Reality and Sanity

June 15, 2007

The Changing eBay Experience

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul @ 7:08 pm

Which is happening since EBay [is] Eager for More Buyers.

BOSTON (AP) – When Pierre Omidyar founded eBay 12 years ago, he wanted to build the world’s most efficient marketplace. At the very least, he launched the most comprehensive one. Today eBay Inc. is a conglomeration of Web sites where people sell everything from car parts to carp arts. (What den couldn’t use a watercolor of a fish?)

That’s the charm of eBay: the unique stuff. More of this later.

But with $60 billion worth of goods changing hands on eBay’s worldwide sites this year, all that stuff has a downside: It can be a drag to pick something to buy. If you were browsing for a video game system, how would you begin to choose among the 1,342 Nintendo Wiis listed on eBay one day this week?

Why would you look for something that is likely readily available in your hometown on eBay? Especially if the price isn’t all that different?

For most of us living in large cities, eBay is best used to find unique items, such as vintage guitars or posters, or high-end specialized tools. I use eBay to find things I can’t find in local stores. The only time I purchase a readily-available item is if said item is substantially cheaper even with shipping charges added.

And so with eBay entering something resembling middle age, with growth slowing and the stock price in a funk, the company is undertaking a crucial overhaul. The goal is to make buying things easier, more entertaining and more like shopping in the physical world – three counts on which the company has fallen behind.

Why? If you’ve already done the product research, eBay is a simple experience now. You aren’t limited to auctions, there is a category called Buy It Now where the price can be viewed immediately. With product research, whether or now it is a steep price or a bargain can be easily determined.

“Our user experience has always been fantastic, but it didn’t keep up, in my view, as well as it should have,” CEO Meg Whitman said in an interview Friday on the sidelines of the “eBay Live” user celebration in Boston. “You will see more changes to eBay’s buyer experience in the next 12 months than you probably have seen in the past three or four years.”

For example, to reduce buyers’ skittishness about sellers they don’t know, eBay has broadened the feedback criteria that can be left for vendors, and it has tried new strategies for reducing fraud. The company also is trying to make vendors’ shipping costs more transparent, so fewer buyers feel sandbagged by hidden charges.

I’ve only had one bad experience on eBay, and it was resolved using the suggestions posted on their website. the fraud team did a great job since I acted in good faith during the entire experience.

Addressing the exorbitant shipping cost problem is a major step forward. We don’t let vendors get away with hidden costs when discovered in the physical world by use of the free market, why should cyberspace vendors be allowed to do this?

I’ve actually chosen sellers with lower ratings over higher ones simply because the shipping was at a fair price. Another reason why doing the product research and comparison shopping makes a better purchase. Of course, it the item is rare and a must-have, then you have to ask yourself, “What is the highest price I am willing to pay?”

EBay just added a “bid assistant” program that lets people put multiple items on a wish list. If shoppers fail to win an auction for one of the products, the software enters them in another. That tackles a longtime eBay bugaboo because it raises shoppers’ chances of actually winning an auction without increasing the prospect they bust their budget winning more than one.

I did this using the Watched Items listing; I would choose which ones I would bid on and watch the others. If I didn’t win, I would switch the bid myself.

Of course, I rarely lose an auction. Especially if the auction had a Buy It Now price lower than my Willing To Pay price. I’d swoop in and snatch it up from the bidders. Heh-heh-heh.

Other moves make eBay more like typical e-commerce sites, such as last year’s birth of eBay Express, where customers can load fixed-price merchandise from several sellers into one shopping cart and check out at once.

So now we have Amazon of eBay. If, like I do, you already have been doing business with Amazon for years, what’s the point? This move will attract new buyers, which is the market eBay is targeting, but those of us who made their choices long ago, fat chance.

Perhaps most dramatically, eBay is crafting a more social experience, so people browsing from isolated computers feel at least somewhat like they’re going to the mall with a pack of buddies.

Oh Lord. Mall crowds.

That’s why I mostly shop online now, to avoid the mall crowds!


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