Archive | November, 2009

EBay Search Broken Like Really Broken Not A Euphemism

22 Nov

Took the day off today.  Not by choice, mind you, but because eBay was broken and I don’t have anything to do other than tell people in Cyprus I really don’t ship via $1 horse and carriage.  In this case, I don’t mean broken like not conforming to what I want as I have in the past.  I mean broken like a dozen armless UPS employees decided to play “Super Bowl” with your Xbox 360 packaged in nothing but newspaper and prayer.  Normally I reserve Saturdays for playing with my IP address, buying stuff from my competitors, asking them how much shipping is to Cyprus via horse and carriage, and then leaving negative feedback.  I couldn’t even do that today though because every search I tried resulted in either zero matches or a message stating the “function” I requested was temporarily down.  At first I thought maybe all those listings I reported for bogus reasons had actually been taken down, but when a search for “expired pretzels” didn’t result in any hits I knew something was wrong.  I did what I always do when I think there’s a problem and called my mother.  She confirmed that her search for “Beanie Baby” resulted in an error and we agreed that it was unlikely no one was selling Beanies this week.  I followed up by doing what I always do and went to the internet to try to find doomsdaymongerers complaining about similar problems.

The best part of being a faceless eBay whiner with a clever URL is that there are so many people just like me.  Feels like I’m part of a real life family because we all love to complain about the same things so much we’re basically friends, if not lovers.  Today the internet was truly ablaze with hate because eBay’s own search function was not functioning properly, among various other things.

Most people found it impossible to search for items using eBay’s search on November 20th, starting around 11am in the morning.  No matter what the user searched for, they would be greeted with either an error or zero search results.  This made it impossible for buyers to purchase or bid on items they weren’t previously watching or found via a method other than eBay’s search, like Google or via magic.  EBay made an announcement acknowledging the problems at 1:37pm on the System Announcements Board stating:

Due to errors in some of our backend systems, members may be seeing different errors in Search. This could be that “We were unable to run the search results you entered. Please try again in a few minutes” or a blank page, or simply the browser being unable to display the page.

This is also affecting the ability to access eBay Stores through search directly, and sometimes from the store URL.

Please note that we are working as quickly as possible to get this resolved. Thank you for your patience as we continue to work to resolve this.

The problems continued throughout most of the day.  Users have been reporting all kinds of issues including an inability to bid on items they could actually find and an inability to send or pay invoices.  Finally, around 11pm, eBay announced that they had found the problem and were working diligently to fix it.  Everything should be back to “normal” on Sunday the 21st, whatever that means.

Supposedly eBay is going to issue some kind of refund, but it is unclear exactly what that compensation will look like.  In reality, whatever eBay is willing to refund, be it insertion and final value fees or even some kind of “above and beyond expectations” package, will pale in comparison to the losses suffered by lower auction prices.  If you were selling an item you expected would sell for around $200 and it ended up selling for the $19.24 price it was at the day before because no one could find or bid on it then no fee refund could possibly make up for that loss.  Any eBay seller knows that the auction price can double, triple, or go up even more in the last 30 seconds of an auction.  This gaffe, probably the most serious I’ve ever seen, has no doubt caused some sellers serious money.  Granted, Saturday is not a popular day to end auctions, but that certainly doesn’t mean there are no items ending.  Once eBay realized the magnitude of the problem they should have extended the end time of the affected auctions until the next day.  Unfortunately, eBay chose not to act and millions of dollars were lost worldwide.

USPS Prices Going Up, Staying the Same, Going Down in 2010

9 Nov

It must be November.  The weather deteriorates.  I wake up in the dark and go to bed in the dark even during months I remember to pay the electric bill.  Whole Foods tries to convince me their $34.99 a pound turkey will bring a smile to my children’s face the way a 39 cent turkey simply wouldn’t.  I have to upgrade (sad, but true) to Ezra Brooks because 80 proof doesn’t warm in the winter months the same way it does in the summer.  The United States Postal Service ruins my life.  Just another November.

On November 4 the Post Office announced pricing changes that will go into effect January 4th for Priority Mail, Express Mail, Global Express Guaranteed, Express Mail International, Priority Mail International, Parcel Select and Parcel Return Service.  Pricing changes for Media Mail and additional services such as Delivery Confirmation and Signature Confirmation are announced at a later date and will remain the same for at least the first half of 2010.

Just the Facts, Jack

What’s Going Down

The price of a Priority Mail Flat-Rate Envelope will decrease a nickel to $4.90 from $4.95 when purchased at the Post Office and decrease to $4.75 from $4.80 when purchased online.

