Now eBay Tests Impending Changes

An announcement from eBay this morning, one week after the announcement by Stephanie Tilenius, Senior Vice President & General Manager, eBay North America of the second and final major release of changes that impact our business for 2009.

Ominously, (def. #1,2) the latest announcement is about imminent “testing” of the new Top Rated Seller badge.

“Starting this week and over the next few weeks, we’ll be testing the badge in search results and item pages for a small percentage of eBay traffic.”

I have asked “If the TRS badge and program is rolling out in September, why is eBay testing it now?” Because I am a mere blogger I am not holding my breath waiting for a reply. eBay does not respond to queries from small-fry (def. #2) like me.

Over the years eBay has had some wonderful ideas. Implementation has often been less than wonderful. Am I unique in wondering not only what exactly there is to test about the badge but also why eBay did not do this testing before launching the program?

Those bi-annual (def. #1) buckets of change

Last week Ms Tilenius said:

“Most of these updates will launch between September 22 and October 1, 2009″

Undoubtedly most eBay sellers are grateful eBay has seen the light and is consolidating updates and policy changes into two releases rather than weekly or daily as was sometimes the case in 2008.

A radical thought

Could some of those highly educated executives with MBAs from our finest universities explain to those who schedule the updates the desirability of scheduling changes to hinder peak selling season as little as possible? Updates in, for example January and June, effective in March and August respectively, might achieve the objective.

You see, successful retail is not generally “in the moment”. It requires planning before implementation. I order my high season stock before June because I don’t want to be limited to what other sellers rejected.

My orders are arriving and being added to inventory now.

As Auntie May says “The early bird catches the worm.”  I don’t want to run out of worms.

The last thing any seller needs is to have a “new and improved Best Match” launching in September. That is not a change that could merely impact my business, it could well be a fatal collision.

Not that eBay affects my business these days, I changed the channel.

Y’all come back!


P.S. In case you didn’t know, for some sellers high season is ‘Back to School’ or ‘Going to College’, mid July through early August; for many others September is the start of the season which will run through about mid December.


  1. Henrietta - We do in fact respond to “mere bloggers”, but I’m not sure who you sent your query to because I didn’t receive it. For future reference you can email me directly.

    At any rate, the purpose of the test is to see if having a badge in search results impacts a seller’s conversion rates. I.e. does the badge itself draw more buyers if it is in the search results. We are NOT in this case testing the program, just the efficacy of having the badge in search results.

    We could not test this in advance because we a) had not announced the program and b) we certainly didn’t have any eBay Top-rated sellers for whom we could badge. In sum, we needed to announce the program and identify the 150k sellers who will initially qualify as top-rated sellers in order to test whether or not displaying the badge in search results does anything meaningful to conversion rates.

    Usher Lieberman
    eBay Corporate Communications

  2. Thank you for your response Usher.

  3. And what happens if displaying the badge in search results does NOT do anything meaningful to conversion rates? What will eBay do differently then? Nothing.

    If the “test results” support eBay’s new direction then they will be sure to announce the results of the test publicly and claim they are on the right path. But if the results are not favorable then eBay will stay the course but just not tell us that the badge has no impact or has a negative impact on conversion rates.

    I am curious, though, how the testing will be done. If a Top Rated seller is given preferential search standing today, rather than in October as was previously announced, then any Top Rated seller’s eBay competitor who currently receives raised search standing will in effect have their search status reduced much earlier than promised. So, the “testing” has an affect on real sellers today, not in October as sellers were initially informed.

    If instead the Top Rated seller is not given preferential search standing (one of the benefits of the Top Rated seller program) then how will eBay know for sure whether all the benefits of the Top Seller program, not just the badge, will affect conversion rates?

  4. > Usher Lieberman
    > we certainly didn’t have any eBay Top-rated sellers for whom we could badge.


    Out of 150,000 PowerSellers, NONE were immediately qualified? Or worse, none were available to assist in the shakedown testing?

    Sounds more like an implementation lapse, and lack of willingness to support corporate from the code monkey department.

  5. I seriously doubt any potentially qualified Top Rated Sellers will be ‘asked’ to participate in a test. That would be contrary to past practice on eBay. Normally sellers are opted-in with no ability to opt out.

    I would be interested to know, when the program is launched, if sellers may choose not to display the badge as they could with the PowerSeller icon in the past.

  6. @BrewsNews - if the test results show no significant change in conversion rates, we likely won’t put the badge in search results. We are only testing the effect of the badge in search results, we are not raising or lowering anyone’s search results based on the eBay Top-rated seller status. That won’t happen until October, so effectively we are controlling for the badge right now in the test.

    Of course, you could surmise that the badge itself is a form of raised search standing if it makes you stand out with buyers, which of course is the point.

    @EventHorizon1984 - Most every seller who is going to be a Top-rated seller will have the badge appear in their search results with a small number of buyers. In this case we are synched internally.

    @Henrietta - why would a seller not want the badge? I’m asking in all seriousness.

