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eBay Sales Down? Here’s How eBay Might Be Working Against You

By Alex Knight

From algorithm updates to site outages and random testing, there are many ways that the mechanics of eBay can cause your sales to fall.

eBay Sales Down? Here’s How eBay Might Be Working Against You

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Mark Hetherington

Ebay ARE sabotaging sales, they just don’t realise – probably – that they are doing it. All I will concede here is that an act of sabotage needs to be deliberate and the reality is that it is mostly down to incompetence on their part.

For the purpose of this post please disregard that we might be doing something wrong. After 30 years in business and proof elsewhere that “it’s not us”, such as consistent performance from our website, assume that we have done all the checks on competitors, keywords, and so on. It’s partly irrelevant anyway because I have proved time and time again that eBay’s algorhythms does not work. On one search I did for an item that we were the ONLY seller of, the search result for that exact item brought ours up as the second of two results.

That simple test was proof enough that the system doesn’t work, but there have been others. We had an item priced at just under £10 that sold around half a dozen a month. That’s with a 100% 5-figure feedback rating, Top Seller rating, free postage, informative description, item specifics, various hi-res photos, the works, you name it. A competitor came along with under 0200 feedback and a score of 97.8%, not declared himself as a business seller. He listed the same item at the same price using OUR exact title wording, one poor photo, no description, no items specifics. Inside two months he had sold over 600.

Answers on a postcard…the reality is it doesn’t work. even ebay staff admitted they were stumped. Even if he had one or two metrics done better than ours (he didn’t), we STILL should have easily beaten him on every other aspect. We should have been the ones selling 300 a month.

After that I looked at a number of other listings and sellers and found the same pattern time and time again. Sellers with no history, low ratings, poor descriptions were regularly getting better sales even at higher prices ahead of many long established professional businesses who were doing everything the way ebay told them to do it, as we were. It’s a total farce.

Other aspects are some of eBay’s policies. 30 day returns, free postage, free returns, all these things are not good news for small businesses, you know, the ones who make up most of eBay’s seller base. Why? Because small businesses simply cannot afford these luxuries.

For example, a large chain will not worry about the cost of returns, free postage, free returns and so on so much because the staff and management won’t care how many they get because it’s not coming out of their salary, and those at the top are earning so much they won’t care either. They’re only doing free returns because the competition are. But for small business owners in most cases the cost of this is coming out of their back pocket. It doesn’t increase sales enough to pay for the cost, and as I have mentioned on here before returns are now becoming a serious bind on smaller traders.

The majority of buyers are wrongly and fraudulently claiming the item is defective because they get free return postage. It’s 21st century human nature – if people can get something for free they will, and ebay highlight the fact that if they want to return something because they change their mind they will have to pay for it. So they choose the “free” option.

We noted everything that had been returned on the past year as faulty. a HUGE 94% were NOT faulty, but many of them were not retuned in good enough condition to resell as new. That’s hundreds of pounds extra in postage costs on top of all the refunds we were forced to hand back. None of this happened until ebay introduced Managed Returns and other tech sellers we know are saying they are experiencing a similar trend. And as more and more buyers realise how easy it is, it will only get worse.

this is what I mean by eBay’s incompetence. It’s not just the appalling algorhythms that doesn’t work, it’s policies like this that are not suited to small traders but ebay either don’t understand this, or they don’t care. The latter because they think obsessing over the customer in this way will bring in more sales. The reality is it just brings in more scammers.

As you say, small businesses are better off concentrating on other methods to attract buyers. We have a couple of methods that work to a degree, but that’s becoming more difficult now because you can’t now highlight things in the photos such as a free gift. You can’t add your phone number or email so that people can call you with enquiries (we sold at least five or six high ticket items a week because we were able to talk to people on the phone who wanted more information before buying. That’s gone now.)

