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Analysis – 2018 eBay Spring Seller Update


Yesterday we published the US and UK eBay Spring Seller Updates, and today we offered up highlights from other international eBay Spring Seller Updates in this post.

In a nutshell, for the U.S. and UK Product Catalog, Guaranteed Delivery (or Premium Delivery) and Returns are the two big topics. For Canada, it is the Product Catalog and Returns, and for Germany, it is the Product Catalog changes that loom large.

If you have been following us, we have been covering these subjects in eBay Open 2017, the Q4 earnings call, and in a presentation by Devin Wenig at the Goldman Sach Technology Conference for investors earlier in the month.

While some of us hoped to hear a bit more about the new Adyen powered eBay payments solution, it also became clear from Wenig’s talk there likely would not be much of news in this seller update as we had hoped.

At this point, it is likely the Summer Update for the U.S. and Canada will include more payment details as only on those two updates did the company make a mention of the upcoming changes.

Product Catalog

Going to eBay seller community forums, some folks call the eBay Product Catalog the Amazonification of eBay. There is a little truth to this, but one has to also look at online eCommerce as a whole.

The first signs of the Product Catalog really launched quietly last year before eBay Open 2017 and initially contributed to improving SEO. From the presentation at eBay Open, it was pretty obvious this was not just about SEO, but also about improving the buyer experience.

As a whole, eBay listings have migrated to be mostly fixed price, many offering the same or similar product with small variations. Even in automotive parts, it was not uncommon to find the same part sold by hundreds of sellers.

So what differentiates one seller from another and how can a buyer better choose the right seller for the same part? Price, Shipping Cost or Shipping Options, Product Location, Handling Time (or Overall Delivery Time), Condition, Return Policy, and Seller Performance (Feedback) probably are the top of the list for most buyers.

In essence, eBay is doing the work for buyers and drilling down the options to the most likely choices a potential buyer would pick. Location is going to play a huge role in this as buyer expectations today require next day delivery in the UK and 2 to 3 day delivery in the U.S.

For the exact same product, the catalog makes a lot of sense.

What About Dissimilar Products?

Here is where the catalog function gets a bit fuzzier.

For some products, specifications such as color, sizes, usage, and others can help drill down the information for buyers. This is where the structured data part comes into play.

If there is not a common product identifier such as UPC or EAN, then the structured data will play a huge role in what items are displayed to buyers.

eBay will also use browsing patterns (ie a buyer looked at Samsung S8 versus Samsung S8+ cases) to help narrow down the initial list of products.

The company could also use factors such as color or other common specifications or metrics with search, browsing, or purchases to narrow down the initial product display.

All of this just shows how important adding structured data is to eBay listings. And this is also the scariest part for many sellers as it makes it harder to manipulate search results.

If a seller sold hundreds of an item, that metric alone may no longer catapult the listing to the front as other factors such as geography, shipping speed, or buyer specific preferences may become more important in search results.

AI and machine learning are changing the way people will buy on eBay and seller will have to look at their product lines to better identify the right items that make sense to list on the platform.

Free and Guarantee Delivery or Premium Delivery (UK)

Blame Amazon, they may have pushed this to the max, but now it is the online retail standard everyone needs to adjust to.

In the UK, this means that some shipping levels offered by Royal Mail are just not acceptable anymore for Premium Shipping.

In the U.S., the Guaranteed Delivery brings geographic challenges that need to be overcome. Amazon uses a network of fulfillment centers to accomplish the de facto standard of 2-day delivery.

eBay either had to invest in warehouses and offer sellers to ship products to different warehouses around the country or choose the option to use product location as a significant indicator of the buying experience.

The company chose item location, and it is probably the best and most fair way to do it.

If they went down the warehouse fulfillment path, only sellers that can afford to spread inventory around the country would be favored, but with using the item location, even smaller sellers with limited inventory get a fair shot to nearby buyers.

Delivery Speed and Tracking are all important factors to buyers today. Any seller that believes those do not matter is living in an eCommerce world at least a decade removed.

“This is a good move from eBay, shipping speed is important in eCommerce and is something that Amazon has done fantastically well which has warped customers expectations.

By rewarding sellers for offering fast and free in a more involved way is the right move as it will see an increase in conversion for those sellers.

Also by insisting on tracked methods, it stands to reason they are hoping to cut down on fraudulent item not received cases by encouraging sellers to offer tracked services.”

