Archive | October, 2009

The Great October USPS Track and Confirm Debacle

24 Oct

You may also be interested in The Limitations of USPS Delivery Confirmation and The Perils of International Shipping With eBay and Paypal – A Guide to Successful Shipping Practices

I have been a staunch advocate for the United States Postal Service ever since I was born in 1985.  My parents lament every Chanukah that my first sentence wasn’t “I love you, Mom and Dad,” but, “If it fits, it ships.”  In my opinion, the mail system can give the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canyon, or Dippin’ Dots a run for their money as the eighth Wonder of the World.  On what other planet can I put a four pound pair of shoes in a box, print out a label online with the weight mismarked as one pound so I pay less than $5, throw the box outside, tell the postman (or woman) vaguely where to find it, and have it delivered two days later to pretty much anywhere in the United States?  Not more than three I bet.  Plus, USPS loses like 10 billion dollars a year so I know I’m getting a great deal.

Unfortunatley, October has been a particularly tumultuous month for the Postal Service as they wrestle with whose lives will be ruined and whose lives will just be slightly inconvenienced by the closure of various Post Office stations and branches around the country (Please keep Factoria Mall open, thanks).  For those of us who don’t necessarily care who gets fired, the Great October USPS Track and Confirm Debacle (copyright pending) has been an even bigger inconvenience.

As first reported here on October 8th , domestic USPS Priority Mail labels printed at USPS.com were returning the incorrect Delivery Confirmation number on every single label for every single customer for three weeks (hi sonic).  On top of that, USPS.com was down in its entirety for half of Sunday October 18th and USPS Track and Confirm was down intermittently for more than 48 hours between October 18th and 20th.  Let me just repeat this so I know we’re on the same page.  Every single label printed at USPS.com for three weeks listed the wrong Delivery Confirmation number after checkout.  For those of you who would like to remind me that there are hungry kids in China or I should be more concerned with the declining furry lemur population, let me just tell you that this month’s problems with USPS Delivery Confirmation rivals the civil unrest in Madagascar in my book.

People on eBay go nuts for ‘tracking numbers’.  Over the last three weeks, many professional and casual eBay sellers alike have been giving their buyers the wrong “tracking number” because USPS in turn gave them the wrong number.  As many of you are aware, “shipping time” and “communication” ratings on eBay greatly and directly affect a seller’s ability not only to list and sell items, but also the amount paid to eBay in seller fees.  This month’s problems with USPS Track and Confirm could potentially cost sellers millions of dollars in additional fees and huge losses in sales if just one or two of a seller’s buyers are confused by their “tracking number” saying that “There is no record of your item.”  You can’t blame buyers for being confused either, as the Delivery Confirmation number clearly states its bogus on the USPS.com website.  Every single Delivery Confirmation number on every single domestic Priority label printed at USPS.com appeared to be bogus for three entire weeks, confusing countless thousands of people.  Does this seem like a debacle yet?

On top of problems with buyers, I have to prove to PayPal that I deliver what I’m selling or PayPal will refund the buyer if they say they “didn’t receive the item.”  At the same time, if a buyer returns an item to me, they also have to prove to PayPal that I received it back.  All of this was completely impossible when USPS was returning the wrong Delivery Confirmation number.  I had several buyers input the Delivery Confirmation number that they received from USPS.com only to be denied refunds by PayPal because the number returned nothing but “There is no record of this item.”  I won’t be complaining about that since I was able to afford beer this week because of it, but I think you get the idea that this problem cost lots of people a lot of money.  I will whine about the dozens of buyers who were pestering me for the “right tracking number” or accusing me of “not shipping the item” though.  It was annoying.