The price to ship one pound Priority Mail locally (defined as only one or two zones away) is also decreasing a nickel from $4.95 to $4.90.

What’s Staying the Same

The price of domestic and international First-Class Mail, Standard Mail, and Parcel Post will remain the same in 2010.  This means a First-Class stamp will still cost 44 cents and a 19 pound Parcel Post package will still cost $24.64.

Customers who pay for shipping online through Click-N-Ship, PayPal, etc. will continue to receive a discounted rate when compared with the price paid at the Post Office or equivalent retail location.

The price of the recently introduced Small Flat-Rate Box will remain $4.95 when paid for at the Post Office.  When postage is purchased online the cost of the Small Flat-Rate Box goes up a nickel to $4.85.

No earth-shattering changes announced.  No mention of charging for shipping supplies, delivering only on days that start with the letter “T,” or a completely new class of mail.

What’s Going Up

Priority Mail

According to the press release, Priority Mail rates are going up 3.3% on average which is about the standard yearly increase.  Domestic Express, International Express and Priority, and Parcel Select and Return Service are also going up across the board.

The most glaring pricing change for those of us who sell on eBay is how USPS is treating Priority Mail that weighs one pound or less and is shipped in variable rate packaging (either your own packaging or branded Priority Mail packaging that is not Flat-Rate).  As you may be aware, the current price to ship a package weighing one pound or less is the same no matter where it is shipped.  The price of variable weight Priority Mail that weighs more than one pound is based on both the weight and how far the package will be traveling. For example, today I can send a one pound package from Seattle to Portland Priority Mail for $4.95.  I can send that same one pound package Priority Mail to Boston for the same price, $4.95.  Come January 4, 2010, I can ship a one pound package Priority Mail to Portland and it will cost $4.90.  If I ship that same package Priority Mail to Boston it will cost $5.55, an increase of 60 cents or a whopping 12.12% over 2009 prices.

Although the average price increase on Priority Mail is advertised at 3.3%, the price increase on lower weights is much, much higher.  For example, a two pound Priority Mail variable weight package from Seattle to Boston currently costs $8.70.  That’s going up to $9.55 in 2010, an increase of 85 cents or 9.77%.  A three pound package goes up from $11.95 to $12.70, an increase of 75 cents or 6.3%.  A four pound packages goes up from $14.70 to $15.30, an increase of 60 cents or 4.08%.  Finally, a 70 pound variable weight Priority Mail package goes up from $108.25 to $111.50, an increase of $3.25 or 3% even.  As you can see, the price increase on lower weights is much higher than on heavier weights by percentage.

The price of Flat-Rate Boxes is also going up.  Medium Flat-Rate Boxes go up from $10.35 to $10.70, an increase of 35 cents or 3.38% when purchased at a retail location and from $9.85 to $10.20 when purchased online, also an increase of 35 cents or 3.55%.  Large Flat-Rate Boxes go up from $13.95 to $14.50, an increase of 50 cents or 3.44%.

Express Mail

The price of the Express Mail Flat-Rate Envelope is going up from $17.50 to $18.30 at retail and from $16.63 to $17.40 when purchased online.  Both represent about a 4.5% increase.

Express Mail variable rate prices look to go up about 4.5% across the board as well.

International Mail

Priority Mail International Flat-Rate Envelopes are going up 50 cents to $11.45 for Canada and Mexico and 50 cents to $13.45 everywhere else.  The price is identical to the new cost of the Small Flat-Rate Box.  Medium Flat Rate Boxes are going up $1 to $26.95 for Canada and Mexico and $1.50 to $43.45 to all other countries.  The Large Flat-Rate Box is also going up $1 to $33.95 for Canada and Mexico and $2 to $55.95 everywhere else.  The maximum weight remains four pounds for Flat-Rate Envelopes and Small Boxes and twenty pounds for Medium and Large Flat-Rate Boxes.

Priority Mail International prices are also going up 2-6% for variable weight packaging.

Express Mail International Flat Rate Envelopes are going up $1 to $26.95 for Canada and Mexico and $1 to $28.95 everywhere else.

Express Mail International in variable weight packaging is also going up 3-4%.

“Innovations”

The USPS news release mentions “several innovations” that we can look forward to in 2010.  These include further discounts for those who qualify for “Commercial Plus Pricing” and also ship in whatever USPS defines to be environmentally friendly packaging.  To qualify for Commercial Plus Pricing one must ship 6,000 pieces Express Mail yearly or 100,000 Priority Mail pieces yearly.  Also available to Commercial Plus shippers will be a new 9.5 x 12.5 Priority Mail Flat-Rate padded envelope.

