work.
And in any case it’s unclear what could have been done other than manually editing all the listings one-by-one in eBay. We have a large inventory of goods live on the site and use Linnworks to manage that inventory, as many sellers do. This change appears to have caught Linnworks on the hop, because it is still not possible to associate these listings with a catalogue entry using Linnworks. Surely eBay know that many sellers depend on third party listing tools and should therefore be checking that the larger providers’ solutions work before switching off the ability to list inventory?
I’m afraid it seems to be one of several things in this latest seller release that shows that eBay have either stopped caring about how to partner with sellers, or are simply failing to be good at it. There’s a new set of seller standards around returns for which the *only* thing we know about is how they are going to punish sellers who transgress. I’ve already had another seller on the phone to me greatly concerned that they will be caught up.
There are important changes to category and item specifics, the support for which we are being offered is a pdf. Finally, there’s a promise that mandatory catalogue association is rolling out to many more categories. My Apple products will be joined by many more if this goes live in the same way.
These changes needs to be put on hold and eBay need to rethink their entire approach to how they are building the catalogue and how they bring sellers along on the journey. If it’s not good enough for sellers to voluntarily do the work to join it, then they either need to improve the offering or make it easier to join. It is simply lazy product design to do the equivalent of reaching for a gun and pointing it at sellers every release. In the long run, it undermines one of eBay’s strongest advantages which is the breadth and depth of its seller community and the inventory they bring to the site.
Does anyone want a dozen second-hand iPhones?