I know what you’re thinking though; “Josh, this really is a fantastic website, but debacle is a little harsh and this rant is unnecessarily wrong.”  Well naysayer, USPS grossly mishandled this from the start.  First of all, the problem and its solution were obvious from the first minute of the first day.  USPS changed their algorithm from a 20 digit Delivery Confirmation number to a 22 digit Delivery Confirmation number.  No big deal, except no one decided to update the “system” with that information for three freaking weeks.  I failed Computer Science in high school which is why I sell crap on eBay in the first place, but this couldn’t be a difficult problem to fix.  Since we figured out that the numbers “94″ were missing from the beginning of every Delivery Confirmation number, why not program Track and Confirm to automatically add those numbers in front of any number that starts with 0505 or whatever other numbers were identified as having this problem?  Why not add a warning screen with this information when someone prints a domestic label with Delivery Confirmation or when a user logs in?  Why not announce it on the USPS “blog” or the USPS.com website?  The only thing I can figure out is that those in charge of the Postal Service didn’t realize how big of a problem this was, simply didn’t care, or actually are as incompetent as so many purport them to be.

Like many people, on October 7th I emailed USPS at their desired address and inquired about the problem.  They assured me my problem was important and I should receive a response within 48 hours.  I received no response until this morning, approximately 384 hours later.  ECustomerCare National (ECCADUSER@usps.gov) sent me the following:

Dear Unfortunate Postal Service Customer Whom We Care “Very” Little About,

Thank you for contacting the United States Postal Service.  I understand that you have not been able to track your Priority Mail Delivery Confirmation items, since 9/30/2009.

I do apologize for the inconvenience this has caused.  When using Click-N-Ship tracking number, use usps.com to track the item, please add two digits “94″ to the beginning of the label ID. This workaround will provide tracking information on the label.

Please accept our sincere apology for any inconvenience this matter may have caused you.

REALLY USPS??!!!  REALLY??????

As one of the Post Office’s best customers (or worst I guess since they lose more money on me than most people????????)? I expect a more properly, better worded punctuation and, sentence structure with words and, punctuation.  In addition to this babble, I received the following email to my account registered with USPS (with editorial comments of what was going through my head while I read it):

Dear Customer We Still Don’t Care Much About(YOU CAN SAY THAT AGAIN),

Due to a technical issue (YOU CAN SAY THAT AGAIN), you may (I DID IDIOT CHECK THE 100K I’VE SPENT ON POSTAGE THIS YEAR) have experienced difficulty receiving Track & Confirm data for Click-N-Ship domestic Priority Mail labels printed between Thursday, October 1st, 2009 and Tuesday, October 20th, 2009(ACTUALLY I DIDN’T HAVE ANY PROBLEM RECEIVING IT JUST WHAT I RECEIVED WAS COMPLETELY WRONG FOR LIKE A !@#$ing MONTH MORONS MORONS MORONS).

If (AGAIN I DID) you generated a domestic Priority Mail label on Click-N-Ship within the indicated timeframe and have had difficulty with obtaining Track & Confirm data from USPS.com, we apologize for the inconvenience (I DON’T FEEL LIKE THIS IS A SINCERE APOLOGY). If you would still like to obtain Track & Confirm data for a domestic Priority Mail label printed between the dates indicated above, please follow the instructions below:

In the Track & Confirm field on usps.com, please add two (2) additional digits, “94″, to the left most position of the twenty (20) digit tracking/label number. For example, if the tracking/label # is 0550 1699 3200 0006 9161, the tracking/label # necessary to receive tracking data would be 940550 1699 3200 0006 9161 (IF YOU HAD SIMPLY VISITED THE #37 MOST POPULAR ONLINE WORDPRESS BLOG WITH AUCTION IN THE URL THEN YOU WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WEEKS AGO).

Additionally, your domestic Priority Mail tracking number(s) for labels printed within the date range above will be automatically corrected Thursday, October 22nd, 2009, and available in your Shipping History. Please feel free to visit www.usps.com/clicknship (OHHHHHHHHH REEEEEEAAAALLLLY).

Once again, we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused, and we sincerely appreciate your business(OK NOW IT’S SINCERE FINALLY).

Thank you,

USPS Click-N-Ship Team

OVER THREE WEEKS TO COME UP WITH THIS LITTLE GEM?

