Skip McGrath on eBay Past & Present… a Seller’s Perspective

eBay has seen a huge number of changes since it opened for business in 1995. There’s been the introduction of a new search engine, big changes to feedback, increasing fees and more. Sellers have had to adapt to them all.

We caught up with Skip McGrath about how the eBay marketplace has changed over the last twenty years. Skip has been an eBay seller since 1999 and is also a trainer and author over at Online Seller’s Resource.

Here’s the changes which have had the biggest impact on sellers and what those changes mean for sellers today.

The biggest change to eBay search results

In the past, eBay’s search algorithm was very straightforward. It was driven by the listing end time and price. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good fit with the auction format. People could generally find what they were looking for without too much trouble.

eBay’s biggest move to improve search came in 2007, when they introduced Best Match. In 2008, Best Match became the default choice for all searches. Skip told us that many sellers liked the idea of Best Match, but it was implemented badly.

Best Match aims to combine many factors to rank eBay search results, including:

  1. Relevance to the search term
  2. Price and availability
  3. The seller’s feedback and quality of service
  4. The number of recent sales

Best Match may be a great feature for buyers that aren’t familiar with eBay, but more savvy customers don’t rely on Best Match alone. Instead, when buyers get used to the marketplace, the first thing they often do is sort the results by lowest price, or one of the other filters.

How to rank well in eBay search – the short version!

Regardless of how sellers feel about Best Match, it’s crucial that they rank well in search. The key to this is in selecting the right keywords, and putting them in the right places. Skip told us that eBay’s search engine looks for keywords in three places on your listings:

  1. The title. Make the most of the 80 characters, as they are important real estate. Use all of them, and get searchable keywords in there.
  2. The first 100 characters of your listing description. It’s a good idea to recreate your title but make it a little longer and add in a few more keywords.
  3. The item specifics. Include the most important keywords as item specifics – the attributes that describe the color, brand, size etc. of the item for sale.

Really work hard on your keywords. If you have a listing that’s not getting any traffic, redo your keyword research and try some new ones.

Also, don’t be afraid to update your listings. The terms that people searched for a year ago might not be the same terms they are searching for today. If you have a listing that’s over a year old for a product that you sell a lot of, research the most current keywords and add them in.

The loss of the eBay community spirit

Many veteran sellers like Skip McGrath feel that one of the most important things eBay could do is to bring back the community atmosphere.

Back in 2007, Meg Whitman left and John Donahoe took over as eBay’s CEO. That’s when some sellers think the community feeling started to decline.

Back then eBay was often thought of as an online flea market. Perhaps the company felt that perception was holding back their growth. It’s true that expectations of online shopping had changed. In this evolving world, consumers might prefer a marketplace where they could buy mostly from professional sellers and established businesses.

But many sellers believe that this was the wrong route to take. After a while using eBay, buyers get used to the marketplace. They receive their first few purchases and understand the feedback system. Often, they become more comfortable buying from a person than from a big corporation. Many enjoy the personal interaction and the opportunity to support small businesses.

Can eBay ever regain its community spirit?

eBay sellers all have their own opinions on whether they would really like the community feel to return to eBay, and how that could be achieved. A common opinion, however, is that eBay has never had a CEO like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. It has never had a CEO with real leadership skills and a vision for the platform, which they communicated to sellers and got them on board.

Over time, sellers have felt more and more isolated from management. This has really shown at eBay seller events, where executives have become far less accessible. At the same time, there has been a wider distinction between buyers and sellers. The result has been a real separation – an “us and them” feeling – between buyers, sellers and eBay executives.

With a true visionary CEO at eBay’s helm, everyone would understand what the marketplace stands for and where they fit in. Even if it didn’t bring back the person-to-person feel, a more harmonious relationship between the three groups would help build a better sense of community.

Another idea is that eBay should teach new members what it means to sell on eBay and how the site works. The theory is that everyone would then be on the same page and working towards the same vision.

Watch our interview with Skip McGrath here or read on below…

Listings have come a long way

Listings have changed a lot compared to when eBay first started. One of the biggest changes has been the shift to mobile browsing, as more and more eBay buyers are purchasing from their phones. Sellers have to make sure their listings work well on mobile web browsers, as well as the eBay mobile app and desktop computers.

The change that had possibly the biggest impact was eBay’s ban on Active Content, which came into force in June 2017. Sellers had to remove any elements of their listings that were powered by Flash or JavaScript. Some sellers had to edit thousands of listings.

The latest feature to shake up listings has been the introduction of the Group Similar Listings feature. This gives buyers the ability to combine all offerings for the same product onto a single page. It comes as part of a big shift away from unique listings and towards a product-based shopping experience.

How can sellers adapt their listings?

When you’re creating listings for mobile, the really important information needs to be right at the beginning of the listing, as mobile users only see the first part.

