It has been quite a long time since I posted here about eBay. I still use the site regularly (I typically still list at least a few things every month), and while I may tweet about things from time to time, I rarely feel the need for a full blog post.
On January 21st, Ikai Lan (@ikai) posted this tweet:
What’s the big deal, right? So what if Ikai found a better deal on Amazon for his Star Trek geekfest?
Here’s the big deal. This was my response to Ikai:
The issue here isn’t that I was somewhat obnoxious (although clearly, I was a bit obnoxious). Ikai & I worked together at LinkedIn, so it’s not unexpected to have a little bit of fun with the back & forth on Twitter.
The problem is that Ikai is a smart, technical guy. He’s also someone who looks for a good deal. If someone like Ikai thinks that Amazon has a cheaper price on an item like the complete DVD collection for Star Trek DS9, then eBay has a real problem.
eBay’s Value Problem
When I wrote my Eulogy for eBay Express in 2008, I talked about four key value propositions that eBay navigates: value, selection, trust and convenience. One of the motivating factors behind eBay Express was trying to find a way to leverage eBay’s huge advantages in value and selection, while shoring up perceived weaknesses in trust and convenience.
But here we are in 2010, and while eBay has the item, apples-to-apples, for over $100 less than Amazon.com – Ikai didn’t know it. And you know what? If a low price falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, it doesn’t make a sound… or a sale.
eBay’s Value Problem is actually a Search Problem
The point is, despite the fact that Ikai is an engineer working at Google, he couldn’t find the item. So a $115 price advantage was nullified. Why?
I’m not a 100% sure what Ikai did to identify the proposed “$350 price”. When I searched on eBay, I found literally dozens of items priced below $300, many of which were from top sellers, and many of which that offered returns. In fact, I saw items as low as $130, but I tried to find the lowest priced item that matched the quality of service Ikai would expect from an Amazon third party seller.
Of course, I’ve been on eBay since 1998, and I spent years working on structured data and search products at eBay, so I have a hunch why I found the items and he didn’t.
He typed the wrong query. My guess is that he typed something like this “Star Trek DS9 season 1-7” in the DVD category. Makes sense, right? Unfortunately, this only returns two items, the cheapest of which is $299.
Despite years of investment, the eBay search engine still doesn’t understand that “DS9 = Deep Space Nine”, and that “1-7” is a range, and that “season” is an attribute that DVD sets for television series can have.
Now, what I did do? Simple:
- I typed the query “deep space (nine, 9)”
- I selected the category for DVD
- I selected “Buy It Now” for listing type
- I sorted from highest price to lowest
Let’s review the tricks I used:
- The () notation is how the eBay search engine does OR. So I was able to find listings with both “nine” and “9” in them. To be fancy, I could have used “DS9” in there too, but it wasn’t necessary.
- Filter to DVD category to clean out other clutter.
- I figured Ikai didn’t want to bid on an auction
- Sorting from high to low is a counter-intuitive trick, but if you assume that the collection will be more expensive than individual DVDs, it makes sense. I use this all the time with high priced items, since quality tends to float to the top.
I then scanned down the list to find the cheapest collection sold by a credible seller (someone with high feedback and % satisfaction). And then I tweeted it to Ikai.
Would anyone else know how to do this? Would anyone else want to do this?
I do it, largely because I still love eBay, and because I actually know how to do it. Plus, I really appreciate saving money on items like this, so the $115 is worth a few minutes.
But all I know is that if eBay can’t leverage it’s intrinsic price advantage with buyers like Ikai, then it has a serious problem. They can never beat Amazon or traditional retailer e-commerce sites on trust and convenience. They can, however, beat them on price and selection.
But customers have to be able to find those advantages to value them.