eBay puts a bullet in BayEstimator – throws out the baby with the bathwater?

April 15, 2008

ChannelAdvisor ChannelAdvisor By ChannelAdvisor

Baby_bathWe’ve been following an interesting situation with BestMatch where first, we reported on a bug in BestMatch that was exploited by sellers.  Then we had an interview with BMX, the seller who discovered the bug and was first to exploit it, but rapidly copied by thousands of listings (note there’s a great conversation with BMX going on over in the comments of that post that I’d recommend you read if BestMatch is a topic of interest to you).

Now readers and other industry blogs have reported that eBay has taken down the BestMatch title optimising/recommendation tool, BayEstimator that used to live here.  Instead of the BayEstimator tool (we had screen shots in the original post if you missed it) there is a comment that says: “we have been asked to pull this tool down.  However if you found it useful and want it back, please  log your request here.

At the time of this writing there are over 150 comments from sellers that want the utility back and I have to agree.  Nuking a useful tool that just happened to have a hand in finding a bug in BestMatch is like getting rid of your OS because it crashed one time.

Since BestMatch rolled in early March, at ChannelAdvisor we’ve been showing our customers how to use this tool to help optimise their 55 character titles.  That’s valuable real estate seller’s pay for with listing fees and there are lots of different options you have for products.  BayEstimator was great in helping see which of those tended to help conversions vs. those that did not or even hurt conversions. For example, just yesterday I was talking with a vacuum cleaner seller that when we used BayEstimator he was surprised that some of the words he was using (like HEPA filter) weren’t scoring well, but other features of his product, like 8 amps were scoring positively.  Another electronics customer was amazed that in addition to the colour and memory size of an iPod they were selling, BayEstimator suggested

Finding is Search, no matter what you call it…

When we started this series on BestMatch, I drew the analogy to the world of search and I’ll do the same thing again here.  Google’s AdWord system provides advertisers with a trafficestimator, a keyword suggestion tool and also indications of how ads are performing from a CTR standpoint.  In that system these datapoints are HUGE and are win-win for google and the advertiser.  The advertiser buys more keywords, the searcher gets more relevant results AND Google gets more revenue through increased CPC, coverage and CTR.

You’d think that same three way positive feedback loop would work on eBay, but eBay historically always keeps the information from the seller they need to be successful.  Example: eBay had a keyword advertising program, but would never provide sellers with conversion data. You could see clicks and impressions, but never tie it to sales.  Guess what happened to that program.

Sure some lawyer can always come up with a reason to not do something:
“it makes it seem like we’re guaranteeing results!”
“sellers won’t understand that this is just part of bestmatch”
“sellers will use this to find keywords like ‘paris hilton’ to spam their titles!”

But here’s what I would say to those arguments:
Sellers are smart entrepreneurs and if eBay gives them the tools and data they need, their ingenuity will make all of us more revenue in the long run.  There maybe the occasional bug they exploit and we’ll have to be vigilant on that, but if we don’t give them the best, most transparent marketplace, we’ll get our butts kicked by competitors that do, because they will naturally gravitate to those venues that partner with them.

eBay: Bring back the Baby (BayEstimator) and keep out the Bath Water (BestMatch bug).


Sidebar re: Raghav Gupta
BayEstimator was written by Raghav Gupta who wrote (very eloquently I must add) on his labs homepage:

….”Only a deeper introspection reveals that behind every
piece of data, behind every click, there is an individual human being,
who possibly earns his/her living on eBay.”…

After reading that sentence and the rest of his interesting bio, I pondered how Mr. Gupta must feel about eBay’s decision to nuke BayEstimator.  I then noticed the word ‘asked’ in the “we have been asked…” notice was italicized.  Further thought and I realised that even the fact that user comments are being asked for are a little unusual.  I’d conjecture that Mr. Gupta is walking a tight line here and fighting this decision with some clever gray areas that he found in the edict to kill BayEstimator and left a little bread crumb for those looking for it.  Kudos to you Mr. Gupta and keep fighting the good fight, we know you are in the belly of the beast duking it out for the sellers and we appreciate the tool and the effort!

SeekingAlpha Disclosure: I am long Google.