Dave Furness, Co-Founder eSellerCafe and Understandinge.com


Returns are the new battleground in eCommerce. Again, sellers can blame Amazon, but the reality is the same as delivery speed. Consumers now expect liberal return policies including free returns in some categories.

eBay simplified the options for returns, and most of them should work for most sellers. This brings a more consistent shopping experience to the platform.

It is important to note that eBay CEO Devin Wenig clearly stated the buyer demographics on eBay are changing. They are younger and are more inclined to purchase products online that an older generation may prefer to buy in a store.

Specifically in areas of fashion products is a liberal return policy is almost a must now. Not only does Amazon offer free returns on many fashion items, but so do many other fashion retailers with an online presence.

The growth in online sales has also brought a few more laws into play. This may be more specific to the UK or European markets, but even if there is no law, competitive pressures require a change in thinking.

“This again is a good move by eBay…keeping it simple by moving to a set of 4 options is simpler for both buyers and sellers alike.

For years unprofessional sellers have been advertising 14 days for returns even though the “Consumer Rights Act” has given consumers 30 days for the right to reject.

This new minimum brings eBay in line with the word of the law and therefore makes it a better experience for buyers, and offers them piece of mind.”

Dave Furness, Co-Founder eSellerCafe and Understandinge.com

Winners and Losers

Anytime there is change there will be winners and losers. But agile eCommerce sellers will find a way to win at this if they adjust their business to the policies.

This may require rethinking the product mix offered on eBay. It may require different stocking levels to deal with the reality some products may not sell as much.

It could also bring surprises that some slow moving product all of a sudden show strength because of the way the catalog filters them to buyers.

For 2018, eBay sellers need to continuously analyze their sales data and make stocking and listing changes as necessary.

The list and forget it mentality that some sellers have will not succeed in most cases. Actually, those are the sellers that may end up on the losing end of the changes.

Another group that may lose out are the cheap Chinese imports that often used subsidized shipping from China.

In theory, a buyer that has a local purchase pattern is going to be shown more local options, thereby out of country items may not show up on the top of the search page.

Sellers have three main points of homework to do now:

  1. Add every structured data detail requested by eBay and then add custom ones. Monitor category updates as eBay continues to roll out item specifics (structured data) updates and make sure all your listings use them.
  2. Improve listings with new images for better image recognition results as Image Search expands. While Image Search was not really mentioned in this release, Image Search uses structured data and the clearer your pictures, the better the chance they may be included as a top result.
  3. Watch sales data for spikes and losses in product sales. During this change, there is a higher likelihood of changes in product sales. Changing the product mix may be necessary to improve sales.
  4. Eliminate products that have high returns, high customer satisfaction or other negatives. Too many sellers carry products that do not make any money or create too many problems. Simply the product selection to those products that make sense for your business to flourish. Don’t try to offer everything just because you think you need to.

Final Word of Caution/Wisdom

Don’t get too excited what other sellers say on forums and community boards.

Some sellers complain about everything, and they have done so for ten more years after every seller update.

They may have a point that these policy changes may impact them more negatively. But at the same time, their only argument is that eBay shouldn’t change.

The reality is eCommerce is evolving, and eBay has to change with the times. For some sellers with unique products, these changes may not impact them much or at all. For others that compete in crowded categories, it will mean making changes.

And don’t fall into the trap of believing that other marketplaces are not changing. Etsy in their Q4 earnings call hinted at more structured data and adding policy updates or changes that are more in line with the world of eCommerce.

The same will be true for Bonanza, and others. The people that run these marketplaces know what is happening in the eCommerce world and have to make changes as they fit within their business models.

These major changes to eBay will NOT KILL EBAY! That is a statement you can find from some sellers after almost every update. And yet despite the gloom and doom predictions by some, the company has increased its numbers of buyers and sellers.

In the U.S. update, eBay even added a new Enterprise Level Store subscription that brings 100,000 zero listing fee products as one of its benefits. There must be a market for this, otherwise, they wouldn’t have added it as an option.

By no means are we trying to gloss over the fact there will be some pain points for some sellers in some categories. But with changes come opportunities and proactive sellers will find those opportunities, while dormant sellers will stand still and eventually go away.

As a seller, you have to decide if you want to be proactive or dormant. But your actions today may define your future in eCommerce tomorrow.

Do you have any thoughts about eBay’s Spring Seller Updates and how it may impact your business? Head over to our Facebook Discussion Group or use the comments section below.

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