Saturday, March 27, 2010

Inconsistent Prices on eBay

I am feeling disgruntled about eBay again, for a variety of reasons. I have been wanting to write about my thoughts for a couple of weeks, but I have had trouble finding a place to begin. So, I will start here and see where it takes me. This post is going to contain several disjointed thoughts. I gave up on the idea of making it cohesive.

The prices for completed auctions on eBay have become very inconsistent. Some books are selling for very high prices while others are selling for very low prices. The uneven results are odd.

Part of the problem is that the fixed-price listings are taking over eBay. The fixed-price listings, which are often very overpriced, take up most of the results. These items make it hard to notice the auctions.

I do not believe that the fixed-price listings are all that is wrong. It could be that the loss of buyers and sellers is affecting the auction results. It could be something else. A number of conspiracy theories abound in the blogosphere, one of which alleges that eBay has rolling blackouts.

The people who believe in the rolling blackouts claim that certain items are shown only to people who live in certain geographic areas. I have not sold enough on eBay in the last couple of years to have any idea whether this could be true. However, quite a few people believe this theory, so it has to be considered as a possibility. I do recall that when I did sell a lot on eBay, that I did sometimes have multiple auction winners that were from the same state. I always thought it was coincidence.

Another conspiracy theory, that of search suppression, was recently explained to me by a reader of this blog. The people who support this theory allege that auction items which receive early bids are then suppressed in search and are only visible to the people who had already seen the item. EBay uses cookies to track all users, so in this case eBay would only let the people who had already seen the item view it. Furthermore, eBay knows by tracking cookies when the seller is searching, and the item receives the normal placement when the seller searches, so the seller is not aware of the suppression.

This idea sounds kind of crazy, but eBay auctions do not deliver the consistent results that they once did, so I'm willing to consider it. Of course, one could ask how the search suppression would benefit eBay, since prices could end up lower for certain items.

The search suppression would make for a few very happy buyers, and perhaps that is what eBay wants. Of course it still does not make sense, but consider that many of eBay's well documented crazy changes have made little sense. Therefore, logic can be thrown out the window. I don't think we need to have a reason.

I have been looking at closed auctions in the last few days and have been comparing ones that had bidding wars to ones that did not just to see whether there were early bids. I sold a lot of 40 Nancy Drew books with the double oval endpapers a couple of weeks ago for $250.99 due to a bidding war. I do think that price is a bit high. My lot had no early bidders, so my item would not have been affected by the search suppression theory.

I want to remind you of this auction mentioned in this post. It received an early bid which removed the Buy It Now. It closed too low. Was it suppressed?

A certain reseller buys around 100% of the lots that contain certain series books in dust jackets. He is very persistent and bids very aggressively. He missed one in the last few days, and the lot sold for less than what he would have paid. That lot had a very early bid.

On the other hand, I have found examples that appear to contradict the idea of search suppression. I will look further into this in the coming weeks. What I do know is that eBay does manipulate its search results for Best Match. What I do not know is whether the other sorts are manipulated.

Whether it was rolling blackouts or just a search glitch, at several times in the last few years I noticed search results that were very inconsistent. I detailed what I saw in this post. I was able to purchase some bargains due to items getting dropped from search.

Recently, I was running a Nancy Drew search. I refreshed repeatedly to see what the item count was. The item count went something like 835, 836, 835, 835, 836, 835, 835, 836, and 836. An item was disappearing and reappearing. Which item was it? I have no way of knowing.

On another occasion, I decided to try searches on different browsers. The exact same search returned 8282 items in Explorer, 8229 in Firefox, and 4124 in Google Chrome. This is worrisome. Hmm... something smells funny here. I think it is true that we are not all seeing the same items. The question is why?

I have been looking at completed listings lately. I have seen a few listings that I missed when they were active. I suppose I just missed them, but one of them would have stood out, and I would have placed a bid. I'm stymied as to how I missed it, unless it was an item dropped from my search results.

I am peeved that eBay manipulates searches but does not let us manipulate the searches to suit our own purposes. We know what we want, right? We are strictly limited in how many sellers we can block in our searches. In the media category, we have dozens of sellers listing multiple copies of the same ordinary books. How can we find anything?


