November 23, 2009, 12:00 AM

Saturday surge cripples product search function on eBay

A surge of product listings on eBay.com by sellers launching their holiday season offerings led to disruptions in the e-marketplace site’s product search feature, preventing normal shopping activity throughout the day on Saturday, eBay says.

Zak Stambor

Managing Editor

A surge of product listings on eBay.com by sellers launching their holiday season offerings led to disruptions in the e-marketplace site’s product search feature, preventing normal shopping activity throughout the day on Saturday, eBay Inc. says.

The company noted that the “unanticipated technical issue” coincided with eBay.com having more than 200 million live listings, 33% more than a year ago.

Lorrie Norrington, president of eBay Marketplaces, announced Sunday that the technical problem had been mostly fixed overnight, with “critical search functionality” restored by Sunday morning. “As part of our effort to restore search functionality as quickly as possible for sellers and for buyers, we have kept some secondary search features temporarily offline,” Norrington said in a statement. “This includes refining search by certain item specifics, such as color or clothing size, and having Store Inventory Format results included in the main search results.”

On Sunday evening just before 8 p.m. Pacific time, eBay announced that full site search functionality had been restored.

“We know this is a really busy time for sellers ramping up for the holiday season,” Norrington said in a statement to sellers on eBay’s online announcement board. “We’re sorry that this technical issue occurred, causing search to return limited or no results throughout the day on Saturday, and we regret any potential impact to your business. Our teams worked around the clock to restore functionality as quickly as possible.”

Norrington added that, after restoring search functionality, eBay began assessing the economic impact to sellers. The company will compensate sellers appropriately for their losses and issue full fee credits for affected listings, she said.

EBay did not say why its system was unable to handle Saturday’s load, however, leaving some observers concerned about the rest of the holiday season.

Scot Wingo, CEO of ChannelAdvisor Corp., which helps online retailers sell through eBay and other online marketplaces, said the performance problem on Saturday could have been the result of a number of software or hardware issues. “One thing is clear, this doesn’t give anyone in the eBay ecosystem confidence that the site will be up and robust for the critical next 30-day prime-time holiday selling period,” he says.

Wingo’s comment was echoed by Stephanie Inge, who sells Fossil brand handbags and related items through her The Fossil Floozy store on eBay.com and provides consulting services to other eBay sellers. EBay has been selling online since 1995 and should have been better prepared for a holiday season surge, she says.

“The November 21 outage has definitely shaken the confidence of buyers and sellers and I will be very interested in seeing their fourth quarter earnings report,” she says. “If eBay would implement the same level of customer service they expect their sellers to follow, they would be in a much better place right now.”

She adds that, even before Saturday’s problem, many sellers have found it difficult to determine how well their own product listings are performing in eBay.com’s site search results.

Gomez, a division of Compuware Corp. that monitors web site performance issues, says it noticed no problems with eBay in recent days related to page availability and page-loading speed.

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