What eBay Business Sellers Need to Know Now

Expert Voices Jan 2014

Recently I asked ten sellers, consultants and suppliers which were the most pressing issues for eBay business sellers to be thinking about now. The main themes were selling limits, cross-border trade, criteria for the Top Rated Seller badge, and changes to search including eBay’s new “Cassini” search engine.

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eBay Selling Limits

Suzanne A Wells

The most frustrating issue for new sellers is the implementation of selling limits. No longer can someone brand new to eBay just jump on, and start selling as many items as they like. You have to build an account, and you have to build feedback, but it’s very hard to do that if you’re limited to only ten items at a time.
Suzanne A Wells, Freelance Consultant

eBay usually limits new sellers to ten items at a time with a value of up to $500 – depending on feedback, how long they’ve been registered and a few other variables, explained Wells.

What’s the reason for the limits? eBay wants to see that sellers are committed to learning their craft: shipping items on time, getting good feedback and satisfying customers. It takes about ninety days to get some momentum going. “It’s a test eBay is giving people to see if they’ll stick with it, if they’ll follow the rules, and if you can get through that initial time period then it’s fine.” said Wells.

But new sellers are not the only ones challenged by limits – even relatively large and experienced sellers are limited. Matthew Ogborne explained:

Matthew Ogborne

They rate limit sales on eBay. By 10am sellers with a long history should be able to guess their sales for that day within a 5% to 10% window. The way I see it, sellers start the day with a neutral visibility modifier. By midday, if you’ve not matched the level of sales which your business is used to, they increase the modifier so you gain more views in eBay search. But if you’ve done really well that morning, and have surpassed your target, they’re going to move the modifier down to keep you within a consistent range.
Matthew Ogborne, Co-founder, UnderstandingE.com

In contrast, on Amazon sales move up and down unpredictably. That’s what you would expect from a large marketplace with a huge number of buyers and many external factors affecting their behaviour, said Ogborne.

What do you think about eBay’s selling limits? Comment below.

Cross-Border Trade

Tayyab Akhlaq

Cross border trade has been pushed a lot in the last year. It has been fantastic for growth – almost 20% of our sales now are exports – but information on best practices is still very sketchy. When I speak to sellers, they’re constantly asking for help.
Tayyab Akhlaq, Managing Director, My1stWish and Genie and the Geek

Several of the experts I spoke to mentioned eBay’s strong encouragement for sellers to sell internationally. They all agreed that cross-border trade could be very fruitful, but that there’s a lot to learn and much at stake – for example, shipping problems are more common and can lead to damaging feedback. In the UK, eBay provide an informative international selling portal, and in the US they have set up a completely outsourced global fulfillment service called the Global Shipping Program:

Danna Crawford

eBay’s Global Shipping Program is awesome. I had my first claim and didn’t know what to do, but eBay took care of it and I didn’t have to do anything. Not all the countries are in the program, so I offer Express Mail for the other countries. It’s fast, and if it gets lost or something else happens I am still covered.
Danna Crawford, Founder & CEO, PowerSellingMom.com

Any thoughts on cross-border trade? Comment below.

eBay’s New Search Engine: Cassini

Jane Bell

Cassini is being rolled out in the UK, taking over from Voyager which is now more than 10 years old. It’s the new search engine for eBay and it’s already being used for low and null results. If you understand and list optimally using Best Match search standards, you’re the majority of the way there already. The idea of Cassini is that the transition is seamless, that nobody should notice when it’s fully in use, but that’s not always true with eBay. Be prepared before it happens so there’s no big shock.
Jane Bell, eBay Specialist Consultant, eBay Anorak

The new Cassini search engine was launched on eBay.com in June last year, confusing sellers as the release was made incrementally and not announced in advance. A similar incremental release may now be taking place on eBay.co.uk. Amid the confusion, is there anything sellers can do to prepare?

Dan Burnham

To work out what is best practice, sellers should benchmark and measure and test. You should have a control group and try and factor out any arbitrary influences that may have a bearing. For example, you might say “I suspect that if I list something on a 30-day listing as opposed to a Good ‘Til Cancelled listing I’ll do better.” So take twenty of your products, leave ten on Good ‘Til Cancelled and move ten to 30-day listings, and see if you can draw a correlation on which works best.
Dan Burnham, Head of Account Management, eSellerPro

There are some observations from eBay.com that sellers can learn from, covered in detail by an anonymous seller writing “from the trenches” on EcommerceBytes. Cassini certainly searches item descriptions, and there are reports that HTML-heavy designs could be a problem.