Kaye Prince said...

Hmmm, this is very interesting to think about! This actually might explain why I missed a listing (which is ending in about 30 minutes) and only saw it yesterday. I've been searching for something on eBay for the last little bit, and this listing did not show in any of my searches. I only found it because someone else sent me a link to it.

I looked at the words in the title of the listing and the body and they contain what I've been using to search with, but it never showed up in any of my searches (and still doesn't). I don't think I would have ever found it if someone else hadn't sent me a link. I don't know if this is search suppression or wasn't showing up because of my geographical area.

Very odd indeed!

Jennifer White said...

It's interesting that you know of an item that you did not see in search.

I just checked on the listing that I mentioned that I did not see in search and would have bid on if I had known of it. I looked at the bidding history, and that lot had a very early bid. So, that lot fits the criteria for the search suppression theory.

beautifulshell said...

So, this is totally random:

I just bought a copy of Ruth Fielding Clearing Her Name on ABE. The seller said this: "Dustjacket is worn at the edges with small tears. Picture is of Ruth in a red cape beside a wall." Your Ruth Fielding page says that 25-30 were printed with only the final format DJ. It hasn't arrived yet, but if it does actually look like this, would that be the first one you've seen with format 4?

Jennifer White said...

It would be. The final volume in any format, particularly for the high-numbered Ruth Fielding books, is the hardest one to find. I have noticed that #24 seems to be the hardest volume to find of the known format 4 dust jackets. If #25 does exist with a format 4 dust jacket, then it would be harder to find than #24. Let me know if your book does indeed arrive in a format 4 dust jacket.

beautifulshell said...

Will do!

Robert said...

Another thought with search suppression: is it possible that buyers who buy a lot (i.e., resellers, etc.) are weighted differently by eBay and are favored to win auctions, so when they bid, the items become harder for average collectors to search for?

Jennifer White said...

That is a possibility. I wouldn't put it past eBay to do something like that.

The few buying IDs that I track usually bid close to the end, so at least in those cases, I tend to think that search suppression does not benefit them. Unless you want to get really crazy and think that items are suppressed because certain people have viewed them. It's a thought.

Regarding the rolling blackout theory, I recall one time several years back I had some Trixie Belden books for sale in auctions. Two auctions were won by different people who lived in the same very small town in Tennessee. They had the same zip code. I do not think that the two people were connected, but it was a very bizarre coincidence. What if my items during that week were shown to people in Tennessee rather than everywhere else?

M said...

eBay generates revenue through insertion fees and final value fees based on the amount that an item sells for. Following a loose syllogism, the more people see a lot, the more people bid on said lot, the more money eBay collects from that lot; q.e.d., the more people see a lot, the more money eBay collects from that lot. That said, why would eBay possibly wish to conceal listings from users? The same reason that Elvis' death was faked?

Jennifer White said...

Yeah, we all know that Elvis' death was faked. ;)

As I already stated, it is a crazy theory. Do you know what I really think? EBay's search is a program that runs badly. It has not worked well for years, and people have come up with crazy conspiracy theories to explain why the search does not work. Why would a company not fix the only way that buyers can find items? That in itself makes absolutely no sense.

Revenue is lost when search does not work correctly.

Jennifer White said...

Since it is an established fact that items are getting dropped from search, something is wrong. It does not have to be a conspiracy by eBay, but it is definitely eBay's fault for not fixing it.

stratomiker said...

Has anyone noticed that leaders are often morons? Business, government, religion, entertainment, sports - we've all seen those in charge manage to screw up the most successful of endeavors. EBay keeps bulling ahead, making every stupid change possible every five minutes for who knows what reasons; how can any of it possibly work any longer effectively?

The eBay death wish is growing like a monster. Look what the banks did, giving zillions of loans to people who couldn't possibly pay them back. There are 600 empty foreclosed homes in my town, a nice middle-class suburb where you'd never have dreamed such a thing could happen. EBay is on the same road to ruin. They just can't leave well-enough alone. Maybe the government will have to bail them out eventually?