The Postal Service’s failure to fix this problem in a reasonable amount of time is inexcusable.  Even more inexcusable than their inability to fix the problem is their lack of communication about it.  USPS’s problems this month cost me and a whole lot of other people a whole lot of money.  I can’t tell you how much because eBay still won’t tell me what ratings buyers are leaving (lol) or why they feel that way, but I’m sure ratings declined, fee discounts were erased, and listings were bured in search.   Even now, if the originally returned Delivery Confirmation number is inputted into Track and Confirm, it will still return “There is no record of this item.”  USPS may now return the correct Delivery Confirmation number, but it doesn’t make up for all the wrong that’s occured due to their inability to act or communicate.

That concludes my coverage of the Great October USPS Track and Confirm Debacle (copyright pending).  Good luck editing all those Delivery Confirmation numbers in PayPal and trying to convince your customers with an IQ of one that they need to put a “94″ before the number they previously received to make it work.

Until next time, Josh

If you found this guide helpful, check out the site index by clicking here for 75+ more guides including how to get around eBay selling limits, enabling PayPal’s merchant rate to save money on fees, and raising your auction and fixed price visibility in best match search.

USPS Delivery Confirmation Labels Erroneously Returning “There Is No Record of This Item”

8 Oct

There’s an odd glitch when printing Priority Mail labels online at USPS.com. Beginning the evening of September 30, 2009 (Possibly October 1 Eastern Time which would make sense), USPS changed the prefix of its Delivery Confirmation numbers from 0103 8555 **** **** to 0550 3699 **** **** where * represents the rest of the numbers. When I check to see if any of these packages with the 0550 3699 **** **** Delivery Confirmation number have been delivered, USPS says “There is no record of this item” for every single package shipped since September 30th. I’ve been a little concerned over the past week that none of my packages have been delivered. Even more worrying is the fact that PayPal may think that I haven’t been shipping any items and will shut me down or buyers will think I haven’t shipped the item at all. Of course, without online verifiable proof that the item has been delivered, I would lose any PayPal dispute for Item Not Received which could potentially mean thousands of dollars in losses if buyers started to catch on. Several buyers on eBay have contacted me and asked for the “correct” Delivery Confirmation number and all I can tell them is that there’s some glitch with USPS Delivery Confirmation and their item has in fact shipped as indicated in the email generated by USPS and PayPal.

Well, I figured out that if you put “94″ before the 0505 3699 **** **** Delivery Confirmation number that USPS generates then USPS will return the correct Delivery Confirmation information online. For example, if the number USPS gives you is 0550 3699 3000 0110 1234 then simply put a “94″ before it to get 94 0550 3699 3000 0110 1234. This new number will generate the correct shipment information and your item should show up as it did with the 0103 8555 **** **** numbers.

Hopefully the United States Postal Service will get its act together here and fix this glitch as soon as possible. I’ve called and emailed and gotten nowhere as usual so only time will tell. Until then, if a buyer asks about the status of their order tell them to put a “94″ before the number they received and track it that way. If possible, print labels through PayPal, Stamps.com, or other means until USPS fixes the problem with labels printed at USPS.com.

How to Fund PayPal Account With Cash Via MoneyPak – No Credit Card or Bank Account Required

7 Oct

If you would just like to read my pros, cons, thoughts, and alternatives to the MoneyPak please skip down to “Conclusion” at the end of this guide.

Gibberish Introduction / Buying the Card

There’s usually only one kind of email from PayPal I like to get – “Instant Payment Received.”  Actually, I miss the days when they included “Notification” in the subject, but I digress.  Yesterday, I received an email with an intriguing subject, “New! Add money to your PayPal account with MoneyPak” that looked something like this:

PayPal MoneyPak Email

It’s now possible to fund a PayPal account using nothing but cold hard cash.  As your trusted Chief Correspondent (Think CNN’s Christiane Amanpour with bombs falling over Baghdad in the background), I took it upon myself to head down to the local Wal-Mart and check this MoneyPak out myself.   Luckily, my bullet proof vest just came back from the cleaners (blood, should have seen the other guy) so I wouldn’t necessarily be risking my life.  Plus, I needed an inflatable to add to my collection and Wal-Mart also happens to be wedged between Check into Cash and the Liquor Store so either way we’re set.  If only the Liquor Store took PayPal (I know, I know, PayPal Debit, but work with me here).

