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How eBay is hiding your auctions from buyers

By Chris Dawson October 17, 2011 - 8:33 pm

I’ve been trying to figure out what’s happening to Fixed Price and Auction style listings in the electronic categories where Catalogue is now mandatory. It’s not looking like good news for many sellers, especially those who rely on their auctions getting to the top of search results as they’re about to end.

The most striking feature of catalogued items is that auctions are not being sorted by “Time Ending Soonest”, even if that’s what you’d normally expect. In many categories such as , or half of the first page of search results are Catalogued listings. I’ve just been re-checking live listings and currently I’ve found a catalogued auction with just 24 minutes left to run on page 7 of search results. In the past all auctions about to end would have risen to the top of page 1 of search results!

Click to see more search results
If you look at this image you’ll see that auctions are not being sorted at all, but are dependant on where the catalogue entry is being placed in search results. I’ve not been able to figure out how catalogue entries are being sorted, but the evidence is there with an auction ending in 21 hours time placed below an auction with 3 days and 21 hours remaining (click the image to see more example results).

So what appears to be happening here is that your fixed price listings are no longer sorted by Best Match and your auctions are no longer sorted by Time Ending Soonest. Your listings are sorted according to the eBay catalogue entry sort order.

Previously if you had a fixed price listing attracting a large number of sales then in eBay’s eyes it would have a high “popularity” sales score and would appear at the top of Best Match search results. Now it appears that your high performing listing may be being dragged down in search results by other sellers under performing listings. It’s the order that the catalogue products are presented, not how well your individual listing sells that counts. Worse still your auctions about to end are also being dragged down in search results and may never even reach page 1.

In some Tech and Electronics categories this might not matter – for instance if you’re searching for a , then (apart from eBay insisting on showing you Black ones) there are only a couple of options to choose from (SIM free, Vodafone etc). This means your listing will be found by interested buyers.

In other Tech and Electronics categories it’s much more disturbing for sellers. A buyer looking for a new LED TV or a Flat Screen Computer Monitor is probably not being as specific as in the case of an iPad. They may not mind which brand or model TV they purchase, but be more interested in particular features. In this case catalogue’d listings which hide bargains about to end on the 7th page of search results aren’t a great solution. Not displaying the most popular listings at the top of search results but instead amalgamating popular listings with overpriced under performing listings into a single catalogue entry dumped way down in search results isn’t a great buying and selling experience.

Currently there is no information apart from empirical data as to how search is sorted. If you can figure out what the sort criteria is for Catalogue Listings we’d love to hear from you. If you can’t figure out how they’re being ordered just bear in mind that the auctions you’re paying for may never make the first page of search results so you’re not likely to get great sale prices.

The one thing we can tell you that eBay haven’t, is that your auctions in catalogue categories are not being sorted by Time Ending Soonest regardless of what you thought your insertion fees were paying for.

  • 6 years ago

    Do you think this is new policy or a glitch?

    • 6 years ago

      Well as soon as you make it compulsory to list against catalogue and then roll all new, used, new (other) and refurb listing of both auction and fixed price variety into a single “Product Card” in search results something has to give.

      1) When taken together no individual fixed price listing can rise to the top of search results without taking the worst performing listing with it. Equally if eBay demote a “Product Card” due to a poor performing fixed price listing by definition this has to drag down better performing listings with it.

      2) No individual auction can rise to the top of search results without taking all other auctions AND fixed price listings on that “Product Card” to the top of search results with it. Can you see eBay promoting poorly performing fixed price listings just because an auction has less than an hour left to run? Also if it could then I’d be listing auctions at unrealistic prices every hour just to bump my fixed price items to the top of search – eBay can’t allow that to happen.

      Other than that I haven’t a clue, but it’s definitely intentional, even if it isn’t particularly desirable.

    • JD
      6 years ago

      If you click ‘see all items’ then you can sort them however you want (from the usual selection).

      Well at least I can from here!

    • JD
      6 years ago

      Sorry, the links are ‘see all listings’!

    • 6 years ago

      The “See all listings” link only shows you listings on that particular product card. This doesn’t help find items eBay have dumped on the 7th page of search results.

      The trouble is you can’t rely on buyers to overcome eBay’s shortcomings, at least not if you want a reliable income. Some might, most won’t know how to alter search results to find what they want.

    • 6 years ago

      Hi Chris,

      Just a quick message to say thank-you for this article!

      It’s incredibly insightful and pretty much blows me away in it’s information.