  7. Usher,

    If the results show no significant change in conversion rates as a result of displaying the badge, how would you interpret that in overall terms of how the buyer perceives the importance of the badge? And what are the implications if the test results show that the average buyer doesn’t attach any significance to the badge?

    This goes hand-in-hand with answering your question about why a seller might possibly want to remove the badge from their listings. If a seller perceives that the average buyer does not attach significance to the badge then only the very informed buyer who is aware of how a low DSR rating would affect a Top Seller would understand the significance of the badge. In that case, I could easily see that type of buyer trying to take advantage of a Top Seller in a way they wouldn’t any other seller.

    So it really comes down to whether or not the seller thinks the badge will increase their conversion vs whether the badge will attract unwanted buyers. If a seller perceives conversion rates don’t increase meaningfully and the badge will serve as a magnet for unwanted buyers then the badge is an unwelcome reward. It really is about the seller’s perception.

  8. @ Usher

    The same reason many PowerSellers removed the PS symbol last year, it is a great big target saying “shoot here”.

    I am truly glad you are asking in a spirit of seriousness, these seemingly small things can make a difference between viability and not in the businesses that operate on minimal margins on eBay.

    Unfortunately this is not something anyone who has not operated as a business on the platform would know. Your “100% sell through rate” of excess household items, while commendable is not a sustainable business model. This is not said in a snarky way, it is the truth and unfortunately many of the upper echelons of eBay management have no clue. Why would they? They don’t have to make their living on the platform, which is not at all the same thing as making a living from it.

    Tiny margins? Think 1c per in some media categories. Remember Glacier Bay?

  9. > Usher Lieberman
    > Most every seller who is going to be a Top-rated seller will have the badge appear in their search results with a small number of buyers. In this case we are synched internally.


    Last questions. eBay will have about 60 days (August-October) to run through and tweak the different permutations of TRS (or TRSS?) implementations. Will there be any hint given at the midway point (September) in regards to the results? That is give a heads up as to what potential TRS’s can expect in October?

    Thank you.

    Interesting “TRS” coincidence.
    eBay announces on 3 August 2009, “Top-rated seller badge test starts this week”.

    On 3 August 1977, the Radio Shack TRS-80 Microcomputer was introduced.

  10. I believe Usher is correct in stating they can’t run a test without the live test. The customer is the unknown quantity.

    I would be more interested in knowing if they are going to release the stats on how many of the PS who now qualify for TRS would qualify to LOSE their TRS standing coming up on October due to their/customer actions during this test period. That would be very insighful information.

    NOTE: the operative words here are “qualify to LOSE”.

  11. I am a PowerSeller who has had the PS symbol turned off for years - since I first “earned” the icon. Usher might want to know why.

    I turned it off because it says nothing to buyers except that I sell a lot and in turn says that I will not take care of them as individuals or that I can be taken advantage of. I’d rather come across as a smaller more customer-driven seller.

    If the TRS works to attract more customers, I may be fine with it… but I’d like to have the option of turning it off if it does not work for me.

    I know I am just a silly seller, making a living off the internet and not a young MBA making a living off of ME, but it may be that your customers, and not your MBAs, may actually know what is best. Except, I already know from your boss’s quote, that eBay knows what is best for me. And THAT is why, over the last 18 months, I have moved almost half my business off eBay. I will not rest until I use eBay for less than 10% of my total business.

    So, you might say, Usher, I am trying hard to NOT have TRS status - but only by taking my business elsewhere. I continue to serve my customers very well.

  12. I attended a webinar on the eBay changes by a very large sales management operation. One of the headings was “What Can I Do Today?” The answer? DIVERSIFY, mitigate risk by diversification.

  13. I did that webinar too and about fell off my chair when I saw DIVERSIFY in whomping big letters all across my screen. Immediate reaction? Whoa!

  14. I know I’m late to this discussion, but I just now came across it. I hope that Usher Lieberman might see this comment. Please note that I have been an eBay buyer, not a seller (except a few items just once as a favor - that experience left me with great sympathy for eBay sellers).

    In a recent search of eBay (to see how things have changed, as I no longer shop there, actually) I noticed the TRS badges appeared by some sellers’ results. Unfortunately, what did NOT appear, despite my specific settings requesting the info appear, were the specific feedback totals and percentages for these sellers (although those data did appear for sellers without the TRS badge). Being an independent-minded shopper who generally resents software that attempts to do my thinking for me, I was a bit annoyed at this eBay search behavior. I *think* that all else being equal, in this scenario the TRS badge would be a detriment to those sellers. However, if the badge appeared in addition to the feedback numbers, it *might* be a reinforcement of those (presumably) great numbers. I hope eBay does not choose this format as their final version of TRS display.

    As a buyer, I second the sellers’ assumptions noted above that a Power Seller icon tends to convey the warning “might be too big to care about me”. This impression is based on having that experience with a couple of Power Sellers versus what I became used to from the ’small’ sellers. At the moment, I see the TRS as being something a great ’small’ seller might earn as it is not apparently based on sales volume. Time will tell if this impression remains valid for TRSs.

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