Will The Coming Changes to eBay Search Fix the Best Match Shortcomings?

It is no secret that sellers have been struggling with Best Match. I have been one of them. eBay will soon roll out changes to Search to address a big part of the problem

Coming changes to eBay Search were not announced on the eBay Announcements board, however, when I was in San Jose last week, we were briefed on these by Jeff King, the head of the eBay Finding (Search) team.

There are three big changes coming to eBay Search (What eBay likes to call “Finding,” but everyone else still calls “search.”). In general –but not in all cases, these changes will tend to favor smaller sellers and those sellers who work in a narrow niche or in any type of used, collectible or vintage product.

Here is an overview of the changes that will roll out in the Fall:

1. Lately, fixed price (FP) listings were mixed in with auction style listings in such a way that FP listings often dominated the search results. The Best Match search default currently favors time ending soonest. In fixed price listings, ending time is somewhat irrelevant yet the search engine was scoring those results in with the auction style listings where it was displaying FP listings ending soonest over or along with auction style listings. 

When the new changes to search roll out, auction style listings and FP listings will be scored separately for Best Match and the time ending soonest will not matter for FP listings. Once FP and auction style listings are scored separately they will be melded together in the search results.  The end result of this (hopefully) is that FP listings will no longer dominate the search results.

2. Fixed Price sales are growing in the hot consumer categories including consumer electronics, cameras and photo, computers, and books and media. While in other categories including art, antiques, collectibles and those categories where used or vintage items show up, the auction format is more important. When the new changes roll out, FP listings will be more dominant in the categories where they are used more often and less relevant in the other categories.  This is great news for the smaller sellers who work in niche, vintage and the collectibles area.

3. eBay will begin scoring multiple quantity listings (FP and Dutch) based on a new factor for Best Match called Recent Sales. This will advantage multiple-quantity listings that have had recent sales over single and multiple quantity listings with fewer sales or no recent sales.

DSRs and shipping will continue to be very important, but the search engine will now look at recent sales too. The theory is that if something is selling well there is demand for it and those items should therefore be favored in search.  However, this feature will also continue to be somewhat category-specific.

4. Item Specifics will continue to be important in search results and sellers who list items without item specifics will be less advantaged (penalized?) in Best Match search results. However, there is a big change coming in this feature that has not yet been announced by eBay: 

 Starting later in the Fall, sellers will have more freedom to create their own item specific descriptions. eBay’s search engine will track the success of these descriptions and if they happen to be working (i.e. generating more sales) then eBay will advantage those item-specific terms in search. So sellers will have more freedom to describe their item specifics in their own terms instead of being limited to the drop down boxes provided by eBay. 

Related to this is some flexibility in use of the term “Like New.” Currently if you use the term like new in an auction title and someone reports you, then eBay will cancel your listing.  The problem is that the term like new is widely accepted in the book industry and even used extensively when describing CDs and DVDs. In fact on Amazon, like new is one of the four allowed terms you can use to describe a book.

It is not clear if eBay will change the keyword spamming policy to allow the term like new to be used in titles, but they will allow it in the item specifics.  This will help buyers who are looking for used books and media in truly like new condition.

So what are the pro and cons? 

The pros clearly are the ability of small sellers who tend to work in the niche, vintage and used categories to get better search placement.

The big con (as in adverse –not con job) is that sellers will once again be challenged to figure this all out. There will certainly be a period of time where sellers will have to experiment to get good placement and of course there will be the search scammers who are always looking for ways to beat the system.  But these folks are always there and probably always will be. eBay tries to stay one step ahead of them, but they are a pretty clever group and somehow manage to stay one step ahead of them. So that battle will continue.

Probably the one area where this will not benefit small sellers is in the Used Books, DVD and Music areas.  These media categories are already dominated by large sellers who will be running more FP listings once the listing price reductions come into play.

One of the problems in this area is that new books, DVD, CDs and video games are mixed in and displayed with new items.  Many small sellers operate nice businesses selling used media products and this new search algorithm could make it harder for them. I am not 100% positive this is the case –but intuitively it seems that way to me. One thing eBay could do that would help both new and used media sellers is simply to create a used category or sub-category in these areas. Item specifics does this to some degree, but if would be nice if buyers could search for that criteria.

So stay tuned as we continue to digest and analyze the new changes and what they will mean to eBay Sellers. Tomorrow we will look at the new shipping policies that were announced and how they will impact sellers.

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