eBay’s 2018 Spring, Summer and Fall Seller Updates have set the marketplace for fiercer competition than ever before. It might give them an edge against Amazon, but it will put some sellers out of business. Every seller must adapt their eBay business strategy now or risk losing all sales in 2019.
Last fact-checked 12/23/2019. Last updated 6/8/2020.
1. Product-Based Shopping
Currently, anyone searching for, say, an iPhone on eBay sees all listings of iPhones. But a new search option is growing in importance—and it hides almost all listings from the buyer.
The search function that will soon become eBay's default.
Group Similar Listings changes the search results from this:
What’s the difference? In the top image, every listing appears in search, so every seller gets a chance. In the bottom image, all sellers offering a specific product variation are lumped together. More than 18 million listings are boiled down to just 16,000 product pages.
When searching for items without the iPhone's tremendous popularity, hundreds of listings could easily be reduced to less than 10.
Why is this a big deal? Because a refined version—the new “product-based shopping experience” eBay is promising—will become the default search method in the near future. The early stages have already gone into effect:
- Mid-March: Sellers began seeing warnings in Seller Hub and My eBay about certain products (such as iPhones and Rokus) that needed to be matched to the catalog. This required knowing the item’s GTIN.
- End of April: Any sellers who ignored the warnings about matching their listings to the catalog had those listings removed from buyer search results.
- May: Sellers became unable to list, relist or modify listings of affected products unless they matched them to the eBay catalog.
- September: Catalog-matching requirements were expanded from affecting just a few products to entire categories.
You can see the current list of categories that must be associated with the eBay catalog here.
In February 2019, the list will get even longer. Twenty-two additional categories will require catalog association. Most likely, all but a handful of categories (presumably including certain antiques and art) will use this search method by default by the end of 2019.
The result? Rather than scrolling through all listings of an item, buyers will see product pages—much like on Amazon. And unless they dig deep, they’ll only see a select few sellers’ offerings.
Which Listings Get Seen?
Here’s an example for a MacBook:
In the above image, only listings that top the following categories appear:
- Our pick: pre-owned.
- Brand new.
- New (other).
- Make an offer.
- Auction: new (other).
All other sellers' listings are shoved way down the page. Below "Frequently Bought Together," below ads, below the description and details and everything else.
In other words, they disappear.
Strategy: Plan to Get Your Listings Featured
eBay says you must do the following to get featured:
- Be “at above standard” (you can learn more and see if you're above standard here).
- Avoid running out of stock.
- Keep your price and shipping options competitive.
From what we see here, sellers have three ways to get noticed:
- Have the lowest price for the item’s condition (pre-owned, brand new, refurbished, etc.).
- Outdo all other sellers in eBay SEO (which includes the three requirements mentioned above) to reach Our Pick.
- Auction your item and hope for the best!
You’ll either have to choose one of those paths or take an alternative, such as bringing in off-site traffic or using Promoted Listings. More on those later.
Note that eBay SEO will see major changes. Just like on Amazon, resellers of new items will need to place less importance on keywords and much more on customer service and pricing.
Providing better customer service is already the fastest way to make more money on eBay, and it will become even more powerful with these changes. Don’t limit yourself to eBay’s lackluster customer service tools—your competitors won’t. Integrating eBay with a helpdesk will provide higher ROI than ever before.
Likewise, the science of how to price on eBay will only grow in importance. It takes a deep understanding of pricing psychology to win a buyer away from a prominent lower-priced offer.
Start planning for these changes now. In addition to boosting your customer service and inventory management, find the GTIN for every product you sell on a regular basis. Match it to the eBay catalog as soon as possible. Not only will this save you trouble down the line, it will likely earn you points in eBay search now.
2. eBay Guaranteed Delivery
eBay has been pushing eBay Guaranteed Delivery hard in a clear effort to compete with Amazon Prime. In March 2018, they lowered the barriers to entry, so even sellers without much experience can offer it. And now any qualifying listing from a qualifying seller is automatically enrolled by default.
For a listing to qualify for eBay Guaranteed Delivery, the seller must:
- Offer one-day or same-day handling.
- Use qualifying shipping methods.
- Provide the ZIP code of the item's location.