Inflatable Pirate Ship

Anyway, the idea behind this whole MoneyPak thing is basically that you go to the store, find the aisle where they keep all the good gift cards like Red Lobster and Jack Daniels and look for the “Green Dot” MoneyPak card.  Simply take the card to the register along with your cash or credit, tell the cashier how much you’d like to add to the card (Minimum $20 Maximum $500), pay the $4.95 service fee, and away you go.  Next, bring the card home, enter the MoneyPak number into PayPal, and the money will magically be transferred from your MoneyPak to your PayPal account.

The card looks like this:

MoneyPak Green Dot Front

MoneyPak Green Dot Back Card

Your receipt will show the amount you put on the card along with the service fee.  The email says “$4.95 or less,” but I don’t think you’re going to find it for anything less than $4.95 since it’s printed right on the card.

Green Dot Money Pack Receipt Service Fee

Transfering the Money From MoneyPak to PayPal via Magic

Transferring the money from the MoneyPak to your PayPal account is a fairly easy process.  To find out just how easy it would be I went ahead and opened a new Personal “Buying Only” PayPal account.  After the account is created PayPal wants you to add a credit card or bank account, but it is possible to skip this step and head right to the good stuff.

PayPal Account Creation

Next, or if you already have a PayPal account, click “Add Funds” at the top.

PayPal Account Screen New

This will take you to a screen with a pretty little green “MoneyPak” icon.  Click it.

PayPal Add Cash Funds

If you have questions about MoneyPak or want more information, I suggest clicking the “Learn More” button.

Next, you enter the 14 digit number that you scratched off of the bottom of the green MoneyPak card.

PayPal MoneyPak

The following screen is where you decide how much of your MoneyPak you want to transfer to PayPal.  Remember, after 90 days your MoneyPak is charged a monthly fee of $4.95 per month so you’ll want to keep track of the money on it and disburse it within the 90 days.  It took about two minutes after clicking “Fund Account” for the next page to load so be patient and don’t click “Fund Account” again if you get impatient as it might screw up the funding.

MoneyPak

The confirmation page is straightforward and should reflect your previous funding choices.

PayPal MoneyPak Confirmation

Notice though, that your yearly funding limit is $250 per year.  Mouse over the question mark and you’ll see that you have to give MoneyPak your name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number in order to raise the funding limit.  I’ll cover this more in the conclusion of this guide.

MoneyPak Paypal Social Security Number

Clicking “Return to PayPal Account” should bring you back to your main account page with your new balance.  It took more than four minutes for MoneyPak to redirect me to the PayPal website though, which seems excessive.  I was about to give up when it finally loaded, so be patient as you might have to give it a few minutes.  Hopefully, as the relationship between PayPal and MoneyPak matures things will speed up.

PayPal MoneyPak Amount

Your account should show your new balance as well as a payment from “Green Dot MoneyPak” for the amount sent.  You should also receive an email with the funding information.

That’s about it.  It may take several minutes for MoneyPak to communicate with PayPal throughout the process, but overall the integration is seamless and it should be easy for most users to figure it out without much heartache. Plus, you have me holding your hand and I demand nothing less than success.

Conclusion

Pros: If you have absolutely no access to a credit card or bank account or anyone with a credit card or a bank account then MoneyPak may be your only option to use PayPal online.  It’s a somewhat convenient way to fund a PayPal account, especially if you plan ahead or are going to the store anyway.  If you’re in a hurry and can’t wait for an e-check to clear or funds to transfer from your bank account to PayPal then the MoneyPak is a faster option.  It can be used to pay for items on eBay.  Integration with PayPal is simple.  The $4.95 service fee isn’t ludicrous.

Cons: If you don’t have a bank account or credit card added to your PayPal account then you have no way to confirm your address.  Most retailers that accept PayPal will require a confirmed address, which means you won’t be able to use your cash-only account to pay with PayPal on most websites.  Most sellers outside of eBay also require a confirmed address.  To prevent money laundering, if you want to fund your PayPal account with more than $250 per year you will have to provide MoneyPak/PayPal with your name, address, birth date and Social Security number.  After 90 days, your MoneyPak balance will decrease $4.95 per month, or $60 per year, which means you will want to disperse your MoneyPak funds as soon as you add them.  PayPal advertises that it’s the “safest way to pay,” but that is only true when you use a credit card to pay and even then there are still inherent problems with PayPal’s dispute resolution.  When you use cash to fund your PayPal account, you are relying on PayPal to retrieve your funds if a problem arises.  It may be a hassle to find and go get a card to purchase.  The service fee of $4.95 is higher than most other account funding options.

