eBay Rolls out Best Match Search to Howls from Buyers and Sellers

This is another example of eBay rolling out a feature that is not yet ready for prime time.

Best match is not a good match for buyers or sellers.  Most people are aware that eBay has changed the default sort order for the search results page. For many years it has been "Time: Ending Soonest" and this option is still available, but buyers now have to select it. The new default starting this week is "Best Match."

The idea is that eBay looks at the trend of what the buyer has purchased in the past and uses that information to select items that are the best match for the current item they are searching for. For new buyers, this may be useful, but for seasoned eBay buyers, the general consensus is that it’s annoying and frustrating. They know what they are searching for, and how to find it. They don’t really want eBay interfering.

The biggest problem (from both buyers and sellers perspectives) is how Detailed Seller Ratings are being used as part of the algorithm.

DSRs are the anonymous ratings buyers leave for sellers based on four important areas of the transaction. Sellers who have more than 5% customer dissatisfaction rates (based on feedback, DSRs, and disputes filed by buyers) or who have very low DSR ratings for Shipping and Handling Charges will have their items appear lower in the search results. eBay sellers who have high DSR ratings (4.6 out of 5.0 or higher) will find their items appear higher in the results.

So, if you’re good with the DSR areas, you should have no trouble, right? Well, unfortunately this is another change that caters to big sellers. New sellers who are still building their feedback ratings feel much more impact from a random 1 or 2 DSR rating. And buyers are not really schooled in how to use DSRs. This has been a problem from the outset. What is "good?" According to eBay it must be 4 or 5 since 4.6 is required for extra exposure. But traditionally,  a 1-5 sliding scale has 3 as average, 4 as good and 5 as excellent. So if you don’t go above and beyond to give outstanding service, you could easily end up with a 3 rating.

If the shipping carrier delivers your item late, expect a lower rating on Shipping Time (many buyers STILL don’t realize that this is supposed to be for the "handling time" between when their payment clears to when you actually got it in the mail). It’s unfair for a buyer to give a low DSR rating for a package that arrives in 9 days when they paid for Parcel Post instead of Priority Mail (incidentally, this is why I don’t offer any shipping option slower than Priority Mail). But if they do give you a low DSR, you have no appeal.

Another problem I have with Best Match is not that my items won’t show up (my DSRs are all 4.9 or 5.0) but that many sales come from impulse buyers. Any seller knows that they get more bids near the end of the auction because it’s visible at the top of the search results, and it catches the impulse buyers as well as those who had the auction in their watched list. This bidding drives up the price and is how most of us realize good final values from auction-style (as opposed to fixed price) listings. Best Match does look at when the items are ending, but if you have a bad month or a vindictive buyer who pulls your DSRs down, you could end up with your item ending far from the top of the page. This only makes it harder for you to get your DSR ratings back up because if you don’t have the visibility, you don’t get the bidders. If you don’t get the bidders you don’t get the DSR ratings and can’t move up the page.

Buyers don’t seem to be enamored by the changes either. Many people want to make their own decisions and not have eBay make them for them. Savvy buyers know to look at feedback, other items for sale, shipping costs, etc. They also want to see what is ending NOW not in 4 days if there is another item about to end but the seller has a 4.5 DSR rating instead of 4.6. Thankfully buyers can permanently change the default search results order by clicking Customize Display (incidentally, if you already had it customized, you’re going to have to change it again because when the change to Best Match went live, it wiped out all customization settings for the default order).

You can read the full announcement from eBay at http://www2.ebay.com/aw/core/200803031059312.html

Skip McGrath

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