Keynote: Bill Cobb

Bill Cobb brought his mum and dad to eBay Live this year, but he was in avuncular mood, announcing a raft of changes for later this year which should please sellers and buyers alike. Bill, or rather a “lawyer” from behind the scenes, was keen to stress that these apply to the .com site only; what’s in store for the rest of us remains a mystery.

“Reigniting the core” remains a priority for 2007; a new marketing program will talk about windorphins, the heady rush you get from winning an eBay auction.

The other big priority for eBay for the rest of the year is improving the user experience. New designs for the header and the home page have begun this process; though reception has generally been positive, many eBay Stores owners have complained that there is no Stores link in the header. The Stores link is to be restored, alongside the link to eBay Express, very shortly.

A new method of visual navigation is to be introduced in selected categories: apparently working alongside item specifics, this will turn up larger-than-Gallery pictures, with specifics of price, title, etc. available as a mouseover popup. This looks a great feature for those of us who buy and sell in highly visual categories: my dreams of selling more beads were instantly overcome by better dreams of buying more shoes :-D

Another change coming to search is the unsnappily titled “price plus shipping search”: finally, buyers will be able to filter search results by TOTAL price, putting an end to 1p items with crazy shipping prices, and, of course, strongly discouraging such fee-avoiding practices.

Bidding will be made easier, with a single click bid available in the last 15 minutes of an auction: no longer will your snipe time be constrained by the speed of your computer. And to ensure you get that snipe in on time, eBay Countdown, described by Bill as “a big clock and price ticker thingy at the top of the page”, will be launched. This small window can be left open to remind you to go and snipe, and it doesn’t require any special download: I love this idea, and it might even rekindle some of the fun of auctions for me.

And for “top buyers”, telephone support will be available from September. Though it’s not clear exactly how many (or how few) buyers this will affect, it’s a complete first for eBay, and should at least make buyers feel that little bit safer trading on the site.

As far as sellers are concerned, Bill affirmed that eBay Stores continue to play a vital role: we are committed to the long term success of eBay Stores owners”. Featured Stores owners will, from September, have access to 24/7 telephone support. The price of Anchor Stores is being lowered by $200 per month to $299. This is the first hint that the crippling blows dealt to Stores last summer may be taking effect, and that eBay want to stop the rush of sellers to quit the site in favour of their own websites.

The US Powerseller Program will be extended to include volume sellers too; very much as the UK Program is at the moment, membership will be based on either sales value *or* volume. And the criteria will be changed for seasonal sellers too, so that they will have access to Powerseller support at the beginning of their busy period. Phone support will be available for Bronze Powersellers starting in the fall.

As of August 1st, Powersellers filing unpaid item strikes will have a refund not only of their FVFs, but also of feature fees. Though dependent on some listing requirements such as offering Paypal and having reasonable shipping fees, this is wonderful news for sellers, and should even encourage the take up of listing features.

Most excitingly, Powersellers are to be advantaged in “best match” search results. Demo results showed large Powerseller medallions alongside listing details in search, with Powersellers’ sales at the top of search results.

And finally, well, “we want more of your listings”. From June 19th to August 5th, the first tranche of FVFs on core listings will be reduced from 5.25% to 4.5%. It’s not quite the absolute fee reduction we predicted, but it should keep listings going through the summer holiday slump.

All in all, a very positive set of announcements from Bill Cobb that should please buyers and sellers alike. Now (in good TameBay tradition) can we please have them in the UK?