IT on ebayRemember the good old days when you could easily find “it” on eBay? 

And the wildly successful  “it” campaign that positioned eBay as the desitination site to find your “it”. Behind the concept of “it” was selection. Long a key of eBay’s success.

For example…

A year ago, my “it” was a pair of light pink Juicy Couture wedge style flip-flops with a daintily dangling heart charm in a girl’s size 4. it_e_bay

My daughter wore a pair for 2.5 solid years – through summer, winter, heels hanging off the back because they were two sizes too small – and several carefully orchestrated handwashings to make them look new. 

Until the day that she was playing soccer with her brother (yes in wedge heeled flip-flops) and he accidentally gave her a “flat’ which pulled the strap out of the right sandal.

A quick trip to eBay.com, a quick keyword search, Buy ‘it” Now and we had our “it”!!

On  September 29, 2009 eBay Introduced a Filter that Changed My Ability to Find “it”

Known as the Top Rated Seller filter, it popped up a few days ago when I was doing a search on eBay for American Girl Doll clothes & accessories.

And it’s having a major impact on both buyer selection and seller visibiity…

Immediately after my search results were returned, a bright purple bubble popped up on my page, inviting me to “Buy from eBay’s Top Rated Sellers and get excellent service and fast shipping.”

ebaytopratedsellerbubble

On the surface this looks like a harmless new filter… when buyers see this message they are likely to think…

“Great! I’d like to buy from eBay’s Top Rated Sellers, get excellent service and fast shipping. I want to shop with the cream of the crop.”

But I immediately said “Oh no…”

ebaytopratedsellerbubble_small

I had a feeling where a click of this checkbox was going to take me… a one way ticket to limited product selection.

Now to state clearly – this is not the fault of Top Rated Sellers.  Some of my best clients are Top Rate Sellers. They provide great selection in their various marketplaces.

But what percentage of the millions of sellers qualify to be Top Rated Sellers? (At last count, unofficial numbers provided by a 3rd party service provider came in at about 100,000.)

Judging by my hours of test searching,  filtering by Top Rated Seller reduces selection in most searches to the point where no longer can I no longer find IT on eBay. 

In fact, by using this filter in some cases  I would never see  80%-90% of  my “it”!

The seller who sold us the Juicy Couture flip-flops and included a hand-written note telling my daughter to enjoy them? Not a Top Rated Seller.

If I had used the TRS filter to find those sandals today, I never would have found my “it”.

Selection is the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg

One of the primary reasons people shop online is selection.

From a retail perspective, limiting selection  doesn’t make sense.  One of the first rules of retail is that you always merchandise your selection in as many ways as possible.

Can you imagine Nordstrom hiding their unique shoes in the back room because they were crafted by small up & coming designers?

What if they only sold Clarks or Nikes because they were “Top Rated Manufacturers” ?

It would kill their selection and their sales. 

When I searched on eBay for American Girl Doll I got back 19,571 results.

When I filtered my search by Top Rated Seller I received 7,627  results. A slash in selection of more than 61%.

ebaytrsresultsDid I have to choose the TRS filter?  No. But if eBay promotes TRS’ as the “people to buy from”, shoppers will likely choose this option and in the process slash their selection.

A move that’s not good for eBay sales or eBay sellers.

Top Rated is Subjective at Best, Skewed at Worst

If unsuspecting buyers filter their search by Top Rated Seller and end up with only one item (like happened with one of my searches) they will go elsewhere.

Not only that – by using this filter, eBay is subconsciously planting the idea in shoppers minds that all remaining eBay’s sellers do not give excellent service and fast shipping.

Yes there will always be some sellers who do give crummy service and that is reflected in their feedback and in their low DSRs. 

Bu there are thousands of eBay sellers who are not considered Top Rated Sellers due to volume or an accidental low DSR left by a customer who DO provide wonderful service and lightening fast shipping.

Should they be filtered out?ebaytrsoption

Should their great selection of products be hidden in the backroom?

Is that what eBay buyers want? I think not.

(Conversely there are also eBay Top Rated Sellers who sell thousands of items per month and get hundreds of negatives per month – but are still considered Top Rated Sellers by eBay.) How can that be? It’s all in the numbers. The percentages. And we all know that numbers can always be manipulated to reach a desired outcome.

Don’t Distract Me – I’m Trying to Find “it”

When I go to eBay – I go to find “it”, not to find a Top Rated Seller.

If I don’t find my “it”, I’m not going to stick around to see what  Top Rated Sellers have in stock.  I’m going to keep searching for my “it”. distracted

If I do find my “it” , I want to decide what seller to buy from.  I want to decide based on the seller’s offer, branding, USP (unique selling position) and the K.L.T. (Know, Like & Trust factor) that they present to me in their listings.

If they have achieved an eBay “award badge” that cool.  It’s just one more piece of information I  now have about them.

Don’t steer me away from selection by enticing me with service and delivery promises.  I don’t care about service and delivery until I have found my “it”.

What Should eBay Sellers Do About the Top Rated Seller Filter?

Keep on selling. Send more traffic to your listings and your store through eBay’s side doors.

createyourownUse other  traffic generation methods like blogging, SEO, paid ads, article marketing, Bing Cashback and offline marketing to promote your business.

If  you’re only getting traffic in through eBay’s front door (home page search) you’re limiting your traffic anyway.

Ultimately, I believe that eBay’s testing and tracking will reveal that filtering by Top Rated Seller only serves to hurt the customer experience they want to improve.

Until then – keep an eye on your business – marketing & promoting it.

And hopefully the bright purple bubble will soon go the way of the eBay as Amazon plans, the Windorphins campaign, the many other attemps to remake eBay into something it’s not.