eBay Apologizes for Search Snafu

eBay's search feature, which is a key to connecting the site's millions of buyers and sellers, was down for much of Saturday, prompting an apology to users as eBay restored search functionality in phases.

When is your site up, but not really up? For online auction house eBay, that would be when your search function is busted. The search feature, which is a key to connecting the site's millions of buyers and sellers, was down for much of Saturday, prompting an apology to users as eBay restored search functionality in phases. When shoppers searched for an item, the eBay site returned limited or no results.

"We are happy to report that critical search functionality was restored overnight on Saturday, and we are seeing normal activity levels today," eBay's Lorrie Norrington said Sunday in a statement. "As part of our effort to restore critical search functionality as quickly as possible for sellers and for buyers, we have kept some secondary search features temporarily offline. 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. We expect to bring these features online today as part of a phased approach to restore full functionality."

Were eBay's search capabilities under stress prior to this weekend's outages? On Nov. 5, the company said it was removing two graphic elements from the search results page that are "not widely used by buyers, but take extra time to load." The announcement emphasized the importance of fast searches for users, a fact that has been well established in performance testing by major sites. But it also could be seen as an acknowledgement that eBay expected its search function to struggle to deliver speedy results as traffic scaled up for the holiday.

UPDATE: AuctionBytes has additional details of the search issue, which eBay says was indeed prompted by capacity challenges. "The unanticipated technical issue resulted from a surge in live listings as sellers ramp up for the holiday season," eBay's John Pluhowksi told Ina Steiner of AuctionBytes. "eBay currently has more than 200 million live listings, 33 percent more than at this time a year ago."

Norrington noted the critical nature of holiday shopping hours in eBay's latest statment. "We know this is a really busy time for sellers ramping up for the holiday season," she said. "We’re sorry that this technical issue occurred, causing search to return limited or no results throughout the day Saturday, and we regret any potential impact to your business. Our first priority has been to fully restore search functionality. We will now be assessing the economic impact of this issue and will be compensating sellers appropriately. In the meantime, per our policy, we will be issuing full fee credits automatically for affected listings."

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