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10/10/2006
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eBay's 'Best Match' Search Worries Some Sellers

The online auction giant has started using "smart" searches to tell buyers what they want to see, rather than let them pick the best matches, one retailer says. He worries about possible negative effects on the coming holiday season.

Moving into the holiday shopping season, video-game seller Steve Grossberg would prefer eBay Inc. not tinker with the search technology on its site.

Grossberg, president at Budget Video Games Inc., which brings in about $2 million annually from online sales, said the search technology works, and wants to know why eBay would try to reinvent the technology going into the busiest time for sales.

"eBay is trying to use smart logic to tell the buyer what they want to see, rather than let them pick the best matches," Grossberg said.

A notice posted on eBay's company forum Web site Monday introduces this optional way to sort search results for listings the auction site could soon launch across its network of stores.

The feature, known as "Best Match," aims to let buyers find products easier. The technology, now offered on eBay Express, bases search results on relevance, historical buyer behavior patterns, and other information like the listing title and description.

As a buyer, 35-year-old Ed Harrison of Somerville, Mass., believes Best Match could become a useful search tool if it helps him find the correct items quickly.

However, as a fairly smalltime seller of CDs, records and books, Harrison has some reservations. "Depending on the algorithms, I'm slightly skeptical that eBay could use this to potentially steer buyers to more profitable sellers," he said.

Similarly, a long list of posts by eBay sellers who responded at the online forum were not happy with the news.

An eBay seller identified only as tartandogs wrote "I find that the buying process is becomingly increasingly complicated, to the point that last night I eventually bought a CD from a retail site (I did get 3 others from eBay), but ultimately a fragmented buy process sent me away from eBay."

One eBay seller asked the auction site to keep the search as an optional tool, suggesting the "common everyday buyer" doesn't understand they have options.

"Optional only ...yes, I just repeated myself, because if it becomes the 'new search' it will be the end of most of us here," Postcardsandmore wrote.

Consumers who have choice are more likely to make a purchase. And Best Match aims to give eBay's 203 million users options. Buyers will have a choice to query items several different ways, and sellers won't need to promote the service, said eBay spokesman Hani Durzy.

"It won't limit the number of search results, but it will reorder them," Durzy said. "Regardless of the sorting method a buyer uses, whether Best Match, Ending Soonest or Lowest Price, you'll get the same amount of search results."

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