      Like you, I’m a full-time seller and things like this sometimes make you wonder why you bother. Not only are you fighting crazy customers, recession, increasing costs… but also, now eBay as well!!

      All the best,
      John

    • 6 years ago

      The sad thing is that it means a rare, possibly good value bargain, will never get the visibility that it would have under Time Ending Soonest.

      That’s going to kill the choice, value and selection that eBay are famous for. Catalogued listings are fantastic when you’re looking for something very very specific, like the example I gave of a particular spec iPad. Equally catalogued listings are total crap when you want something like a TV but don’t care about model/brand. Catalogued items are also crap for rare items because the catalogue “Product Card” for a rare one off will never get to the top of search results.

    • Dillon Prime
      6 years ago

      Hi Chris,

      I’ve got to agree it’s sad that auction style listings are “demoted”.

      Even though an auction listing might not sell, its power of cross-selling and “paying its way” by driving clicks to a fixed price listing are a valuable tool to a seller.

      I also find the catalogue not intuitive or easy to navigate at all. The fact they need to show a guide on how it works is quite telling.

      Poor show all round unfortunately.

      DP

  • Gareth
    6 years ago

    The problem is not limited to category or catalogued items. I list non-cataloged art related items as auctions and noticed (after a huge plunge in sales) that my auctions got buried at the bottom of the results (I’ve a TRS account), never to see the light of day, ever!
    I proved the point to eBay, by exporting some of these auctions from TurboLister into an old selling account I have that is only ‘above standard’ and hadn’t been used for 4 months. The auctions are therefore identical in every sense, and when I list those, they immediately appear correctly in the same searches, and work their way up to page one, whilst the auctions listed on my TRS remain completely buried. It seems as though eBay have randomly condemned some accounts for no apparent reason whatsoever. I’ve proved the matter to eBay’s CS whilst on the phone (I uploaded identical items from the two accounts whilst put on hold), and I’ve also sent screenshots of the problem to the pinks for them to pass onto the tech team. The only responses I have had so far are about the generic nature of Best Match and its relationship to BIN items, which has been less than helpful.

    There’s a long thread about it in the business forum http://community.ebay.co.uk/topic/Business-Seller-Board/Auction-Sellers-Bug/18000421285?start=48

  • Gareth
    6 years ago

    Hi Chris. Further to my previous email and my own experience of auction burying, I tried searching for one of your auctions, as I’m not familiar with the computing category and how things work there. I put in some fairly generic keywords and selected ‘auctions only’. Some of your items I just cannot find at all, and others, as you say, appear right at the back of the results and are not coming up as time ending soonest.

    eBay have always encouraged the listings of auctions alongside fixed price, to get that visibility boost that some sellers so desperately need, and we pay a lot more for the privilege.

    On eBay’s Best Match FAQ, it states : “What’s the difference between the way Buy It Now and auction items are sorted in search results?”
    – “Auction style listings are sorted based on Seller Standards and “Time: ending soonest”.”

    This clearly isn’t happening for all sellers. I have spent a great number of days and hours researching this problem. I have identified about 12 TRS accounts in various categories from building materials to books, whose auctions appear at the bottom of the results, no matter what keyword or category is being used to find there stuff. There auctions are listed beneath Chinese sellers and private sellers in some instances.

    Incidentally, search one of your auctions that has a bid on it currently, and you’ll find it will appear correctly in Best Match. I just tested it for ‘thinkpad power’ and you come up just fine on that one as it has a bid. Of course having a bid or no bid should make no difference whatsoever. This is certainly a glitch that eBay are so far denying.

  • Gareth
    6 years ago

    I’m a bit in shock, and can’t quite take it all in. I’ve had an official reply from one of eBay’s guys in Germany.

    My account has been condemned just as I suspected, and all my auctions will appear at the bottom. Despite I’m a TRS and I had been doing well with sales, eBay decided my auctions aren’t popular enough, and as a result, they have taken a few accounts, such as mine, and pushed ALL their auctions to the bottom of the results.

    I’ve been told I can list fixed price instead, but the reason I list auctions is to gain visiblity and promote my shop and fixed priced items. That is what auctions are supposed to do amongst other things, and one of the reasons I pay more to list them as it’s always helped get more sales for the more expensive shop items I have listed.

    To quote some of the email.

    What is happening?
    We have noticed that most of your auctions on your ‘account were not selling. We are working to make the buyer experience better by showing better value, more relevant auctions.

