An Open Letter to eBay

My Favorite Auction Site

October 2006

I. It's Not Macy's

One thing I have always loved about eBay is that it's like the world's largest garage sale. It's wonderful to see so many individuals buying and selling, well, just anything. eBay proves beyond any doubt that one seller's junk is another buyer's treasure.

Recently, eBay's front page is plastered with colorful ads that look straight out of fashion magazines. These are obviously the wares of on-line mass-retailers. However there are already a very large number of sites on the internet available to purchase goods from ordinary retailers, and a large number of sites available for comparison shopping (not to mention physical storefronts).

The vast majority of these sellers use reserve prices or buy-it-now prices set a few dollars above the opening bid. Clearly there's not going to be any super deals to be found here. In reality, they are simply selling goods at a fixed price. So what's the point? eBay has entered into an extremely crowded space, to which it brings nothing new, at the expense of what is unique to eBay's business.

I can imagine a response to this; eBay is an open market and the money coming into eBay from the sales of full-blown retailers is as good as anyone else's. I hope eBay will be cautious about this. An email inbox is open to whomever sends email to that address, but that doesn't mean we don't object to spam.

Major retailers spoil eBay. They do not offer real bargains, they do not fit their payment and checkout systems into eBay's framework, and they are frequently unresponsive to email. It's like spam at a flea market.

II. Get With The Program

One of the trends on eBay most annoying to regular eBay buyers is the ever increasing tendency of sellers to evade, ignore and otherwise not participate in eBay itself. eBay has done a great deal of work to make buying and selling easy from posting an auction, watching it's progress, paying for items and even paying for postage.

It's been annoying enough to encounter sellers not using PayPal, but there are now sellers who refuse to do anything at all through eBay. There are sellers who will not even respond to eBay messages. Sellers need to realize that buyers will, given the opportunity, avoid buying through third parties that will not integrate with the eBay checkout. Every time, as a buyer, I have to enter my shipping address an extra time, or even worse, create yet another account on some other website, I make a note never to buy from that vendor again.

There was an improvement made recently where eBay began listing the shipping amount in search results. This allows buyers to avoid sellers that have not fully filled out their auction information with the postage. That was a good start. As a further service to buyers, eBay needs to create a way for buyer to block selected sellers from their search results and category listings. eBay, please put the buyer first.

III. Searching

There are some excellent search engines out there on the internet. eBay's is not one of them. Yes it's true that complicated searches using words included and words not included can be done. It is also true that criteria regarding time remaining, item location and payment methods can be included. But creating a search that will really narrow down to what I am looking for is difficult. Documentation is not readily available. And the specific ins and outs of it are frankly more than many potential eBay buyers are interested in uncovering and learning. In addition, there are things that, as far as I know, can't be done, like "any of these words" verses "all of these words".

The search engine will be most users first eBay experience. Shouldn't it be really, really good? Shouldn't it be simple to use and take users right where they want, without the clutter of "featured items" that have simply paid eBay to be there?

There are some excellent search engines around that have proved what a good system can do. And that is not the business eBay is in. eBay really should consider partnering with a major search company to index their site. Features such as the ability to filter out certain sellers and categories, filtering identical items, "all these" or "any of these" conditions are badly needed.

There's a repeating theme developing here. Put the buyer first.

IV. It's the Web Stupid

Of all the things I'd really like to let eBay know, there's one that really stands out as critical to the site continuing on top of the auction heap: website performance. They can create all new "features" to nickel and dime us for, all new "services" and all the fancy graphics they want, and none of it makes any difference if the website simple doesn't work. I wish eBay would severely restrict all development of new ways to spam buyers with "bold" and "featured items" and "two line titles" until they where sure, and I mean dead sure, that the website itself performed perfectly all the time, and every time.

Not too long ago, eBay did reduce and simplify the number of images on their pages. This was a positive step. However, the fact remains that all the flashy graphics and logos add absolutely nothing to the buyers' experience, and add nothing to the site's ease of use, while serving to create longer page load times and opportunities for errors.

IIS server errors are also quite common. I can be browsing along, go to make a bid, and find out all I'm going to get in IIS page not found errors. Various combinations of logging out and back in, and clearing cache and cookies restores the functionality - sometimes. Other times, it doesn't and I'm simply done for the day. At other times certain items will become unviewable, or even parts of a page. I've also seen pages become malformed in various ways when sections of HTML are not transmitted for whatever reason. IIS? Please eBay, it's 2006. It's long past time to switch to some enterprise-grade server software.

October 2006

Memo to eBay, Part Two...

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