And the main tool we have, the big description panel, has been sidelined by ebay. You have to click on “See full description” in the mobile view and I’ve noticed recently that it’s the same on a PC on many items, the description is now hidden by default so it looks as though that’s something else they’re changing gain for the worse. Now all most buyer will see to entice them is the cheapest postage, and with nothing else on view to tempt them to buy from you it’s another move that’s going to kill sales even further.

Look at how High Street stores work, both in their physical shop window, their websites and their YouTube/TV ads: Clear, bright posters to entice you in, free gifts with items highlighted in big letters on the poster. You can’t do that on ebay photos any more, and hiding the description is like trying to promote something by placing on the top shelf at the back of the store. Even with sales and promotions you only get a few words at the top of the listing, and the real madness, ebay display the original price of the item, NOT the sale price. Who in their right mind runs a sale and advertises the original price? It’s incompetence.

People love ebay for what it is. They don’t look for cheap postage in particular, many people have told us they would rather pay more for a faster service rather than free economy delivery. We do offer not one but TWO extra services, but unless you click eBay’s tiny “see details” link you wouldn’t know it (we do show the option in most listings, if people even get to see the descriptions).

I could go on for hours, and while all of the above issues quoted in the article might paly a part to varying degrees depending on the seller and the circumstances within their sector, overall I believe eBay’s main problem is simple: They have never sold a single retail product and have no idea how to. The result is they’re thrashing around blindly, trying to change things and they don’t have a clue what to do.


Replying to Mark Hetherington

You have hit the nail on the head,i have had to close my business account down due to the amount of “not as described goods” being returned,nothing wrong with them its just they no they can return for free.Ebay always rule onside with the buyer.Trouble is they have the market sewn up,no real competition for them.Selling on gumtree i find is better,but the buggers even own that site.


Replying to Mark Hetherington

You forgot to mention organized crime taking over eBay, and Amazon and using them as a fencing operation to sell their stolen goods under the Amazon Prime protection program . and we have the Money laundering problem on eBay , high volume stores selling items at or below cost for the purpose of laundering their dirty money. The FBI should be watching them very closely and scrutinizing high volume sellers with lower than cost pricing , and 0 net profit !


Replying to Mark Hetherington

Hi Mark, I know this is two years old but your comments were valuable. In regards to the other seller who copied your description and had less detail but made more sales. I think I figured this out, I; like you’ fill all the items specifics and do as much as I can, yet will still list lower than others despite my efforts, I noticed if you leave out item specifics on a lot of things it actually improves visibility across a wider set of categories, ebay wants everyone to fill in item specifics because it wants to dilute your reach into a very narrow set of categories.

Sometimes following all of the requirements on ebay is a hindrance. Being vague slightly on ebay is often an advantage to get more views.


I’ll add some new things I noticed yesterday – it’s absolutely deliberate. I have 100% positive fdbk, so no reason to do this to me either. Yesterday noticed 80% of my relisted items had at least one of the following happen:

*they moved it to another, irrelevant or worse category
*they removed my keywords
*where I KNOW I had made my listing mobile friendly, they’d reverted it back

Then all evening yesterday things keep bogging up so badly that in two hours I got nothing posted and gave up. You get to the very last step and suddenly you get that ‘Thinking on it” rotating status which goes on forever. I used to be a powerseller. Hate eBay now with a passion and I know all the marketplaces make things hard on their sellers. Only thing I’ve seen that could be positive or negative is eBay is now offering some type of 50% reimbursement on returns in certain situations (you’d have to look it up on eBay, new update). Although if the buyer doesn’t get their full money back, they’re likely to hit you with negative feedback anyway. I’ve only been doing this casually for extra income – left eBay for real many years ago because of their shenanigans – but now I may even be leaving totally. There are some new marketplace alternatives now (sorry, I can’t share ALL I know) anyway, can’t hurt to try.