Alternatives: Funding your PayPal account with a bank account is free and adding and paying with a credit card is the safest way to use PayPal online because of the added protection most credit cards may provide.  Debit cards also work on PayPal.  If you do not have access to any of these, but know someone who is willing to let you use their credit/debit card, you can purchase a Simon Gift Card or Simon Gift Account. To learn how to do it step by step see my guide, Verify and Lift Limit on PayPal Account Without Credit Card or Social Security Number With Simon.  Simon Gift Accounts only cost $2 and you can verify your PayPal account and confirm your address by using it.  You can then use it to pay for whatever you want just as you would use a regular credit card.  Remember though, that Simon cards offer no chargeback protection so you will want to be extra careful when deciding what to purchase and from whom.

In Conclusion:  The Green Dot MoneyPak is an interesting new option for funding PayPal accounts.  I wouldn’t recommend it since there are so many other options, but if cash is really your only option and you find yourself in a situation where you have to use PayPal then this may be it.  Just be aware of the restrictions on a cash-only Personal PayPal account, the cost of the card, and the lack of protection if something goes wrong.

EBay Search Visibility Report and Best Match Analysis Broken, Worthless

4 Oct

EBay has introduced the (not so) much heralded “Search Visibility Report” as part of the new Seller Dashboard update.  To access it, simply go to “My eBay,” mouse over “Account,” Click “Seller Dashboard” and look on the far left for “Search Visibility Analysis” under “Reports. 

EBay Seller Dashboard October Update

The report is supposed to give you insight into how eBay calculates your listing placement in Best Match search.  You can also type in various keywords to find out what page your listing will show up on. When it was first announced it sounded like it would be a helpful tool.  Unfortunately, like all new things eBay, at best it doesn’t work and at worst the information it provides is completely worthless.

One of my favorite guides of all time is How to Raise Your Listing and Gain More Visibility in eBay Best Match Search.  Follow these steps and you would find your listing at the top of search results every time (pending you follow the other 3,000 pages of advice on this website).  As part of the October update, eBay is mysteriously tweaking the “Best Match” algorithm.  For one reason or another, eBay won’t tell anyone how it decides what listings go where or what exactly you can do to raise your listing in search results.  Time will tell what changes they’ve made as sellers try to adapt, and in the process lose money on listings that are never seen by anyone other than their mother.

Let’s have a look at a Fixed Price listing that has been relisted after the first 5 items sold out. To run your own report, simply find the item number of a current listing and input it into the report creation box or select a category to run a report on all of the listings in that category:

EBay Search Visibility Report

Ok..we know the price and we know whether or not we’ve set free shipping so that isn’t much help.  If we click the little question mark icon next to each topic we get a little explanation of what eBay may or may not be thinking.  Next to “Free Shipping Boost” it says:

“If you offer free shipping you may be raised in search results. However, this boost does not apply to all listings or all categories.”

Cryptic as usual.  Luckily our listing in Clothing gets a boost.  Fair enough – we knew offering free shipping previously gave a huge boost in search results.

Next up is “Sales/ Impressions” with the explanation:

“The ratio of sales to the number of times the listing has been displayed to members in search results (using the midpoint of the impression range). This is a measure of how relevant members perceive the listing is to their search.”

This is where things get a little bizarre.  First of all, if all of the buyer’s search terms aren’t in your item’s title then the listing won’t show up at all. For example, if your title is “Abercrombie Jacket” and a potential bidder searches for “Women’s Abercrombie Jacket” then your listing won’t show up in their search results even if what you’re selling is precisely a women’s Abercrombie jacket.  Conversely, if a bidder searches for “Women’s Abercrombie Coat” and your title is “Women’s Abercrombie $250 Wool Parka Jacket,” then your item won’t show in the buyer’s search results even if you’re selling precisely what the buyer is actually searching for.  Occasionally all of the keywords don’t necessarily need to be present though, which is also a bit contradictory (sorry, but things like this aren’t my fault).  For example, if you run a search for “Nintendo Wii,” eBay will return listings that do not have “Nintendo” in the title.  Don’t ask me how or why eBay makes this distinction especially because it makes it easier for sellers to stick “Wii” in items that have nothing to do with the Wii.