- Have a solid track record of handling items and uploading tracking info on time.
eBay will then match buyers to your listing based on estimated delivery time. That way the customer gets their package within the guaranteed timeframe (one to four days).
Offering Guaranteed Delivery already boosts your visibility, thanks to the filter that can hide all listings without it:
You can choose not to offer Guaranteed Delivery and hope for buyers who don’t use that filter. But with product-based shopping gradually taking over, that likely won’t be an option for much longer.
Tactic: Offer It!
eBay has confirmed competitive shipping as a major factor in the new search system. As it takes over, listings that lack Guaranteed Delivery will likely become all but invisible to buyers. The only ways to get noticed without it will be to sell unique or low-competition products, undercut everyone else, or pay for placement.
Competing on price or ad space is a painful business. Unless your items have little to no competition, the best option is to gear up and start offering Guaranteed Delivery now. It will give you an immediate boost and equip your business to compete in the new product-based model.
One major advantage of offering Guaranteed Delivery is that even if you can't dominate nationwide results, you'll often show up first in local searches that use the Guaranteed Delivery filter, even with product-based shopping. You might win Our Pick for your area just because you're the only seller who both has the item and can deliver it on time.
3. Growing Emphasis on Promoted Listings
This Promoted Listing on a Group Similar Listings product page appears below the fold, but at least it’s the first in the list!
eBay has added new Promoted Listings placements to its homepage, giving sellers who advertise a better leg up. They also state that Promoted Listings will still gain placement in product-based shopping.
Tactic: Learn Promoted Listings as a Backup
With all but a handful of listings hidden from buyers in product-based shopping, more and more sellers will find they can only make sales with Promoted Listings. Begin experimenting with Promoted Listings now so you have a backup if your listings get buried.
4. New Store Subscription Levels
eBay introduced two new Stores levels in May: Starter and Enterprise. Starter is a super-cheap introductory account—just $4.95 per month (paid yearly) compared to $21.95 for the previous lowest level, the Basic Store. Enterprise costs a staggering $35,999.40 per year, but offers savings for truly colossal businesses.
When Does a Starter eBay Store Save Money?
Starter doubles your monthly free listings from 50 to 100. Therefore, a $59.40 yearly subscription should save you money if you create about 65 listings per month. (That would normally run you $63.)
If you only want to pay for the subscription monthly, the cost is $7.95. That’s only worthwhile if you list at least 73 items on average.
As a bonus, if you have a Starter Store, extra listings above 100 only cost $0.30 rather than $0.35.
If you would pay more than $21.95 per month for a Starter subscription and listing fees combined, then consider going for a Basic Store or better instead.
When Does an Enterprise eBay Store Save Money?
Enterprise costs as much as a new American-made car. It’s a whopping $2,700 more per month than a yearly subscription to an Anchor Store. But, it comes with 100,000 free fixed-price listings, plus 2,500 free auction-style listings in qualifying categories.
Enterprise makes up for those $2,700 extra if you create over 64,000 fixed-price listings every month. If that’s the case, or if you’re close and run over 1,000 qualifying auctions monthly, then an Enterprise Store subscription will pay off.
Tactic: Use Them!
If one of the new Store levels would save you money, you have every reason to sign up! Especially because of the ongoing…
5. Changes to Stores
Until recently, eBay Stores allowed custom HTML (great for sellers with a knack for web design) and didn’t meet HTTPS security requirements (bad). eBay is changing both situations.
No More Custom HTML in Stores
If you’ve invested in customizing your Store at the HTML level, eBay is giving you time to brace for the change. While most Stores were auto-updated in May, those with custom content were simply given the option to upgrade then. But eBay will soon force the update on all Stores.
If you only have custom pages, your Store will auto-update by the end of the 2018, if it hasn't already. If you have fully customized your storefront, you won’t face a mandatory update until 2019.
Yet Ragnarok is coming soon. Once you update your Store, whether voluntarily or dragged kicking and screaming, all custom HTML will be erased. Programming your own Store page from scratch will be a thing of the past.
On the bright side, the new Stores will be customizable and look great to mobile shoppers.
