February 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

eBay listing totals watched for sign of seller boycott’s success

Angered over price and policy changes, some eBay sellers have declared a boycott of the auction marketplace for this week. They are watching the total listings on eBay for signs of an impact. EBay says there is none.

Angered over price and policy changes that took effect yesterday, some eBay sellers have been boycotting the auction marketplace this week. The boycotters are cheered by this week’s steady decline in eBay listings, but others note that it’s not clear the decline is related to the sellers’ strike. And eBay says the boycott has had no effect.

The decline was to be expected, because it followed a spike last week when eBay cut listing prices for a day, says Mike Medved, who tracks eBay listings on his web site. As items can be listed on eBay for 10 days, the impact of the boycott can’t be determined until Sunday, Feb. 24, 10 days after the eBay promotion began, he says.

Still, angry sellers are taking heart from Medved’s statistics which show that eBay’s listings have dropped from the Feb. 14 peak of around 15.9 million listings, to under 11.9 million today. That’s slightly below the 12.3 million listings on eBay on Feb. 13, the day before the promotion.

“If we can get it down to 11 million or lower, the boycott has worked,” declared Derek Page, an eBay seller who created an online forum at www.boycottvictoriously.com where boycotters have been sharing their complaints and suggesting alternative online auction sites.

An eBay spokesman, however, says the boycott has had "zero" impact. "We have close to 280 million users worldwide and we list 7 million listings every 24 hours," he says. "The velocity and breadth of this marketplace is such that we`ve gone through dozens if not hundreds of boycotts in the past. It`s just part of doing business in this community."

For those outside of Bay it’s hard to assess the impact of the boycott because of the combination of last week’s promotion, this week’s holiday and yesterday’s eBay fee changes, says Mike Effle, executive vice president for sales management at Vendio Inc., which helps retailers sell on eBay and other online marketplaces. His estimate is that there has been an impact of less than 10%. “It’s a very passionate group of sellers, so there’s always going to be something that will happen,” Effle says.

The bigger question, Effle says, is whether eBay will address any of the complaints prompted by this week’s changes in pricing and policies.

EBay lowered initial listing fees but raised the percentage taken on a sale. Page, who sells custom Lego items, says the increase will mean that the fee on a $25 item will go up from $1.91 to $2.74, a 43% increase. “This is by far the largest fee increase in eBay’s history,” he says.

But the boycotters are equally angry about a change that prevents sellers from rating buyers, while buyers can still rate sellers, a system eBay employs to make consumers more confident about buying on eBay.

Sellers want to be able to warn each other about shoppers who try to take advantage of sellers, for instance, by demanding an additional item or expedited delivery, and threatening a negative rating if the seller does not comply, Effle says. What’s more, the new rules give the buyer even more power, because poorly rated sellers will not show up as high in eBay search results and face payment penalties. “Bad buyer feedback is going to be a disadvantage in the marketplace,” Effle says. “EBay is giving buyers a bigger club and taken away anything sellers can do to parry against the buyers.”

Meanwhile, competitors are hoping to lure some of the angry eBay sellers to their auction sites. Overstock.com cut its listing fees in half for this week, although it says it did not intentionally time the promotion to coincide with the eBay boycott.

“Auction customers are trying to tell eBay something,” says Overstock chairman and CEO Patrick Byrne. “We overheard and we are responding to their persistent requests for low selling fees.”

Overstock.com says daily new listings were up 39% late this week compared with last week and new sellers up 37%. The number of active items on its auction site totaled 23,700 late in the week, up nearly 20% from an average of 19,791 last week. Overstock.com is No. 25 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

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