Ben Wright

Replying to Chris

The only site I’ve ever been on selling, who did right by its sellers, is a site called TopHatter. If you have the inventory you can make a mint. In fact, the operators of the site encourages you to have more inventory then you might think you need. Every sale happened withing 1 or 2 minutes at most. It’s a site like Wish, but everything is sold at auction in usually 30 seconds. My only problem was I couldn’t keep up, due to inventory. I sold out twice, and had to wait for items to be shipped from China. And one thing about that site is, they don’t like waiting too long before releasing you. Though they do give you chance. I haven’t come across any other site like TopHatter ever since. Trust me, I tried to get my family to invest, but they all looked it like something too good to be true. But now I realize that some things actually isn’t too good to be true.


Oh one more thing – yesterday while shopping eBay wasn’t allowing things to be added to a watch list (yes, there was room in my list). I’d click, but nothing would happen. It either went in your cart or you buy it now. They probably think they’re forcing the customer to just buy, but I think that’s a mistake.

Mark Hetherington

Yes I wonder if it’s deliberate too. People think you’re crazy to suggest such a thing but I can tell you after 30 years in business I’ve seen things that will make your hair curl. Look at how corrupt the banks have been for example, the things that led to the economy in general being in such a bad state.

Corruption in business is rife and businesses will do what they have to do to suit them. If that means blocking your listings, say perhaps because you’re undercutting one of the major retailers, they may well do that. Amazon do – an endless list of sellers will tell you they were blocked from selling certain items, only to find a couple of days later that Amazon were then selling the same item themselves, with NO competition, at a higher price.

Back on ebay, errors are constant too. Click on a listing title in your messages and most of the time a blank screen opens up. If a potential customer sends an enquiry then clicks back on the product link at the top of the message and gets a blank screen, you’ve lost the sale. Not just that sale but all of them, every day (the way around it is to send them an offer from the link in the message but again you’re losing money, forced to sell it a little cheaper or not at all).

Sales just do not fall off a cliff for hundreds, if not thousands of sellers, overnight. Have you ever walked into Tesco or Asda and seen them completely empty after being busy the previous day? It’s not normal, something has to bwe happening for sales to just completely die like that. Even your local corner shop doesn’t experience a drop in sales like that.

Ten years ago I had one single day in February, which used to be my quietest month anyway, when I sold nothing at all and I went into a panic wondering what was wrong. I never forget that day. In over three years on ebay at that time, even at the very beginning, I NEVER have a single “blank” day. Now that happens several times a month. It’s “normal”, or at least on ebay it is.

We’re now working to boost our website which currently produces around 30% of our income with NO promoting or advertising and only takes up a tenth of the time on ebay. We don’t know if it will work out or not but if we could leave ebay tomorrow we would do.

And before anybody starts on “if you don’t like it don’t sell on there”. or “it’s their site, they can do what they like”, that’s not the point. We are paying them for a service, and we’re not getting that service. It’s not just listing fees and commission on the sale, it’s a marketplace and I believe we have a fundamental right to expect the very best service for our money, not zero sales, getting scammed every other day and poor to non-existent support.

Oh and by the way, if the buyer sends a new item back in a used condition, yes you can deduct up to 50% if it’s sent back because they didn’t want it. BUT they can appeal and if they do ebay will give them the rest of their money back immediately and automatically, just as they do in other cases.
However, as I outlined in my earlier post most buyers will claim there is something wrong with the item (I’ve had two today claim the USB cable doesn’t fit in the phones they each bought, 2 different phones, standard cables that fit ANY phone except iPhones of course). Basically they’re just lying to get free return postage, i.e. paid by the seller, and in those circumstances you’re not allowed or able to deduct anything and as I say you’re forced to pay return postage too.

Ebay is screwed now, but the sad thing is it could still be so good but would need a complete change of management at the top who understood the market, the site and the sellers. Sadly they have tinkered with it so much now it’s full of bugs, too big to rewrite and almost certainly will never be the same again.


