The mystery of eBay’s disappearing listings

Everyone
loves a good mystery but this is not your classic whodunit murder mystery, it’s
all about a disappearance. It’s also not about who did it, but why and what was
the motive? eBay at the end of May elected to purge a large swath of selected
older listings without warning. Now why would eBay do this? eBay’s stated purpose
was to declutter the site. The message received by sellers was that the site
was being cluttered up with listings that were not generating interest and
making it difficult for other more desirable items to be seen. Listings that
were affected were those posted for a year or longer with no sales and sellers
were advised to not repost without taking additional steps such as modifying the
listing to increase the likelihood of a future sale. Sellers were also informed
that any fees for any of the ended early listings would not be credited! Now,
there is a long list of things wrong with this action but let’s first look at
the motive and try and figure out if it holds water. eBay has made listings
disappear before but previously it was never on this level and the listings
would just vanish with no explanation so sellers would simply chalk it up to a
site glitch. What’s different here is that it’s out in the open with no denials
or apologies. Is there any truth to this statement that the site is too
cluttered? Yes, but is this the sellers fault or eBay’s?

The most
common conspiracy theory behind this move should come as no surprise it’s about
money. Specifically, the cost of server space eBay at any given time has about
a billion active listings available to its pool of about 170 million users.
That’s a lot of listings and you can bet that they have extensive statistics on
the likelihood of a sale and how it decreases over time. Maybe this is eBay’s
not so subtle way of telling sellers your costing us more than this listing is
worth so update or get rid of it. The real problem in my eyes is not so much
that the site is packed with old listings but that the site has not kept up
with the needs and changes to the marketplace. eBay started its existence as a
place to buy and sell for the most part used, vintage or collectable goods but
more recently the site has moved its emphasis towards new merchandise attempting
to mold its platform into a potential rival for Amazon as a destination for new
merchandise. What has not changed in this time is the way sellers list their
merchandise. On eBay, each seller has a
unique listing for every item they sell.
This means if 100 sellers sell identical item, there are 100 unique
listings of the item! What a mess! Unlike
eBay, Amazon has an extensive product catalog that is managed by Universal
Product Code or UPC. Amazon requires
each item to have a unique UPC code.
Sellers list their items by UPC and compete with price and service. So you have one listing and 100s of potential
sellers with their offers. Clean and
simple.

Why doesn’t
eBay implement a product catalog with a single detail page for each unique UPC
with all available sellers of that product listed below like amazon? To me it
seems like a no brainer you want to compete with Amazon and reduce the tens of
millions of identical listings stack them up!

Just as a
comparison, I searched eBay and Amazon for an iphone 5s, on amazon I got 269
results and on eBay over 52,000, that’s a pretty damn big difference. Maybe
this move is already underway and this purge is just a stopgap measure to slow
down the need for server space.

A couple of
years ago, eBay required all listings to have a UPC code. This is a move in the right direction but
still short of practical implementation. Realistically it’s not feasible to do
this for all of their listings, like handcrafted items or those without upc’s
or created before upc’s were invented for the vintage sellers. But if it’s got
a UPC then there should really be no question in my opinion, not only would
this streamline the process of listing for the seller but also make it easier
for the buyer to comparison shop this is a rare win-win scenario. eBay we do
want to see some listings disappear just make sure they are the right ones and
not just the old ones buried in a pile of duplicates.  

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