Commentary

Disappointment

I was going to turn this into one of my usual comedyfests, but decided since it’s a serious topic about all the money you’ll be losing in 2010 I would stick to the nuts and bolts.  Not sure you got through it, but if you did congrats.  I hope you learned something and are in a better position to prepare yourself for the changes coming.

I was “really” hoping that Priority Mail International Flat-Rate Envelopes would be scanned at the time of delivery and PayPal would treat these packages the same way they treat domestic packages with Delivery Confirmation (i.e. grant a claim in the seller’s favor for “items not received” when the Delivery Confirmation shows it was delivered).  This has been my dream for several years now and what I wish for every year my Mother remembers to bake me a birthday cake with candles to blow out.  The cost of trackable international shipping is ridiculous.  Thirty dollars for an International Flat-Rate Express Envelope?  Twenty dollars as an absolute minimum to ship a package with tracking abroad?  Customers scoff at paying $20+ for shipping on a package that’s anything less than a 25 pound solid gold bar. Shipping with tracking is the only way to protect ourselves as sellers accepting PayPal, so shipping without tracking simply isn’t worth the risk.  I know my sales would skyrocket if I could offer $10 Priority International shipping, but I also know my bottom line would suffer at the losses from fraudulent PayPal claims and the dreaded “lost package.”

The price increase on Priority Mail variable weight packages is rough.  Shipping a one pound package Priority Mail has always cost the same amount no matter where it’s shipped. The 12%+ increase in 2010 will take a noticeable cut out of my profits.  I will be utilizing Flat-Rate Envelopes even more to stuff in whatever I can.  I know in the past I’ve gotten some funny looks from Postal employees who balk at my “creation,” but the envelopes usually get to their destination more or less.  I know my customers are happier to receive a nice, well-packaged box, but if it means saving a McDonalds Small Fry I know how I’ll be packaging January 5th.

This year’s “innovations” are a joke.  There aren’t even 50 sellers on eBay who ship 100,000 Priority Mail packages yearly to qualify for Commercial Plus.  The cubic volume-based pricing discount for whatever “space-efficient packaging” is would be welcome I’m sure, but I doubt whatever the discount is would cancel out the money companies save by only using one standard box for shipping everything from a camera battery to a mattress.  Let’s be real here.  The number one reason why USPS loses nearly a billion dollars a month is because companies are sending less dump-clogging catalogs.  No one at USPS was looking to slow down that fluff when the dollars were pouring in. Plus, how is USPS going to identify who’s packaging efficiently? Will they take Amazon’s word that the box is full of precious merchandise rather than plastic bags full of air? Most of us will never know unless we decide to start shipping 100,000 individual Lego pieces around the country just for fun.

I was hoping USPS would offer tracking similar to Express Mail or the more advanced tracking UPS and FedEx offer on Priority Mail.  If USPS could offer advanced tracking for a dollar or two per package many customers would likely be interested. It might also be enough to land them accounts with some of the larger corporations that tend to go with UPS or FedEx.  From personal experience I know that tracking a package is more fun than actually receiving whatever it is I purchased in a moment of weakness half the time.  I have a dozen damaged pears I bought from Harry and David coming on Tuesday that I’ve tracked online at least a dozen times.  I’m sure the pears will be good, but I doubt they’ll bring me as much joy as when I saw them finally leave Hodgkins, IL online at UPS.com.

Could Be Worse

We’re smart enough to know price increases are coming.  The price increase on Priority Mail variable weight will definitely be an issue for many in 2010 and will dramatically change how I package many of my items.  There was no mention of charging for shipping supplies or basic carrier pickup which were two of my fears.  There was also no mention of closing every single Post Office in Washington State which gives me hope for the future.  I actually expected USPS to do away with Flat-Rate Envelopes.  Some of the items I’ve crammed into one of those things have been ten times or more the original size of the envelope. I know many people “abuse” their originally intended purpose which was a sturdy way to ship documents.  Instead, USPS is giving us even more incentive to cram because it will now be cheaper to use a Flat-Rate Envelope than ship Priority Mail any other way.

Overall I am not crestfallen by any of the announcements, but time will tell how they play out.

Feel free to check out some of the literature USPS has provided us about the pricing changes:

See the USPS Press Release
See the Full List of 2009 Prices
See the Full List of 2010 Prices

Until next time, good luck and try not to get suspended.