    Why do we do this?
    Given your Auction conversion, your items don’t seem to be in very frequent demand. The problem is that by sorting Auctions mainly by time ending soonest we get all kinds of items showing up even for generic searches.
    So in order to make sure that our Buyers still see relevant Auctions we need to show less Auctions of infrequent demand.

    How can you continue to optimise your listings?
    You will save money and get better sales if you move your auction inventory to Long Duration Multi-Quantity Fixed Price and this will create a better eBay experience for our buyers.
    If you have a strong reason for listing your items as auction, you should consider significantly lowering the auction start price.

  • JD
    6 years ago

    @ Gareth.

    Sorry to read of your experiences.

    eBay support seem to have been unusually open here, not something that we often read about. I too am trying to get to grips with the exposure given to my own stuff.

    Can I ask a couple of questions please?

    Do these comments relate to exposure on eBay .de?
    Are these auctions listed directly on eBay.de?
    Are you TRS on the German site?

    Thanks.

  • Jimbo
    6 years ago

    To be a devil’s advocate: If auctions are being listed purely to generate interest in other items possibly it will help the buyer experience if they are hidden. There are some searches, for example silver bangle, where the first page is constantly full of non selling auctions.

  • Gareth
    6 years ago

    Hi JD. I sell on eBay.co.uk, but pay for visibility on ebay.com and ebay.ca – just happened that the tech guy from Germany responded to me, and copied into the email were eBay’s director of search for eBay Europe, and the product manager search for the UK.

    • JD
      6 years ago

      @ Gareth,

      Thanks for clarification.

      In that case it’s a disgrace and you should be refunded your listing fees and given the heads up every time you try to list.

      Especially so that all those ‘private’ sellers get free listings at very frequent intervals, can’t be TRS and don’t seem to suffer this very arbitrary action.

      Taking the wee wee.

  • Gareth
    6 years ago

    Thanks TD, I did send a rather heated email back to the head’s of eBay’s various departments. I find it disgraceful that with a TRS account that once thrived on the mixture of auctions/BINs, I am now demoted to the bottom of the searches, and been told in no uncertain terms that this is what has happened to my account, despite it says very clearly in eBay’s FAQ about Best Match that auctions are based on an account seller’s status and the time ending soonest. Clearly this isn’t the case.

    For more than two weeks I’ve been listing hundreds of auctions that I hadn’t appreciated were getting next to no visibility.
    I’ve been told if I sell more auctions I will be placed correctly in Best Match, but how can I possibly get a better selling ratio if I’m placed at the bottom of the results? It’s a catch22. eBay have played god with my account and now I’m condemned. I’d be better starting up new selling accounts, and listing until the problem potentially flares up again and then starting all over again. It’s just a nightmare, as Christmas should be my busiest period, and I’ve used eBay as my income for the past 6 years. Now I’m lucky if I can cover my fees. eBay’s dead for me now.

  • Gary
    6 years ago

    Surely it does not matter if an auction ends in a sale or not.

    A listing fee is paid regardless and for that eBay have a duty to provide a service of a consistent standard for all fee paying customers. Auction visibility cannot subsequently be manipulated by eBay unless of course you have had your listing fee refunded with reasons stated for the refund.

    I would understand if free listings were being manipulated but paid for listings?

    This should be taken up with trading standards.

    • Gary
      6 years ago

      These are eBays terms of service. I’m struggling find the grounds under which eBay deem it necessary to take action. :-

      “Listing Conditions

      By listing an item on eBay’s sites, you agree to pay the eBay’s related fees, assume full responsibility for the content of the listing and item offered, and accept the following listing conditions:

      When you list an item on eBay’s sites, your listing will be posted on eBay’s sites and can be viewed in My eBay.

      Your listing may not be immediately searchable by keyword or category for several hours (or up to 24 hours in some circumstances), so eBay can’t guarantee exact listing durations.

      Where your listing appears in search and browse results may be based on certain factors including listing format, title, bidding activity, end time, keywords, price and postage cost, feedback, and detailed seller ratings. You can read more about where your listings appear in search and browse results in eBay’s Help Pages.”

      “Abusing eBay

      eBay and the eBay community work together to keep our sites and services working properly and the community safe. Please report problems, offensive content and policy breaches to us.

      eBay’s Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) programme works to ensure that listed items do not infringe upon the copyright, trademark or other intellectual property rights of third parties. If you believe that your intellectual property rights have been infringed, please notify our VeRO team through our Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) programme and we will investigate.