Carlo Silva

With Cassini, descriptions will start being searchable – no longer just titles and item specifics, and some sellers are saying you get better rankings if you don’t have a design – just plain text. I did some testing myself, but didn’t see a difference. Do your own testing, create some listings which don’t have a design. Also start being more descriptive, put keywords in there.
Carlo Silva, CEO, 2nd Office

The exact effect of Cassini will be endlessly debated, because eBay – like Google – is not completely transparent in the way their search algorithm works. If they were, it would open the floodgates to “black hat” manipulation. Just as Google constantly tunes their search algorithm to find the best results for human searchers, eBay tunes Cassini to find the best products from the best sellers for buyers.

Google tells site owners to create pages for people, not search engines. In the same way, eBay wants sellers to focus on buyers – to create listings and provide a level of service that satisfies them – and not on finding ways to “cheat” their search algorithm. How can sellers focus on what buyers want?

John Lawson

Being found in search is always an issue. It’s so sporadic – after the holidays I’ve had sellers say their sales really slumped and we can’t figure out why. That usually means eBay is tinkering with something. Always be keyword rich and understand what buyers are looking for, utilise tools like Google Keyword Planner and Terapeak. Really keep up on that, because it shows what people are searching for, and people’s search habits do change.
John Lawson, CEO, 3rd Power Outlet and ColderICE Media

UPDATE 28 Jan 2014: eBay have now confirmed that Cassini was rolled out internationally (except Korea) by the end of 2013.

Will Cassini be good or bad for business? Comment below.

More on Search: Best Match and Item Specifics

“Best Match” is the default sort order for eBay search results, and has been a cornerstone of eBay’s search engine since 2008 – well before Cassini. But there are misconceptions about Best Match, and it is not always understood well by sellers.

Jane Bell

Best Match is about trust, value, relevance and convenience – but value is not just about price, it’s about the value seen by the buyer. eBay records that value element through the amount of recent sales that an item has had.
Jane Bell, eBay Specialist Consultant, eBay Anorak

Best Match is expected to remain for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean it won’t change. It’s likely to continue to evolve, perhaps subtly.

Dan Burnham

Sellers need to think about the Best Match algorithm, which is largely based on the conversion rate of products: items that sell more as a percentage of the times they’re viewed will rise to the top. Cassini will enable eBay to play around with the algorithm and factor more things in.
Dan Burnham, Head of Account Management, eSellerPro

Item Specifics have been around on eBay for even longer – ten years plus. eBay maintains their own lists of colours, sizes and many more product attributes, and it is also possible for sellers to enter their own values. It may be tempting to ignore eBay’s suggested values and enter a unique description, but the effect on search can be damaging.

Elizabeth Hitchins

You need to look at eBay’s item specifics. Some sellers use “rose” instead of “red” as their colour. Rose might be searched for, but eBay certainly doesn’t have any filters for it – they want red! Look at the filters on eBay and you’ll see a lot of items are in the “not specified” category of death. Buyers looking for a specific colour are not going to look in not specified, and filters come even more into play when you’re on mobile.
Elizabeth Hitchins, Freelance Consultant, KidsonTalks

On eBay’s mobile app, good item specifics are particularly important. Hitchins described multi-variation listings she had seen which used only a numeric product code to specify the different colours available. When viewing those listings on a desktop computer, choosing a different product code will change the image. But not on mobile, leaving the buyer confused and unlikely to persevere.

What do you think about Best Match? Comment below.

Criteria for Top Rated Seller

eBay introduced the Top Rated Seller (TRS) badge in 2009, removing the familiar PowerSeller logo from listings. (Incidentally, there remains a combined Top Rated & PowerSeller Program and the two statuses are distinct but not dissimilar.) Like most eBay initiatives, Top Rated Seller has changed and evolved since its introduction.

Dan Burnham

eBay has changed their criteria required for Top Rated Seller. It was previously about feedback from customers and DSRs, but now there are certain criteria for listings – I may be a Top Rated Seller but some of my listings may not appear as top rated because they are missing key criteria. A lot of those are shipping – you need to offer free shipping in order for that listing to qualify. Top Rated Seller listings get an extra ten to twenty percent of sales, so it’s definitely worth going after that prize.
Dan Burnham, Head of Account Management, eSellerPro

A previous change to Top Rated Seller which required sellers to upload shipping tracking numbers was controversial, but not all sellers are inconvenienced by the requirement for a free shipping option.

Trevor Ginn

There was a change which meant to be a Top Rated Seller you have to offer a free shipping service, so we started offering free shipping on everything – which is definitely easier!
Trevor Ginn, Managing Director, Hello Baby

Any thoughts on the Top Rated Seller program? Comment below.

In Closing

eBay sellers can feel overwhelmed and poorly treated when changes rain down on them from above. To be sure, the marketplace’s policies are sometimes as complex and difficult to interpret as local government bye-laws. Keeping up with them can be intellectually demanding.

