Part I/II – eBay Variation Style Listings – Backgrounder – A Big Change for eBay Sellers.

June 16, 2009

ChannelAdvisor ChannelAdvisor By ChannelAdvisor
This is a big week on eBay with the roll-out of what they internally are calling “Seller Release 1 (SR1)”.  The biggest impact from SR1 is the introduction of variation-style listing or VSL for short.  You may have heard multi-sku or parent-child mentioned before – these are all the same concept, but eBay has settle don the VSL moniker for their implementation.
Personally, I think VSL is the biggest change conceptually to hit eBay, probably ever, and will have a huge impact on sellers going forward on how they think about eBay selling and how they list on eBay.  With that in mind I wanted to do a series on the topic so we can go a little bit more in-depth than a shorter blog post.
Thus this is part I of II – VSL Background information.  Part I lays the ground-work for the real meat and potatoes discussion in Part II which is VSL Strategies.  In Part II, we’ll be looking at various pros/cons for adopting VSL in general and then some thoughts on advanced selling strategies around VSL.
Before we continue, hopefully you can tell we think this is a pretty big deal @ ChannelAdvisor.  That’s for a couple of reasons.   First, we power literally hundreds of eBay’s top sellers in the Clothes, Shoes and Accessories (CSA in eBay-speak) categories that are going to be MAJORLY impacted by this. Secondarily there are some really great strategies that early adopting sellers will be able to take advantage of that those who wait will not.  For example, imagine you can get your VSL listings parked at the top of BestMatch before your competitors?  With this in mind, we have made advanced VSL support a top priority.  This could be the biggest gold rush on eBay since the clamor to grab store names.
We have details available for ChannelAdvisor customers on what to do in our software to prepare for VSL and after we’ve done a short (days) closed-beta to make 100% sure the production eBay system is acting as we expect, we’ll be opening support for everyone.
The Strategy and Support centre, SSC, has two resources for sellers to start examining (Note these are open to all if you are curious about how this works)
  • Supporting Variations – this is a guide to get your inventory setup correctly.
  • Using Variations – Once you have your inventory properly configured you are ready to launch variation listings to eBay.
What I’m really excited about is the team was able to make this near effortless for customers already following some simple practices like using the ChannelAdvisor parent/child inventory system, attributes, etc.  If you are, all you have to do is ‘turn on’ VSL!  Also the real icing on the cake is that once you have started using our inventory system for VSL on eBay, you are automatically over the biggest hurdle (parent-child) that most eBay sellers encounter when moving to Amazon.
Now with that said, on with Part I.
Variation Style Listings Part I – Introduction to VSL
eBay is releasing VSL today, June 15th (you’ll start seeing them tomorrow) in the Men’s Shoes and Women’s shoes categories.  Then in mid-July, VSLs will come to the entire Clothing Shoes and Accessory (CSA) category and some Home and Garden categories.  I suspect eBay will give them time to ‘age’ in these categories and if they go well, it makes sense to move them into other ‘practicals’ categories like Sporting Goods, Jewelry, Electronics, Photo, Computer, etc.  So even if you aren’t in CSA, you should pay attention to VSL because it WILL impact you in the next year most likely and it is a big change.
You can read eBay’s VSL documentation here.  Personally, I don’t like their t-shirt example – it’s not very helpful as I’ve never seen anyone sell anything like that, ever.  It seems like a dreamed up crazy example and I’ve seen it really confuse the heck out of sellers.
This post will stick to shoe examples, because that’s what’s live today, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see how this would apply to other apparel items, or anything that is sold in a variety of size, colour or bundled items.
Our example for this series – Mythical Shoes
As an example for this series, I’m going to pick a mythical men’s shoe that has 6 sizes (7/8/9/10/11/12) and 3 colours (red/blue/green) or 18 (6*3 variations).
Before VSL
Selling Shoes on eBay is pretty expensive because for every ‘style’ (combination of size, colour, design), you historically had to have a unique listing.  Before FP30s .35 listing fee, auction-style listings made it VERY expensive to sell shoes on eBay.  Using our example for this series, the average shoe seller would have 18 listings for that one shoe:
  1. Men’s mythical shoe size 7 red
  2. Men’s mythical shoe size 7 blue
  3. Men’s mythical shoe size 7 green
  4. Men’s mythical shoe size 8 red.
And so on through 18.
This is clearly a bad seller experience and many shoe sellers only source top-selling sizes and colour combinations which makes their sourcing complex and limits the amount of selection they put on eBay – many shoe sellers wholesale out the size/colour combos that don’t work on eBay.
If it’s a bad seller-experience, it’s a TERRIBLE buyer experience.  I know this from personal experience.  I’m a size 10 and whenever I enter ‘mythical man’s shoe 10 on eBay, I get all the 10.5’s.  Also how many other ecommerce sites do you have to enter something like that?  Usually your buying model is:
  • find the make/model/colour you like
  • check to see if it’s in your size
  • purchase
eBay forces you to do things through the search engine.  For an example of what I’m talking about checkout this screen shot of Zappos vs. eBay – Zappos is about 1000 times easier to use than eBay.
Zappos_shot
Perhaps more important than ease-of-use though, is selection (remember the ChannelAdvisor Ecommerce Framework?).  eBay’s economic model of charging listing fees (even with FP30) causes sellers to offer limited selection.  The poor folks with size 2 feet and the size 15’s are out of luck on eBay.
What is a VSL? Buyer-side
 