Ideally, sellers want their listings to show up as often as possible in order to reach as many bidders as possible.  There has always been a fine line between writing a “good” title and “keyword spamming.”  Keyword spamming occurs when a seller lists a bunch of keywords in their title that have nothing to do with what they’re actually selling.  For example, if I was selling a broken first generation IPOD I might write my title as “IPOD 30 60 80 120GB CLASSIC NANO TOUCH IPHONE ZUNE CASE HD.”  Clearly, I am using a bunch of keywords that have nothing to do with the actual item in order to get as many views as possible.  This has always been against eBay policy and if I did something like this I could look forward to getting the listing removed along with a matching policy violation.  What eBay appears to be doing here is make it so keyword spamming is counterproductive, at least as far as placement in Best Match search. In addition, eBay appears to be penalizing sellers for using titles that yield the highest number of relevant search impressions unless those impressions translate into sales.

Thanks to 21st century data collection, eBay knows how often your listing shows up in buyer’s search results.  What we don’t know is whether or not the bidder actually ever makes it to the listing.  If my item is one of 32,981 listings and it appears on page 175 of search results does eBay count it as an impression?  If the buyer purchases the very first item in search results and doesn’t even notice mine is cheaper, better quality, and ships faster, does eBay still count it as an impression?  Is it my fault that bidders search for irrelevant terms?  Is it my fault no one even trusts anyone on eBay anymore and no one is buying?  Is it my fault Best Match search is based on a stupid algorithm in the first place?  What is a “good” Sales/Impression ratio? Is it a set percentage in each category or some overall number? How important is this information?  Who knows!

The larger problem here is that the information listed in the report is inaccurate and as you run reports on your own listings you will notice the same thing. The listing used in this example has five original sales and three sales from the current listing, for a total of eight. The report doesn’t reflect these sales; nor does it reflect the past page impressions or clicks. On several of my other relisted Fixed Price listings the past sales aren’t noted at all. One of those listings also has five previous sales and three current sales and the sales are listed at two which isn’t true about the past listing or even the current listing! It’s unclear whether eBay uses this same information to actually place listings in Best Match search, but we have to assume eBay isn’t purposefully feeding us bogus information (????) If eBay isn’t even using valid sales data then how can Best Match Search work successfully?

Next up is “Seller Performance.”  You may have noticed on your Seller Dashboard that there is no longer a “Raised, Standard, and Lowered” search standing.  That’s because your Seller Performance no longer raises your items in search standing unless you’re a Top Seller.  At this time I’m not sure if you’ll be lowered if you aren’t “Above Standard” because I don’t have any accounts like that currently, but maybe I’ll try to lower one for research purposes.  I don’t recommend buying any tapered shirts from User ID AClockWorkOrange for the next 7-10 days.  How much does Top-Seller status raise your listings you ask?  We don’t know because eBay doesn’t say.

The problem with only raising listings from Top-Sellers is that there are plenty of great sellers who for one reason or another are excluded from “Top-Seller” status.  Many of these sellers simply had one bad buyer who bought six items and left six “one” ratings and ruined the seller’s star rating percentage.  Others have received bogus listing violations or don’t have the required 100 transactions.  Either way, no fee discounts or preferential search standing for the great majority of sellers on eBay is not the motivation many sellers need to offer this so-called “excellent customer service” that all sellers are supposed to strive for. Many deserving sellers have been skipped over while other sellers are awarded Top-Seller status with hundreds of negative feedback and a history of shifty selling practices. When eBay ran their free shipping promotion and gave a discount to sellers who offered free shipping thousands of sellers fell in line and offered free shipping. Now that eBay has discontinued that promotion there is less motivation to offer free or even reasonable shipping.