Replying to Mark Hetherington

Richard Branson should come in with a Virgin platform

Joe Leach

So WebRetailer after reading the article, what do you recommend the sellers to do? Thanks


Replying to Joe Leach

They answered it in the article, by each topic… you’ll just have to read. A lot of it there simply aren’t really answers to, but where there were, they did try to help.

I came on to add that tonight when shopping eBay has withdrawn the ability to ask sellers a question. THAT is NOT helpful to sales. They have to pick NOW to screw with things (the holiday season – where some sellers years are made or broken?)?!! Seriously, I wish they would hire someone at the top who has experience selling online – and preferably on eBay! Idiots!

Mark Hetherington

Replying to Chris

I’m not sure where you have got that from, it’s always been possible to contact sellers and still is.

The “Ask seller a question” link was changed to “Contact seller” because many sellers were complaining that a lot of people were ignoring the listing description and asking questions instead.

I can assure you that most sellers find it extremely aggravating to have posted comprehensive information about the product on their listing description, only to find that people are asking questions that would be answered simply by reading that description.

Additionally we found that less than 1 in 20 replies leads to a sale, regardless of how polite you might be. Most are just “tyrekickers”, but some people even find the item cheaper from another seller and buy from them but ask you the questions because the other seller didn’t reply, and that happens more than you think.

If I had my way I would remove questions completely and leave people to read the descriptions. I don’t believe there’s anything they could ask, in most cases, that they couldn’t find the answer to by reading the description or doing a quick search and many of us are happy to pass up the chance of a sale that waste our time answering pointless questions that in most cases don’t lead to a sale anyway.


Replying to Mark Hetherington

I have seen it to, it changes so maybe they are implementing system changes. but when i am logged out and search for my listings they do not have a contact seller , or ask a question. Nothing. I have checked my personal settings and they are all fine. A few days later my listings will have the feature. You can always tap the persons username try to contact them that way but that is not a feature you can use on all mobile devices, which most customers are using now, and not everyone knows that, or how to do it, especially if someone is trying to buy something quick. I have also been interested in peoples products and have not been able to contact them. On top of that if you have a buy it now or best offer feature they will block your messages. I know this first hand because my automobiles were getting no questions, I typically use to get 10 to 12 messages per listing a week, my feedbacks were perfect, my cars were all priced below everyone else selling the same model. Nothing, emails just stopped, i received offers through ebay was getting traffic, but no questions, and when i attempted to contact the people making an offer to weed out the non paying bidders and ever growing dead beats… no responses. Well I had multiple employee’s from home send us test questions from their personal accounts…. and as you can guess we never got their emails.. My theory is they are terrified you will sell outside the site, and are starting to make it so you can not contact anyone. We transitioned our autos to hemmings, we can list a vehicle there for the same price as a 21 day auction on ebay but our add runs until canceled on with hemmings, we can add videos on the sites, easier, more pictures, and we see all most as much traffic. However contact is made super easy,if someone is interested in my car and messages me, I see their real name, location, phone, email and address, and they do mine as well. We just close the deal on the phone.There is no non paying bidders, relist fees, unpaid item bs. I started on ebay back in the early 2000s before it was a household name. Im sad to see what it has become, but they are so focused on customers they forgot us sellers where their customers, and they have built a business around the thoughts that we need them not the other way around. My ebays fees on cars were over 5000.00 a month some months which i was happy to pay because we made alot of money on ebay. Im just one average guy, I wonder how many other sellers like me they forced to look elsewhere.They will be out of business sooner than later if they do not figure it out.

Mike G

Replying to Mark Hetherington

” I don’t believe there’s anything they could ask, in most cases, that they couldn’t find the answer to by reading the description ”

As a buyer of retro vintage gym kit, I frequently need to ask sellers for a simple measurement that should be required in all cases where shorts are listed: what is the STRETCHED waistband? That is the best guide to fit – side codes like ‘small’ and ‘medium’ vary considerably between manufacturers and, more importantly, over the decades.

