Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Effect of eBay Search Problems and Reduced Competition

Search Problems Can Cause Lower Sales

A small percentage of eBay users have had significant search problems on the eBay site for several months, at least as far back as February. The only reason I know about this problem is because I am one of the users who is affected.

At times, all of my saved searches are broken. Other times, some are broken, and some are not. Often, I can run no searches without getting either zero results or 12 million (or more) results. By being persistent, I can sometimes figure out a trick to finally get some valid results.

I seem to have the worst results when I use Firefox. Search is quite broken in Firefox, and I cannot fix it. Clearing my cache, removing all cookies, and reinstalling Firefox does not help. Since Firefox results are faulty, I use Google Chrome and can get good results most of the time. Sometimes, even Google Chrome is faulty.

I know that others are affected since a number of users have lodged complaints on eBay's search message board. Interestingly, eBay had a search meltdown a few weeks back that caused nobody to be able to search for a few hours. I missed out on the meltdown, but when I checked my saved searches later that day, all of them were working properly. It was as though the search meltdown reset my account. After around a week, my problems resumed.

The result is that I am now running far fewer eBay searches than I was prior to February. This is affecting the outcome of eBay auctions, at least on a small level. Since some of us are not able to search easily, we are searching less and are probably missing out on some items. Let's give an example of how this might affect a seller.

Let's say that I am willing to pay $300 for a certain book, that a second person is willing to pay $100, and that a third person is willing to pay $200. The other two people notice the auction and place bids. Due to my search problems, I do not notice the auction. The result is that the third person wins the auction at $102.50. If I had noticed the auction, I would have won at $202.50. This is all hypothetical, but you can see how a seller might get far less for a book when some interested bidders are not able to run searches.

Less Competition Can Mean Fewer Buyers

Four years ago, eBay introduced the DSR system. This change was what caused me to leave eBay on January 1, 2009 and open my Jennifer's Series Books booth on Bonanza. In short, during those early months of the DSR system, I had one buyer who left me a low description DSR due to not understanding the points of early Nancy Drew books and another buyer who left me a low communication DSR when I did communicate. More importantly, I was targeted by another eBay seller who repeatedly left me low ratings in an attempt to drive me off the site. It worked, and I left.

I believe that ultimately, this other eBay seller caused harm to his/her business by driving others off the site. Four years later, the selection of vintage series books on eBay is pathetic. Many buyers still use eBay as their first or only source for series books, but Bonanza is now pretty well known in series collecting circles as another place in which vintage series books can be found.

The selection of good series books on eBay has declined precipitously in the last four years. This means that eBay is no longer the one place to search for series books online. Those sellers who remain on eBay have been hurt by the decline in selection.

I believe that there is strength in competition. Why else do Walgreen's and CVS build their stores on the same street corners in direct competition with each other? You would think that they would want to build their stores away from each other, but there they are right across the street from each other. They do it because more stores in close proximity means more traffic.

My business on Bonanza is strengthened by having other series book sellers' inventories also present on Bonanza. I cannot possibly stock Bonanza with series books by myself. I tried at the very beginning and was happy when others listed on Bonanza. By having others join me, a better selection is present for buyers. This brings in more buyers.

I'm not sure how other people are doing on Bonanza, but my sales are at a steady rate where I can depend upon at least 20 transactions per month. When I choose to sell on eBay, I cannot depend upon any sales at all due to not knowing whether my items can be seen in search. As stated in my first topic, not all buyers are even able to search eBay currently. For those who can search, eBay may be hiding my items in Best Match. Who knows?

With a declining selection on eBay, fewer people are drawn to eBay to search. This is why I believe that the declining selection has hurt the sellers who remain. Instead of seeking to destroy other sellers, people should strive to set themselves apart and give buyers a reason to choose them. Most sellers have figured this out and try to give buyers a reason to choose their listings over the rest.

Four years later, eBay has now tweaked the DSR system a bit, so that sellers cannot harm others quite so easily. Sellers can receive an automatic five stars on one or more of the DSRs by offering free shipping and one-day handling. Transactions in which no communication is needed will also result in the seller receiving an automatic five stars for communication. Even though the DSR system is now much better, the damage has already been done. I will never return to listing all of my items on eBay.


Jennifer said...

The search problems are getting some mention on eCommerceBytes.

eBay Still Has Search Problems

nancydrewjourney said...

I experienced that search problem on ebay awhile ago, where I could find nothing. Needless to say it did drive me to look elsewhere. I am an occasional ebay seller and have been disappointed in the past when my auctions did not come up while I did a search for those very tiems I was selling. yet others would come up. I am glad that ebay has some comopetition. It drove me to check out bonanza, and I have enjoyed the transactions I have had there. I do hope ebay can sort it out at some point.

Coffeegulper said...

Hi Jennifer,

I've been an Ebay member since 2007 and I've never experienced search problems. (I have Internet Explorer 8)
The only thing I do is (let's say I'm searching for Nancy Drew books), I simply enter "Nancy Drew" in the search box. It'll bring up both books and related items, such as DVDs, games, etc. But I scale down the search even further after I'm there by clicking "Children and Young Adults" in order to see books, only.
Same goes for if I'm searching for Ken Holt, Dana Girls, Hardy Boys, etc.: I simply type the name of the keyword "Hardy Boys", etc. It's never failed.

(Of course I have some "saved" searches which bring me to a much broader search, which has to be narrowed-down by the same process I explained above.

I know what you mean about not seeing an auction in time, though! So often, it's frustrating to see a real 'steal' go by. :-(