(Note every effort has been taken to make sure these links work, but in case they don’t and you are reading this blog months after this post, some screen shots follow if you can’t follow along ‘live’ on eBay.com).
With VSL, eBay is finally stepping into the modern world of Ecommerce.  The buyer experience is three-fold: search results, item page and purchase.
On the search side, instead of 18 listings, the buyer sees one Variation listing as shown in this figure:
Vsl_item_serp1
notice the plus box with the “more options” button – this makes the search result a good 50% larger than a non VSL.
When the user hovers/clicks they see this (this is sandbox, production is prettier):
Vsl_item_serp2
I actually like this treatment.  It is clear that the listing has variations and even gives the buyer the ability to ‘peek’ into the listing by hovering over the variations.  Now with a glance/hover I can see if my size/colour combo is available in this VSL.
Once the buyer clicks into the VSL, they are presented with some new items you may not have seen on the item page as shown in this image:
Vsl_item
Note that as the buyer clicks on one of the variation images or chooses the variations from the drop-downs, the images and everything else update accordingly.  Also note that as inventory sells out, the variations will self-evaporate as options in the drop downs.  For example, if Red size 10 is sold out, that combination goes away.  Also note that each variation can have a different price (thus allowing you to implement simple configurators down the road – more on that later).
Once the buyer chooses the variation (red size 10 for example), they click the buy button and are taken to the usual eBay confirmation screen seen below:
Note that the buyer is told about the variation consistently here and throughout the rest of the transaction.
What is a VSL? Seller-side
First of all, if it hasn’t been clear, VSLs are for FP30 listings only.  In other words you can’t list a Store-style listing (SIF in eBay speak) or an auction-style listing (even with BIN) in VSL – it is FP only (7 and 30 day durations to be very specific).
From a seller’s perspective what you have to do is ‘package’ all of your items together so eBay knows how the variations ‘work’.  What you do is first tell eBay the parent listing and then the variations.  You need to supply all the variations (size and colour), child pictures, prices and quantities.  So for our example, you would have to provide eBay with 18 * 5 = 80 pieces of data.
Hopefully you’re starting to see how this could change how you list on eBay.  Also, many sellers are not very tight on inventory controls around variations today. VSL will give all of your styles increased exposure, BUT if you aren’t managing this tightly, you will over-sell and of course your DSRs will get hit.
Coming soon – Part II – VSL Strategies
You maybe asking yourself some important ‘ah-ha’ questions at this point:
  • What happens if I don’t adopt VSL?
  • What’s the difference between an item specific and a variations?  When do I use which?
  • How will VSL work with BestMatch, Recent Sales and eBay’s search engine in general?
  • What will I do with my open listings?
  • If you use the eBay tools (TurboLister, Blackthorne, SellerManager, etc.) what is the impact?
  • How can I leverage VSL to win business over my competitors?
Well hang-tight as we’ll answer those questions and more in our next instalment which is coming soon….
Seeking Alpha disclosure – I am long Google and Amazon. eBay is an investor in ChannelAdvisor.