So, a few minutes ago, I posted the sentence above on my Twitter feed and got a lot of questions, support and other reactions. I wanted to take a quick second to clarify (in more than the 160 characters that Twitter allows) why I think this.

Yes, I am an eBay seller. But I am also a frequent eBay buyer as well as most of the best deals on packing materials and other items I need to help run my business are on eBay. So understand that my thoughts here are coming from Hillary the eBay buyer, not Hillary the eBay seller.

I needed to make a simple purchase and it took me much longer than usual to do this. This is because Best Match kept trying to “help me” by showing me the listings that it thought I should purchase. Each time, the listings they showed me were neither the cheapest, nor exactly what I wanted. It took me much longer than usual to finally tweak the search results to get something useful and I am a very experienced eBay user. A newbie buyer is going to either just give up rather than try to figure out how to circumvent Best Match or buy what Best Match tells them to buy which will likely be both not what they want and also not the best deal so they will be annoyed and less likely to buy from eBay in the future.

If you look at the first page of results on eBay, see that none are what you want or the price you want, an experienced buyer may come to the conclusion (as I did) that eBay was hiding the good deals and relevant search results and try to circumvent. But most people will just walk away saying “Ebay’s prices aren’t that good” or “eBay doesn’t have what I need” because they don’t realize that the results are hiding something from them.

Let’s put the eBay Seller hat back on for a second and think about why this is. Best Match is based on two things.

  • First, items that show in Best Match results are from the sellers that best meet the requirements that eBay has set out (jump through the hoops of DSR and PayPal). As we have discussed on past posts, some of these requirements don’t yield good service but rather an ability to play the feedback game. There are many excellent sellers who are not eligible for Best Match through no fault of their own and because of flaws with the system.
  • Secondly, Best Match is based on the conversion rate for the listing. This sterilizes the listings because results now favor popular keywords that typically feature in better selling items over accurate keywords that bring you to what you are looking for. Here is the perfect example. I was trying to purchase some #4 bubble lined envelopes. No big deal, right? Except that even though my search options were all designed to bring me to #4 envelopes, search results heavily favored listings with DVD in the title. A DVD sized envelope it not the size I want (too small) but the eBay supercomputer thinks that DVDs sell better so that must have been what I meant. This may just be an early bug but it is very irritating.

So Best Match items are ironically not the Best Match for your search term and also exclude other good items that would match your search because the seller couldn’t meet the harsh DSR requirements. For fixed price items, this means that the potential buyer is only seeing what eBay wants them to see rather than what they are looking for.

Now, for auctions, this is an even bigger problem. Auctions should be sorted by Ending Soonest. Period. If you sort an auction by any parameter other than that, you are effectively killing the format. That said, in addition to the problems listed above, auctions sorted by Best Match are even more likely to irritate less experienced buyers. Imagine my distress when I place my bid on the Best Match approved rare doll that comes up in search results only to discover that a listing ending in five minutes was the same doll, half the price but Best Match didn’t show it to me. Now I have wasted money and time.

The biggest complaint about auctions that most people have is that they don’t want to wait around for it to end, they want to win it right now. Searching by anything other than Ending Soonest means that bidders are more likely to have to wait for the listing they see in Best Match to end and then less likely to bid on it. It just doesn’t make sense.

Need more proof? A lot of eBay sellers are reporting that most of their sale traffic is not coming from eBay search but rather Google search. Why? Because Google is returning accurate results based on what you are looking for. In other words, Google is actually giving you the best match for your search term instead of giving you a censored list of results called, ironically, “Best Match.”

Anyway, that was long but I wanted to explain why I felt the way that I did.

What I have done, personally, is just saved my customized search results as a bookmark. Now I only need to change the search term each time and will forever be able to bypass whatever other search changes eBay adds. But for the other buyers out there who don’t have the know how, Best Match is more of a hindrance to eBay shopping than a help.