Goodbye HTTP, Hello HTTPS
HTTP has fallen out of favor as web security has grown more important. Many browsers have taken to warning their users that HTTP just isn’t up to snuff anymore. Here’s how Google Chrome is badmouthing all old-school eBay Stores:
When you update to the new version of eBay Stores, that warning—and others like it—will disappear. Instead, you’ll have a nice padlock showing that your site is safe.
HTTPS protects your customers’ payment info, improves SEO, and boosts conversions. That’s a pretty sweet deal. And since the rest of eBay’s Stores update is centered on improving conversions and SEO already, it makes for a powerful update.
Tactic: Update as Soon as You’re Ready
Losing all your custom coding sucks. But eBay Stores have been badly outdated, and this update is a huge improvement. If you haven't updated yet, your best option is to do it immediately.
Tactic: Replace Old Links
Your nice new Store will have a new link that looks like this: https://www.ebay.com/str/StoreName
eBay will redirect anyone who follows your old link to the new page. However, using a redirect takes longer than following the new link. If you have links to your store on your social media accounts or elsewhere on the web, be sure to update them ASAP.
6. Limited Options for Returns
Goodbye to 14-Day Returns and Restocking Fees
Sellers were previously able to choose between four returns period options on their listings: 60-day, 30-day, 14-day, or no returns. That has changed, and now, most categories no longer have the 14-day returns option.
eBay has stripped away other refund options as well. You still get to decide whether you or the buyer pay return shipping, but as of May 1, eBay no longer allows restocking fees.
Restocking fees were automatically removed from all existing listings in August. At the same time, most listings with 14-day returns were switched to 30-day returns.
Partial Refund Restrictions
The partial refund option has had an eventful year. It was temporarily disabled in May. One month later, sellers who offered free returns regained the option to offer partial refunds on those listings. Now, you can also offer partial refunds on items "returned in an altered condition" in many categories, even if you don't offer free returns.
Tougher Top Rated Plus Requirements
Top Rated Plus return requirements have become more difficult. As of June, Top Rated Plus doesn't just require 30-day returns, it requires them to be free.
In some categories, you can get the 10% final value fee discount for Top Rated Plus while offering 14-day free returns, 30-day paid returns, or even no returns at all. But only listings with 30-day free returns or better will get the Top Rated Plus seal.
Tactic: Choose a Policy that Matches Your Larger Strategy
If you already offer 30-day or 60-day free returns, you have nothing to worry about.
For everyone else, it’s time to start asking hard questions. Non-promoted listings that are neither Top Rated Plus nor the lowest-priced for their item will likely become all but invisible when product-based shopping takes over. Will you offer a higher-risk return policy to maximize your chance of winning Our Pick, or resort to other strategies like undercutting your competitors?
If you want to offer the lowest price, you can get away with a less generous returns policy that doesn’t qualify for Top Rated Plus. That will help you protect your thin margins.
Meeting the new TR+ requirements will be essential for just about everyone else. If you haven’t already become an eBay Top Rated Seller, get started now!
7. Improved Seller Protection
eBay Seller Protection has always been helpful, but most sellers seem to agree that it isn’t helpful enough. Some would say you’d have an easier time finding a unicorn than a time when eBay protected a seller.
That might be changing.
Starting in June 2018, eBay began offering more powerful protection for sellers. By far the biggest deals are the protections against negative or neutral feedback. eBay will remove bad feedback if:
- It’s left over a partial refund on a free return.
- The buyer abuses claims and negative feedback by using them too often (in this case, eBay may even remove transaction defects from your record).
- The buyer demands something you don’t offer on your listing, like a shipping option you don’t normally provide.
- You ship an item on time and upload valid tracking info, but it doesn’t reach the customer on time or gets completely lost.
- The buyer fails to pay, or pulls their bid out of your auction.
Some of these protections were already in place. But by expanding them and stating in no uncertain terms that such unfair feedback will be removed, eBay is making a clear commitment to better protecting their sellers.
Tactic: Say “No” with Confidence
It has often been wiser to buckle under a buyer’s demands and take a loss than to say no and risk negative feedback. These changes mean that you can refuse unreasonable demands without fear.
