NPSE – Part III/III – Seller Strategies

October 14, 2010

ChannelAdvisor ChannelAdvisor By ChannelAdvisor

Earlier in October, eBay quietly launched what they call the new product shopping experience.  That’s quite a mouthful so I’m going to abbreviate it NPSE.  This is the future of buying and selling on eBay so requires a pretty deep dive.  This is part III of a three part series with this outline:

  • Part I – (read this first) – We’ll give a tour of the NPSE’s new features and walk you through how it works.
  • Part II – (read this second) We’ll review the NPSE.  What are the good and bad aspects of this new buyer experience?
  • Part III – (you are here) Finally, as the NPSE rolls out across the site and globe, there are very serious seller implications.  We’ll walk through some strategies for you and things to consider to get in front of this.
  • Part IV – 10/26 – Duplicate Listing Policy goes into effect, be ready for chaos – Ok I had to extend it to talk about duplicate listings.

NPSE – What should you do?

In the first two parts of this series, we looked at the NPSE, reviewed it and in this instalment we’ll talk about what seller’s should do about it.  While the NPSE is only in the media categories, MP3 players and GPS units today, I fully expect it will ripple throughout the site pretty quickly.  There will always be pockets of categories (e.g. collectibles) where it probably doesn’t fit at all, but going forward it is going to be eBay’s new and preferred buyer experience so it’s best to be prepared for it to come sooner rather than later.

Background: The eBay catalogueueue

eBay first introduced the concept of a catalogueueue in the CD and DVD categories.  They have now extended it into the electronics category and auto parts and accessories.  eBay has copious documentation on the catalogueueue, how it works, how you add to it, supplement and report problems here.

Since it’s introduction, seller’s have had a love / hate (mostly hate) reaction to the catalogueueue.

Love: 

  • The eBay catalogueueue is like the Amazon catalogueueue so it makes selling on eBay easy for those that are familiar with selling on Amazon – usually large sellers.
  • For many sellers it saves a ton of time – they don’t have to describe every CD or DVD coming through individually, they can just use the UPC to look it up and boom they have a listing.

Hate:

  • Many (usually old school eBay) sellers believe that hand-crafted listings are what buyers want and have come to expect, therefor the catalogueueue selling is soul-less and dooms eBay to be crushed by Amazon.
  • Reader Jay Senese  –  a very large and looooong time eBay  CD/DVD seller points out that eBay’s catalogueueue has very bad errors and is very skinny when compared to Amazon.  For example, he estimates that Amazon has 2m CDs and eBay has 1m.  Amazon has 440k DVDs and eBay has 160k (less than half).  His point is that since the catalogueueue is so incomplete he now has to have a two-step process: 1) is it in the catalogueueue?  2) if no, then go the old route, if yes go the catalogueueue route.  Jay, I believe, has opted to not complicate things and simply lists without catalogueueue.  Finally, I’ve heard ironic stories of sellers being suspended for selling banned eBay items that are actually in the catalogueueue!

With that background on the mixed seller feedings around eBay’s catalogueueue, let’s jump into 6 strategies that stem from the New Product Shopping Experience (NPSE):

Strategy 1 – Embrace the catalogueueue

One argument is: eBay clearly is heading towards a complete ‘Amazon-ification’ of the site, so instead of fighting it, join it.  Embrace the catalogueueue.  Love the catalogueueue.  Help eBay make the catalogueueue better.  This could give you a leg up on those sellers that hold-out on the catalogueueue until the very last second possible.  This is somewhat of a pre-requisite for the later Strategies 5 and 6.

One downside to this strategy as pointed out in Part I is that eBay’s search isn’t really surfacing the NPSE right now.  So your timing could be way too early – you could have a great looking catalogueueue NPSE listing that isn’t seen by anyone.  Until eBay moves more search traffic to this experience, it maybe more prudent to wait or utilise Strategy 3.

Strategy 2 – Don’t embrace the catalogueueue

Some sellers believe that buyers won’t like the NPSE and thus they refuse to list with the catalogueueue.    There’s also the ‘I want my products to stand out’ argument, which I ‘get’ as well.  Certainly before eBay forces more search traffic to the NPSE, it’s not a bad idea to keep some non-catalogueueue listings out there.  Which leads us to Strategy 3…

Strategy 3 – Why choose? Do both – list with and without the catalogueueue

If you have more than one of an item, then it maybe a decent strategy to have two listings – one that is catalogueueue and one that is not.  This also has the handy side effect of allowing you to do some A/B testing.  If the catalogueueue item outsells the non-catalogueueue, then you can switch strategies.  If they both do well, then keep them both out there.

Of course, it’s not clear how this fits in with eBay’s duplicate listing strategy.  My best guess is that these would fly under the radar.  If you had two listings in the catalogueueue, that would be super-easy for eBay to find.  But one non-catalogueueue and one catalogueueue would be pretty tough.  We’ve already illustrated with the red iPod in part I that eBay has a very hard time matching non-catalogueueue listings up to the catalogueueue without seller intervention, so I suspect they would miss 80-90% of these.

Strategy 4 – Wait and see

eBay hasn’t been clear just how pervasive NPSE is going to be and how it will integrate at the search  level.  Like some of their past initiatives, this could be something they don’t push hard in 2011 based on buyer/seller feedback.  So you could end up making a lot of effort to change your business model to the NPSE for naught.    This could be one of those features where it’s not best to be the pilgrim and get the arrows.  Instead see how it plays out and adjust your model later when someone else has trail blazed for you.

 

Strategy 5 – Leverage NPSE to identify supply opportunities

 

I’ve already heard anecdotal stories of sellers using the NPSE/catalogueueue to figure out where eBay has holes and fill them.  There’s no automated way to do this like they have over at Amazon already, but you may have some opportunities to manually do it.
For example, you are a DVD seller and you have the opportunity to acquire a truck load of “Sci-fi movie classics” for $1 each. You can quickly see that there is only one seller and they are at $25.  So you have a new found ability to see the demand without having to run countless eBay searches with 30k results.  Unfortunately you have no idea about demand.

 

Strategy 6 – eTRS increases in  importance – work extra hard to get this status.

 

I don’t want this to turn into a treatise on the problems with eTRS, but it is important to point out that in the NPSE, you will not own the value box without eTRS.  Also as I pointed out, the badge has much higher prominence in eTRS than it even does in normal search results – going as far to make it clear that mere Above Standard Sellers (not eTRS) are ‘not recommended by eBay.

Strategy 7 – Stake your early claim to the Value Box

eBay is clearly replicating the Amazon Buy Box model.  In that model, when a seller owns the buy box- they sell easily 10-20X vs. not having the buy box.  If you believe in the Amazonification of eBay, then embracing NPSE (Strategy 1) early, making sure you have eTRS (Strategy 6) and then finally claiming the Value Box early could make you a pioneer that ends up owning a certain product and maybe even a category.  Once (and if)  eBay turns on the search flood of traffic to these listings, the Value box could become a big driver of sales.

 

 

Up next – Part IV – eBay’s impending ‘no duplicate listing’ policy and some of the potential fallout.

 

As mentioned in Part I – we believe that eBay’s no duplication policy changes are being driven by the NPSE.  In the next part of this series, we’ll review that policy and give you some strategies on how to deal with it.  Also, we’ll share some of the reasons we are worried this could be near-catastrophic for many top eBay sellers.


SeekingAlpha disclaimer – I am long Google and Amazon.  eBay is an investor in ChannelAdvisor.