Skip told us that a good way to write eBay listings is to start with bullet points, just like Amazon product pages. Have the bullets at the top of the listing detailing the five most important points about your product. You can then put your description underneath for buyers looking at the listing on a computer.

Group Similar Listings is a difficult one to adapt to, as an algorithm decides which listings to combine and which details to show. It is not currently a default setting, so there’s no need for panic. But including the correct product identifier (such as a UPC) and connecting to the right product in the growing eBay catalog are a good start.

Sellers have less control over returns

Over the years, eBay has pushed sellers to offer more and more generous returns policies, causing a split in opinion between sellers.

There are some sellers who don’t believe in offering returns at all. They will only accept returns in line with the mandatory eBay Money Back Guarantee, which covers buyers if they don’t receive what they ordered. Returns due to the buyer changing their mind are not covered.

Some sellers refuse to accept returns because they are concerned about bad buyers taking advantage of them. These buyers might use the item once, then return it in a dirty or damaged condition expecting a full refund.

Other sellers, including Skip McGrath, find that there are benefits to offering a generous returns policy. Shoppers are more comfortable buying if they know they can change their mind. Also, sellers with a 30 day or longer returns policy can qualify for Top Rated Plus status. This includes a badge in listings and search results, and provides a 10% discount on final value fees.

Note that professional sellers in the UK and Europe are required by law to accept returns, so this is not such a big deal there.

Glitches, bugs and downtime

One of the most frustrating aspects of selling on eBay in modern times, has been the amount of random testing and technical glitches that sellers are having to endure. In fact, many would say that they are seeing more technical problems than ever before. These include:

  1. Downtime, when some or all of the site can’t be accessed
  2. Shoppers being unable to complete purchases
  3. Unexpected changes on the site that come and go

This has led some sellers to wonder what’s happened to eBay’s technical foundations. Why doesn’t the site work as well as it used to? eBay also used to have great customer support for sellers, but over the last few years the quality of that has dropped substantially too.

Unfortunately, there is little that sellers can do when eBay experiences glitches. The only positive news is that they don’t usually last too long.

What does eBay’s future look like?

eBay has undergone massive changes over the last 20 years. We’ve seen a big overhaul to the search engine, a loss of community feel and less control over listings and returns. It doesn’t look likely to stop there either, as eBay moves towards a “product-based shopping experience”.

Is eBay better or worse for these changes? Maybe that’s not the right question. Online shopping is changing so fast that change is inevitable. No-one can stand still, and no-one will make the right choices every time. Perhaps the key is just to be right more often than you are wrong.

What is certain, is that eBay sellers face a very different set of challenges today than they did 20 years ago. Not all sellers will like this new direction but to carry on being successful, it’s crucial that they adapt and try to make the best of the new landscape.

eBay has had its ups and downs, but it has been a huge and growing force in ecommerce for over 20 years. There is little doubt that eBay will continue to be one of the world’s leading ecommerce players for a long time to come.


Michelle Miller
Michelle Miller

Incorrect that TRS sellers get a 10% FVF credit now UNLESS they offer FREE returns. So, those of us that don't offer free returns lost our TRS badge and discount.

Carolyn's Quality Products
Carolyn's Quality Products

I am a small seller - average of 30 orders per day. Free returns has caused me zero problems. In the last 3 months 1 return on a quantity of 6 - buyer kept 1 because she opened it and returned the other 5. I will continue to use free returns.

Vintage Lane
Vintage Lane

At the end of the day eBay is going to side with the buyer 99 % of the time . Always have always will . I've changed return policy to stay in compliance never have had a issue if item mat he's description there shouldn't be a problem.

In reply to michelle

I disagree. My items have matched my description on every false INAD claim and ebay didn't have my back. They said in each situation they could see the returns were clearly remorse but there is nothing they can do and I have to accept the return anyhow.


I was saying that eBay always sides with the buyer I understand about matching description eBay knows half the time if not more it's buyers remorse . Bottom line is the seller takes the brunt of it 99 % of the time. End of the day it's a money thing.


I started selling on eBay in 2005, I was very successful and earned hundreds of pounds every month. Several things happened that killed our business
1. Their advertising campaign brought in new sellers who had no understanding of cost prices, ebay charges and profit, many SKUs we were making 100 to 200% profit were being sold almost at cost.
2. Greed got the better of eBay, seller fees increased from 3% to 10%.
3. We sold a lot of items to the US (from the UK), eBay decided that UK listing would no longer automatically appear on the US eBay site and we would have to pay to list there as well as in the UK.
4. One customer bought 5 items from us and after we had shipped them asked us to vary her order! Even though we explained they had had been shipped she left us 5 negatives. eBay blocked us for one month, a real killer to our business, we survived by building our own website.

We didn't return to eBay after that, still feel cheated.

Trying out eBid, see if it works for me.

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