The recent eBay Item Specific SNAFU has highlighted why changes in Q4 should never take place. Sellers are busy enough getting their stock ready for sale as business ramps up at the most important time of year and let’s not forget that Black Friday is so named because retailers make a large proportion of their income at this time of year. Black Friday is named for the day that retailers come out of the red into the black in their accounts and many rely on a bumper Q4 to make their entire year profitable – from now to the end of the year is when you make your money.
Looking back at the issues (Seller Hub breaking at the same time as a roll out of new Item Specifics naming coupled with new mandatory Item Specifics), it’s fair to say that this wouldn’t have been eBay’s intention and doubtless they have been working furiously behind the scenes to fix the issues which are still ongoing.
Item Specifics were the previous eBay CEO’s answer to the failure of the eBay Catalogue. Let’s accept that they are a good thing – buyers need to be able to narrow down their search from over a billion items to the one that they want to purchase. So why aren’t sellers adopting them in their masses? The answer is that they are hard work to manage and, even accepting you can bulk edit some, often they are individual to a listing and so bulk editing isn’t the answer.
Even accepting Item Specifics are a good thing, rolling out name changes in Q4 (such as “Chest Size” to “Size” or “Inside Leg” to “Inseam”) just shouldn’t happen. Even if the rollout had gone perfectly, many sellers have spreadsheets from which they upload their stock, some would have been in the process of preparing new stock to upload, even if they don’t upload directly to eBay they would have spreadsheets ready to upload to their multichannel management systems. Changing the name of the columns in spreadsheets in Q4 was never going to be trouble free.
Another major issue for sellers is that, whilst eBay have announced they will attempt to fix things on the back end of eBay so that sellers don’t have to, when a listing ends which auctions do, eBay can’t fix a listings that’s not live on the site. The sellers also can’t fix a listing and relist when eBay block the listing because the mandatory Item Specifics aren’t completed and if they names and values have changed it’s a disaster.
eBay appear to take the attitude that sellers aren’t adopting Item Specifics in sufficient numbers and so mandates are required. They know full well that if they break your listing that you’ll fix them – you have to or you won’t win sales. That’s a bad idea in Q4 however as if you can’t edit a listing until it’s fixed you can’t add the new stock you need to sell over the peak season and Christmas period. Sales Prevention is never a good thing.
Another annoyance is that while eBay are busily renaming Item Specifics they aren’t consolidating values. We discovered that on the new “Inseam” Item Specific, there are at least five different values for the same measurement. As an example for what used to be “Waist Size” but is now “Size” in men’s clothing, ’34’, ’34 in’, ’34 Tall’, ’34W’ (527 items), and ‘W34’ are all being used by sellers. “Size” isn’t really as informative as “Waist Size”, but when moving from one to another why can’t eBay roll all these values up into their preferred size and edit sellers’ listings for them?
We are expecting further updates from eBay as and when they get things fixed as follow ups to their previous US and UK announcements, but the biggest lesson of all has to be to stop rolling out mandates and other changes in Q4. If they go perfectly it’s a distraction for sellers when all they should be doing is uploading new stock and processing sales. If something goes wrong, which inevitably sooner or later it will as has just been demonstrated, it’s a disaster for sellers and that also means eBay earns less in fees.
Changes in Q4 are a lose lose situation for everyone.