      Without limiting other remedies, we may issue you with warnings, limit, suspend, or terminate our service and user accounts, restrict or prohibit access to, and your activities on, our sites (including, without limitation, cancelling bids and removing listings), delay or remove hosted content, remove any special status associated with the account (including, without limitation, PowerSeller status), reduce or eliminate any discounts, and take technical and legal steps to keep you off our sites if:

      we think that you are creating problems (including, without limitation, by harassing eBay staff or other users or by making unreasonable legal threats against eBay), or exposing us or another eBay user to financial loss or legal liabilities;

      we think that you are infringing the rights of third parties (including, without limitation, intellectual property rights of third parties);

      we think that you are acting inconsistently with the letter or spirit of this Agreement or our policies (including, without limitation, policies related to shill bidding, conducting off-eBay transactions, feedback manipulation, circumventing temporary or permanent suspensions or users who we believe are harassing our employees or other users);

      despite our reasonable endeavours, we are unable to verify or authenticate any information you provide to us;

      you fail to comply with the eBay Buyer Protection policy;

      you earn a net feedback rating of -4.

      Additionally, we may, in appropriate circumstances and at our discretion, suspend or terminate accounts of users who may be repeat infringers of intellectual property rights of third parties.

      You agree not to hold eBay responsible for any loss you may incur as a result of eBay taking any of the actions described above.”

      “Liability

      You will not hold eBay responsible for any loss you may incur as a result of eBay taking any of the actions described in the Abusing eBay section above nor for other users’ actions or inactions, including, without limitation, things they post, items they list or their destruction of allegedly fake items. You acknowledge that we are not a traditional auctioneer. Instead, our sites are venues to allow anyone to offer, sell, and buy just about anything, at anytime, from anywhere, in a variety of pricing formats and locations, such as stores, fixed price formats and auction-style formats. At no point do we have possession of anything listed or sold through eBay….

      … Regardless of the previous paragraphs, if we are found to be liable, our liability to you or to any third party is limited to the greater of (a) any amounts due under the eBay Buyer Protection Policy up to the full cost of the item and its original postage costs, (b) the total fees (under eBay Fees and Services) you paid to us in the 12 months prior to the action giving rise to the liability, and (c) £100.”

      Unless somebody can point to something in eBay’s terms and conditions it does seem that eBay are liable to you for your fees paid. Both for listing fees and for compensation against your lost revenue as a consequence of eBay’s direct manipulation and lower placement in search results of your listings up to a maximum of total fees paid for 12 months.

  • Gary
    6 years ago

    As far as the glitch in the eBay algorithm is concerned as reported above then if anybody can build up a case for lost revenue as a result of this search glitch then they would clearly be entitled to seek compensation.

    This is a serious issue for eBay and one that they need to address quickly.

    It only takes one of the legal departments of an outlet seller to get involved and the compensation payout by eBay could be significant.

    • Gary
      6 years ago

      The legal argument is that eBay are knowingly acting with malice.

  • Gareth
    6 years ago

    Hi Gary,
    Naturally I’m inclined to agree with you there. eBay state in the Best Match FAQ

    “Auction style listings are sorted based on Seller Standards and “Time: ending soonest”.

    It’s the only reason I list auctions, otherwise I wouldn’t use them. I do not flood eBay with auctions, because it’s expensive to list them, but I mix in a few with my BINs and that added visibility provides my sales. I pay eBay good money, and I make a living – if it wasn’t profitable I wouldn’t do it, period.

    Incidentally, I used to live in central Paris for a number of years and my wife worked for a major law firm there. You can probably guess who one of their clients was. Although getting paid by this unsaid client was like getting blood from a stone, they use the top lawyers and firms to ensure they’re pretty much impenetrable.

    I’d love to take up the matter with Trading Standards, but would TS be interested? eBay probably has some additional small print buried somewhere to say, we can take your money and do as we please with the position of your auctions.

    • Gary
      6 years ago

      And I find it sad and frustrating that eBay appear to use my fees to employ people to do this. They could cut costs in this area and cut fees as it is needless.

      Allow the software, once the glitches have been fixed, to do its job rather than intervening manually.

      eBay actually state in their terms and conditions that they do not police the site and that they rely on user reports.

      Maybe there are competitors who have made reports about certain listings using a moral argument not covered by eBay terms and conditions and eBay have taken action?

      eBay do not seem to recognise that some reports have malicious intent.

  • Gareth
    6 years ago

    Hi Gary,
    I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors at eBay, but my hunch would be that it’s an automated process dreamed up by the academic crazies who created the complicated beast that is Best Match.