Just note that some of eBay’s protection is conditional. For example, they’ll only remove negative feedback on partial refunds if you offer free returns. Make sure you’re protected before acting like you have diplomatic immunity.
8. Managing Payments
eBay-managed payments will replace the PayPal system entirely by 2021. This system will cut out the middleman and allow sellers to be paid directly by eBay, for lower fees than those charged by PayPal.
For now, only sellers invited by eBay can choose to use managed payments. But with eBay planning to invite far more sellers in 2019, every seller needs to know how this works and whether they should accept an invitation.
Upsides of managed payments include:
- Lower fees (save 0.2% and $0.30 on every U.S. transaction).
- Simpler payment and more payment options for buyers.
- Faster payment for sellers.
Downsides currently include:
- No ability to accept PayPal (this should be fixed in mid-2019).
- No support for the Global Shipping Program.
- Other limitations on international sales.
- No eBay Authenticate or eBay for Charity.
- No replacements or exchanges.
Tactic: Use Caution
If you’re invited, consider the potential for both gains and harm. Sellers who only market to their home country will likely benefit from opting in. Those who sell internationally may find the lost business unbearable.
Managed payments should become a much better choice in 2019. Once it can support PayPal and all international sales, it will be a no-brainer for most sellers. Learn more in “Should You Opt In to eBay-Managed Payments?”
9. Phone Support
At long last, eBay sellers can offer pre-sales phone support! This pilot program, rolled out as part of the 2018 Fall Seller Update, gives you an opportunity to set your listings and your customer service apart. It’s a fantastic way to reduce buyer reluctance and win more sales.
Tactic: Offer It!
This will almost certainly boost your business. But one problem does stand out: you actually have to answer the phone. It could mean spending more time on customer service, and it adds another channel you have to keep track of.
The best solution? Integrate eBay with a helpdesk like Zendesk or Freshdesk. These platforms can save just as much time on phone support as they do with normal eBay messages. Check out their freemium telephony tools, Zendesk Talk and Freshcaller—they make phone support as manageable as email!
eBay Business Strategy 2018–2019
There’s a lot to take in here! So, how can you bring it all together in one coherent strategy?
Figure out how you’ll cope with Group Similar Listings becoming eBay’s default search mode.
- Will you try to get selected for Our Pick by providing the best customer service, shipping, and returns, plus a competitive price?
- Will you offer the lowest price for the item overall, or for a certain condition like new, refurbished or used?
- Will you use a different strategy, like auctioning, using Promoted Listings, or bringing in offsite traffic?
- Will you sell unique items to avoid same-item competition entirely and continue using more traditional eBay SEO?
Once you know your strategy for product-based shopping…
Figure out how eBay’s other changes will affect your business. Then select the tactics that will complement your overall eBay business strategy.
Choose Your Store
An eBay Store will help bring search engine traffic directly to your listings, especially now that the May update is complete. If the subscriptions have been too expensive in the past, consider the new Starter plan.
Determine Your Returns Policy
Offering free returns will help you qualify for Top Rated Plus and get seen in search results. It will also allow you to offer partial refunds without fear of negative feedback. In other words, eBay is making it all but indispensable.
We only recommend requiring the buyer to pay for return shipping if you compete strictly on price and can’t undercut your competitors otherwise.
Don’t Avoid Guaranteed Delivery
Always offer eBay Guaranteed Delivery if you need to win Our Pick.
Even if you sell a unique product, Guaranteed Delivery will boost your visibility and make sure you stay competitive.
Update Your Store
If you already have an eBay Store and haven't updated yet, do it now, even if it means losing a customized storefront. HTTPS alone will almost certainly make it worthwhile. Just remember to update your links afterward!
Improve Customer Service
Providing great customer service is one of the easiest ways to differentiate your business. Take advantage of the new option to offer phone support if you can manage it. Remember, if you integrate eBay with a helpdesk, you can manage eBay messages, phone support and more from one screen.
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
Some aspects of the 2018 Seller Updates might not affect your business directly until mid-2019 or later. But by adapting your eBay business strategy to the changes now, not only will you be ready when they take effect, you’ll almost certainly see an immediate sales boost. And with how competitive eBay is about to become, you’ll need every edge you can get!