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The mystery of eBay’s disappearing listings

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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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