    What the criteria is I do not know. How many auctions do you need to list, and how many have to go without bids, before a flag is switched on, and your entire account demoted in the results?

    Once condemned to the bottom, how does one get out of it? Can you refrain from listing auctions for a month to ‘reset’ your account to zero? Can you simply list fewer auctions. If a condemned seller needs to improve their ‘auction conversion’ how does eBay allow them to do this, when every new auction they list is automatically condemned to the nether regions, never to see the light of day. It’s a terrible catch22 situation.

    I mean, I could open a new seller account each month. It’s within the rules. I could list auctions until a potential ‘red flag’ said I wasn’t doing well enough for eBay’s standards, and then move to another account. That would be rather daft, confusing and cumbersome. Better still, why doesn’t eBay simply stop duplicate auctions from being listed as they have done with BINs? That would suit me just fine – it would deal with the problem they have (that of too many listings) and improve the buyer experience perhaps, without needing to demote a few sellers when their system decides we’re not good enough.

    In the past month I have over 150 positive feedbacks (no neg/neutral) no low DSR’s. I’ve got sales, paid eBay their share, made enough for myself and my family to live on, so I hope eBay can see the flaws in this.
    Obviously since the start of this month my sales have dramatically decreased, and my reduced feedback will follow shortly.

    I’ve proceeded in the first stages of taking up the matter with Trading Standards, as I have paid a lot of money for a described service that I have not received. I hope others will follow suit, if they find they’re in the same boat.
    I have identified a number of TRS accounts (including one big outlet) who have been placed in this position.
    If you list auctions and have noticed a big drop in sales, you may also want to start running some searches of your own.

  • 6 years ago

    We had an iphone finishing on Sunday night via auction and we couldnt even find it on search!

    The catalogue listing seems like a compelete waste of time to be honest, it doesnt fit the ebay site.

    Yesterday i was looking a 32″ LCD HD TV and i had to wade through all the catalogue crap to find some actual listings where i could look at products i wanted to see, not products ebay were shoving into my face. Did i buy the TV on ebay? No.

  • Gareth
    6 years ago

    This may or may not apply to the computer category issue, but today eBay.co.uk announced a change in policy regarding auction conversions and multiple auction listings – however accounts (such as mine) have been punished and penalised long before this new policy has been announced, and that has again made me angry today.

    Had I been told a new policy was going to be in place (which I believe is already currently in place on eBay.com) I would not list multiple auctions. As it stands eBay have stated on the May 2011 update that you can sell up to 15 identical auction items. This was never contradicted in any future news updates from eBay. Also under their duplicate policy (http://pages.ebay.co.uk/help/policies/listing-multi.html) It clearly states :

    You may create the following listings at the same time: Up to 15 identical auction-style listings

    Getting rid of multiple auctions isn’t a bad thing, and I tended not to list more than 2 identical items that were many days apart. I’m happy to comply, however being penalised (and not being informed about having my account condemned), and having the new policy announced weeks afterwards is wrong – possibly illegal? I’ve approached trading standards on the matter at any rate.

    Here is the email from the 20th October 2011:

    We want to share some important information about your selling account that requires your immediate attention. You have a history of listing a large number of duplicate auction-style listings that don’t sell. This makes it more difficult for buyers to find what they’re looking for and puts you at risk of breaching the Search & Browse Manipulation policy.

    If you’d like to continue to have duplicate auction-style listings, you must achieve and maintain a 30% sell-through rate for your duplicate auction-style listings by the week of 31 October. That means at least 30% of your ended duplicate auction-style listings must sell by 31 October and you must maintain at least that rate in the future. Otherwise your duplicate auction-style listings without bids may be removed. Continuing to list duplicate auction-style listings when your sell-through rate is less than 30% could lead to selling restrictions or account suspension.

    Removing listings that aren’t selling will make it easier for buyers to find and buy what they’re looking for and helps save you time and money spent on listings that aren’t generating sales. If you’re unsure an item will sell, first create a single listing to gauge demand. Then create duplicate auction-style listings only if the first one generates a bid. Stick to best practices for your auction-style listings to attract buyers-use a low start price and avoid using a reserve price. You can also check completed listings to see if similar items get bids.

    For more information on your weekly sell-through rate and to download a complete list of active, duplicate auction-style listings, go to http://ebay.promotionexpert.com/sellercommunication/auction/uk/index.html.

    Thank you for selling on eBay.

    Regards,
    eBay Team