“Unique Click-Throughs” is up next, defined as “The number of clicks on a listing from search results. Duplicate clicks are not counted.”  This is pretty straight forward but it doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know.  I assume that the hits on your item don’t matter much in Best Match because it’s supposedly based on sales.  Nonetheless, in case you didn’t want to click on an individual item to check the hits counter you can see those hits here too.

Next up is another percentage – “Unique Click-Through Rate.”  Is it starting to seem like some intern is trying to show off what they learned in remedial mathematics to anyone else?

“The ratio of click-throughs to the number of times the listing has been displayed to members in search results (using the midpoint of the impression range). This may indicate your listing’s appeal in search results.”  Ok…….I guess.  It may tell us something or it may not tell us something.  EBay may use this number to decide where to put your livelihood or it may not.  Thanks report!

We know the number of watchers and the number of sales.  The final “Other Factor” is “The percentage of unique click-throughs resulting in sales. This is an indicator of your item page’s effectiveness.”  We could figure this out ourselves if we wanted to by simply dividing sales and page views.  Nonetheless, the brains behind eBay have calculated it for us. All you have to is pay 15% of your revenue.

Not exactly the most helpful report I’ve ever seen.  From the looks of it, the bullets listed under “Best Match Factors” would obviously be the most important.  I’m not sure what price has to do with it since eBay couldn’t possibly figure out if what you’re selling is a “good” price or not.  Free shipping seems to still give a solid boost, but it’s unclear how much.  The sales/impressions as a major factor is interesting because it’s unclear exactly what a seller could do to improve that percentage other than sell for a loss or write nothing in the item title other than a specific model number or something. Even a specific item title will have general terms like “camera” or a common brand name like “Canon.”

So called “Top-Sellers” seem to get a serious boost in search standing.  For example, a search for “Canon EOS” results in 15 of the top 25 items from Top-Sellers.  Of those 15, nine offer free shipping.  A search for “Nintendo Wii” returns only four of the top 25 items from Top-Sellers.  Fifteen of the first 25 results offer free shipping.  Interestingly, the first item listed was item 330364763012, or “Dirt 2 (Nintendo Wii) – Codemasters – BRAND NEW.”  The item ships for $3 and there is no actual picture of the item or any original content or any mention of selling terms or conditions.  Odd search returns like this make me wonder how the eBay algorithm actually works.  Sure, the item is probably fine, but why does eBay assume that some random video game is what I’m really searching for and what is so special about this item in particular that it’s listed first?  Even stranger, Item 400075816190, or “Major Minor’s Majestic March (Wii)” was also returned on the first page.  First of all, the title does not include the “Nintendo” that I searched for.  Second, the game is used, horribly reviewed, the seller doesn’t accept returns, the listing only has 14 views, and shipping is a ridiculous $9+.  The bidder could have purchased the game brand new from Amazon for 92 cents more.  Why on earth is that item listed on the first page of search results?  It appears that eBay is currently favoring auctions based on ending time, rather than any kind of algorithm.  If you look at a page of search results you’ll notice that they’re mostly in order of ending time with a few Buy It Now listings from Top-Sellers thrown in.  It’s unclear if this will continue or if we’re simply between when the new Best Match algorithm will be implemented and the old algorithm will be phased out. Taking away a set “Raised, Standard, or Lowered” search standing may actually level the playing field for most as the great majority of sellers do not qualify to be Top-Sellers.

The goal of Best Match search is to bring the cheapest, most relevant products from the best sellers to the top of search results so buyers can have the best eBay experience possible.  Unfortunately, eBay cannot possibly figure out who the real “top” sellers are or what items buyers are actually searching for with some automated algorithm.  As evident by our bizarre “Nintendo Wii” search, eBay returns items that are not in demand from sellers with less than stellar feedback, ridiculously high shipping charges and no returns.  At this point, it doesn’t seem like eBay has made any meaningful changes to Best Match search that actually translates into a better shopping experience for the buyer. For sellers, the added confusion will simply make it more difficult to write successful listings and convert sales.  The new Visibility Report is inaccurate and unhelpful.  Overall, I am not impressed.