But eBay is a business, and its revenue is generated by buyers – sellers pay the fees, but without satisfied, loyal buyers there would be far fewer sales to pay fees on. Changes can be alarming for eBay sellers, and may sometimes harm their business, but eBay is innovating and evolving to provide a better experience for buyers, and that has to be the right thing to do.

eBay’s past was dominated by collectors and enthusiasts who would “trade” – both buy and sell – as a real community. Over the years it has become much more of a conventional retail venue, with distinct buyers and sellers. Perhaps it’s time for sellers to put away the expectation that eBay should behave just as an all-powerful, but kindly, detached observer?

John Lawson

Us and the marketplaces are on the same side a lot of times, we have the same goals, but at the same time we have opposing goals as well. They are not your friend – they are business partners. When we sell on marketplaces, if they sneeze – we get the flu.
John Lawson, CEO, 3rd Power Outlet and ColderICE Media

The experts have had their say, now it would be great to hear your comments!

15 comments on “What eBay Business Sellers Need to Know Now

  1. Great and informative article. No Doubt some time new eBay policies really hurt the sales even of top seller. But new eBay seller has to put more efforts to get positive feedback to restrain in eBay business if they want to get more out of their eBay business

  2. “Perhaps it’s time for sellers to put away the expectation that eBay should behave just as an all-powerful, but kindly, detached observer?”

    Detached observer? Any seller on E-bay that expects than is in for a very rude awakening.

    1. Indeed! I was thinking back to the old days of eBay when they often repeated they were “just a venue”. There are still eBay sellers holding onto that and taking offence at almost any change eBay makes. Look at the comments on just about any EcommerceBytes blog post!

    2. They have created a monopoly and think they know whats best. I know people who sell and do not ship if the auction price is low. Then relist. Ebay wont stop them. I know a company who shill bids and Ebay wont stop it!

      Yet I know decent low volume sellers who have been banned because of scammers leaving then low DSR’s and they previously had 100% feedback.

      In short ebay dont care about sellers JUST the money!

  3. I did enjoy reading this post. It’s a good read to improve sales.

    One thing is for sure when things ain’t clear like “cassini” there will be plenty of people who try to explain like Dan Brown has done in his book. Just be careful what you read and follow.

  4. Informative article.

    For those that have been on the platform for over 10 years will remember how change was inflicted during Meg’s reign. ebay will always need to change and move with the times. In the old days eBay would make massive fee increases with little of no warnings (as an example). They aren’t perfect but they have come along away since then.

  5. All very good information. For many, things change but the core principals remain the same. Be a good seller and treat your customers like royalty and good things will come. Is not always so easy …it’s a business after all!

  6. “They rate limit sales on eBay. By 10am sellers with a long history should be able to guess their sales for that day within a 5% to 10% window. The way I see it, sellers start the day with a neutral visibility modifier. By midday, if you’ve not matched the level of sales which your business is used to, they increase the modifier so you gain more views in eBay search. But if you’ve done really well that morning, and have surpassed your target, they’re going to move the modifier down to keep you within a consistent range.”

    I am completely horrified – the times I have seen this discussed o the forums and seem experienced long term sellers sneer at any of us for suggesting that we knew this was happening. Buy another £10k of stock? Fine – just sit and watch the first 10k of stock gather dust. I have to say that I don’t pay ebay to do this to me – and if I had had any kind of confirmation it was happening before today I would have moved off the site a long time ago.

    Patronising ebay twaddle as usual – how are they to know what I can manage to process? What annoys me most is that this is obviously no secret in some circles – and yet when people ask if it is happening because their takings month on month are within a £1 of each other – it is denied!

    Can I ask the person who wrote this observation if they have absolute proof that this happens? I don’t think I will be the only person totally outraged that I am paying ebay to inhibit my business!

    1. HI there, I asked Matthew Ogborne about this at the time. My recollection is that he didn’t have absolute proof, but it was a theory based on his observations of different selling accounts and discussions he had with several sellers. I’ll drop him an email and see if he can add any more to that.

  7. I have been a top rated seller for over a year now on Ebay. On January 12, 2015 the ebay shipping system was down and sellers were unable to print shipping labels causing any sales the day before to miss the cutoff time for tracking upload. This caused me to fall below the 90% thresh hold for top rated status and it was revoked from my account. I spoke with several team members and finally ended up with a supervisor that basically told me that they realized that this affected my seller rating but there was nothing they would do about it. My sales have plummeted by 60% since then.

    1. The same thing happen to me. This company doesn’t care any more. That’s probably the reason why they lost to Alibaba and Amazon.

  8. All great data. For some, things change however the center principals continue as before. Be a decent merchant and treat your clients like sovereignty and great things will come. Is not generally so natural … it’s a business all things considered!

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