eBay has outlined a host of planned changes which, once in effect this fall, will greatly improve the way buyers perceive and use the site, the company hopes.
The most significant changes include the restructuring of the PowerSeller program, a new policy on the use of shipping insurance and refinements to the site's search algorithm, eBay announced today.
"There are a number of changes here that we expect Auctiva users will welcome," says Auctiva Senior Product Manager Tony Maxey. "For example, eBay’s change to its DSR policy to place emphasis on avoiding low 1 and 2 DSRs is one that we expect a lot of our users will be happy about.
"Of course, with change comes some work, too," Maxey adds. "Some of the changes eBay announced will require us to make a few adjustments. But we want sellers who use Auctiva to know that we work closely with eBay to make sure Auctiva will be ready when these changes go into effect."
New definition of 'PowerSeller'
Starting in October, PowerSellers will be divided into two categories: top-rated and regular. Top-rated PowerSellers will receive "increased exposure" in search results and 20-percent discounts on final value fees, plus a 20-percent discount when they offer free shipping. They'll also be able to purchase Featured First, an upgrade that gives listings front-page visibility in search results. And they'll get a Top-Rated Seller badge, which will be displayed on their items and profile pages.
Regular PowerSellers will get 5 percent off their final value fees and a 10 percent free shipping discount. They'll get "neutral exposure" in search results, just like "casual" sellers, the company notes, and will no longer have the PowerSeller logo showing.
The distinction between top-rated and regular PowerSellers will be made based on Detailed Seller Ratings—a major departure from the current program, in which revenue determines PowerSeller status. The DSR requirement to become a PowerSeller will also increase from 4.5 to 4.6.
eBay says its research shows that low DSRs more accurately measure buyer experiences. So the company will focus more on how many low DSRs—1s and 2s—a seller receives than on a seller's DSR average.
"We wanted to continue to reward the sellers who provide the best seller experience," says Todd Lutwak, eBay's senior director of Seller Development. "We wanted to recognize people with the lowest negative [feedback]."
About 150,000 eBay sellers are expected to qualify for the Top-Rated Seller Program
About 150,000 eBay sellers are expected to qualify for the Top-Rated Seller Program, Lutwak notes. Sellers who have at least $3,000 in sales and at least 100 transactions a year will qualify for the PowerSeller program.
PowerSellers who qualify for the Top-Rated program when it goes into effect will receive the benefits that come with the new program; however, the current discount structure for PowerSellers will remain in effect until April 2010.
PowerSeller Lynn Dralle isn't worried about the changes to the PowerSeller program, which she believes was due for an overhaul.
"All I know is my eBay business has not decreased in this tough economy and that's saying something," she says. "I'm not going to worry about it. I'm going to wait and see."
Shipping changes dispatched
Dralle is also optimistic about the changes to shipping insurance. Beginning in September, sellers will no longer be allowed to offer shipping insurance as an optional fee. They'll have to either include the cost of insurance in an item's price or as a handling fee.
Dralle says including shipping insurance in the price or a handling fee will give sellers a way to recoup their costs for items that get lost or damaged in transit.
"This way we can file a claim and get our money back," she notes. "It might turn off buyers who are looking for $2 items, but I think it's going to protect sellers."
Auctiva product analyst Rebecca Miller is uncertain how the new policy will be received by eBay users.
"I can understand that eBay wants to give buyers assurance that they're going to receive their packages, but there's only so much a seller can do to make sure they get the package," she says.
Other shipping-related changes in eBay's September update include allowing users to exclude specific countries from their ship-to locations. For instance, sellers will now be able to specify that they will ship goods to Europe but not to Italy.
Best Match, e-mails and marketing tools
Listing performance scores will be a more accurate measure of how buyers perceive a listing's relevance than recent sales alone
eBay is also adjusting its Best Match algorithm. Beginning this week, raising the price or changing the title of a listing will not reset recent sales—one of the criteria Best Match uses to return results. Fixed Priced listings will also have listing performance scores based on recent sales in relation to the number of times buyers see a given listing in search results.
"This listing performance score will be a more accurate measure of how buyers perceive a listing's relevance than recent sales alone," eBay reports.
eBay's policy on photos is also undergoing a change. eBay will begin selecting photos to include in its product catalog starting Sept. 1. This will essentially be giving permission for others to use those images to list similar items. Users can opt out of this program at any time by going into their My eBay page.
But users may be happy to know that in late September, they'll be able to revise live multi-quantity listings, even those that have already had a sale. Buyers and sellers will also have access to a record of the listing for any sales prior to updates.
eBay will also do away with many of its current listing upgrade options, including Featured Plus, Homepage Featured, border, highlight, gift services and ProPack, a listing package that combines some of these upgrades.
And the company will also try to make e-mails more manageable by creating new e-mails for topics like confirm confirmation, order update and order follow up. Auctiva customers already have this feature.