Actual inside leg width at the hem, and inside leg length, are two other useful measurements rarely given.


Along with all the other listed frustrations above, you know it’s bad when their customer service rep (that you’ve been working with for months!) agrees that he can’t figure out what you’re doing wrong either. Sales literally tanked in September 2016 and we kept scrambling to “fix our problems” for months. This was our case back in March and April. Things have SLOWLY picked up, but not anywhere near what it was 2 years ago. We did everything they told us to do, including revising more than 800 listings individually two times in a period of a month! It’s not us!

I used to know who my competitors were. Some are still there; others came out of the blue with big feedback numbers. I can’t tell if they used to only list in other categories, or if the rumors are true that eBay solicited some of the bigger, more cut-throat sellers onto the site with promises of more revenue, preference and feedback manipulation. I actually wouldn’t put it past them anymore. I also asked the customer service rep who’d helped me all those months, “Who’s getting paid off?” He assured me that that doesn’t happen, and I told him, “That you know of…because it sure seems like that’s one of the last logical arguments I can think of.”

The other thing I’m seeing is that some of these newer sellers are selling “new” branded items cheaper than I can buy them for. While I recognize that some may have more buying power than I do for bigger discounts, I don’t think that the discounts can be that much! Especially if you factor in eBay fees and shipping costs on top of your product costs – it just doesn’t make sense unless they’re possible counterfeits. I came across some known counterfeits and eBay didn’t do anything about it. I reported them at least 18 months ago and they’re still there, listing the item as the branded product, but shipping from China. This particular brand has even posted a notice on their wholesale website warning customers that they do not ship from China, or have any authorized seller who does. eBay has made it clear to me that they really don’t care!

I too have started my own site, list on Amazon and am looking at other platforms. I will leave eBay when I’m comfortable that those others are solid and doing reasonably well for us. I’m tired of the games that eBay is playing. I’m an experienced reputable seller with integrity. I appreciate that in others and can’t respect or do business with those who aren’t.

Peter Butterfield

Replying to Jenny

I agree – from about September 2016 things have taken a dramatic turn for the worst. Despite changing titles, descriptions and images, nothing has improved. We have a feedback rating of 99.98% and two negatives in twelve months. A Premium seller top rated for more than three years.


Replying to Jenny

This is a very interesting article since I hit the 20 year mark with eBay and buy this December January 2018 my business fell off a cliff then I was late a couple times with shipping and they took my global shipping away which was 1/3 of my yearly business they bankrupted me nothing is really selling anymore ,one or two items every week from 50 to 60 items a month It’s sad from day one I was making so much I closed my physical stores and just sold online 20 years later I am at square one I’m too old to open a store The algorithms have killed me google control the earth !

Herb Hammons

I’ve been selling on eBay for eleven years and have never seen anything like it before. Sales have dropped by 34% in 4-5 months time and all eBay can do is to keep sending the same bi-monthly email with their exercise in stupidity called ‘Top Tips for Selling on eBay’: 1.)Qualify for the Top Rated Plus Seal. Why? We used to qualify for that worthless seal but then you raised the requirements… twice… so why even bother? And it doesn’t get you to the top in the listings. 2.) Add Product Identifiers. They’re already there, all of them. Stupid eBay. 3.) Adjust Your Price. After selling on eBay for 11 years you don’t think we’ve done price comparisons? (They’re sounding a lot like Amazon: lower your price, lower your price, lower your price…) And the one that tops them all, tip number 4.) Restock Popular Items. Really? Who was the genius that sat up all night conjuring up that suggestion? Really?

A ‘good’ week now results in 50% of the number of sales that we had just a few months ago. I’ve called eBay many times and, of course, they have no way to explain it. Sellers with lower feedback ratings, fewer sales and higher prices out rank us. They have fewer products for sale and fewer sold. Some of them even violate eBay’s listing policies. (External links in the listings, text on the main image, etc.) eBay’s algorithm needs to be scrapped and replaced. The same goes for eBay’s upper management.

Even though everything that we sell is listed as “Good Until Cancelled”, we’ve been experiencing ‘disappearing’ listings for at least eight years. One day they’re there, the next day they’re gone with not one word from eBay as to why they were dropped. If the listings violated eBay’s rules in some way, eBay would send us a nasty note telling us that listing number whatever was removed for X reason. But that is not the case. Instead, they’re just gone. On the many, many occasions that I’ve called eBay and inquired about the disappearing listings (yes, I still hold out hope that one day, some fine day, I will get an eBay rep on the phone that actually knows something about how eBay works… that’s silly, I know) I’m always given the same two responses: either “We don’t do that” or “I’ve never heard of that before”. How could you have NOT heard of that before? I feel as if I’ve reported it to at least half of the reps working at eBay. On one occasion I was actually asked for the eBay item numbers of listings that disappeared. Uh, to know that I would have to SEE the listings but, as I said, they no longer exist, remember? Absolute genius…

We have devoted all of our resources to developing our own web site. It’s a slow process and, though we’ve made some mistakes along the way (and, hopefully, corrected them), it is the only thing that we can see that we might be able to use to replace eBay.

After all of that, I suppose I do have one good thing to say about eBay: at least it isn’t Amazon!


4 years ago eBay added immediate payment only to all my listings. I spent two years pleading with eBay agents to investigate why this was happening and eventually found out that it was a test. removing the option to turn off immediate payment killed off all my multiple overseas sales in one swoop. my takings are 1/3 of what they used to be 4 years ago. this is why I started my own website. the problem with eBay is that the people at the top are trying to impress each other and the shareholders only they have no care whatsoever for small business. eBay has now reached its highest level of incompetence. I suggest everybody here Google two words. Peter principal. it explains everything that is wrong with eBay Amazon and all the other corporate Giants.


My sales have been in a downward spiral for at least a month. Coincidentally Ebay keeps advertising a ‘promoted listings’ campaign. This gives them the opportunity to take a higher final value fee yet for my business that profit loss makes my business no longer viable.

Think about it – If Ebay has the ability to promote listings and sellers they also can do the opposite and restrict listings and sellers. What a violation of trust. Something seems so cambridge analytical about it all.

Bryon Miller

A very good percentage of this list is not ebay causing anything. It’s your competition stepping up their game and doing a better job than you are. Don’t get me wrong, ebay is a terrible place to put all your eggs. Instead, just use them as you should, just another tool… A venue to move your product. Spread your eggs out to many baskets and make your own site if you can. Always direct traffic to your commission free site. One thing I see ebay suggest that is maddening is telling you to go out to social media and advertise your crap to bring in traffic. Why the hell would I do that? I’m not in your affiliate program where I get paid for doing so. If I garner that traffic that I had to do the footwork to get, I then have to pay ebay their commission for that sale? I’m paying ebay to bring that guy to me, it makes not sense to do that in reverse. So all those venues that suggest you bring traffic to your store on their site via any method, ignore that and do it for your website. All you need to see is your monthly sales over time. That is where you will clearly see that ebay has mapped out your success story on their site. Your earnings will be nearly identical every month until they decide to change it, it’s consistently near the same exact dollar amount month after month, whereas other venues and my own website show no such pattern whatsoever and I have data going over the same timeframes for 5 years. I have good traffic on all sources including ebay. Ebay controls my visibility, if I list more, I’m seen more. I don’t promote my listings because it’s a ripoff and I do just fine outside of ebay, Ebay now charges the most money and produces the least profit as well.

My advice is use ebay as they use you while you transition into more lucrative options. I guarantee that is exactly what ebay is using you for right now and has been since at least 2008. Their site looks nothing like it did, they’ve transitioned slowly over that timeframe losing the original sellers that made it what it was while replacing them with large retailers that will be able to fill their “catalog” in their quest to copy Amazon. Use Ebay as they are using you.

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