eBay Apologizes for Search Snafu

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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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. I am curious how eBay will decide which auctions were "affected". I have been an avid seller for years. One of the key components to a successful ebay transaction is for a prospective buyer to be able to find what he or she is looking for and to have the capability to bid! For a seller, losing an entire day of not having products show up in the search results is a killer. I am unemployed and eBay is my only source of income. Several of my auctions ended that night (some without success and others with extremely low bids since no one could locate them). If someone was "watching" my merchandise, then they were in luck and had the opportunity to grab a bargain! Again, I'll be curious how ebay handles this mishap and reimburses sellers.

  2. Ric

    eBay managements "listing surge" excuse simply does not hold water. At best the explanation is simply the tip of the iceberg. Look below the surface and the root cause of the system wide outage becomes apparent. If the 'listing surge' had anything to do with bringing eBay down, it was not because of the volume of listings, it was because eBay had been tinkering with search for the previous two weeks. eBay had been tinkering with Best Match as well as changing code to take eBay stores back out of search. Additionally, eBay added code to display similar items on sellers listing pages, making yet another major change out of cycle. These code tweaks likely caused the search function to become unstable, so when listing volume grew, the system collapsed. Thus, the cause was not a surge in listings, the cause of the collapse was incompetent management forcing system changes to be implemented on the fly without regard for the havoc those changes would have on the stability of the system. Incompetent management at eBay promised not to make major changes during the holiday season, and promised to limit system and policy changes to twice a year. This was done for obvious reasons which were well illustrated by the system wide outage that brought eBay sales to a virtual halt right before the holiday season. If only eBay management had kept their word regarding no changes during the holiday season, than a system wide outage could have been averted. If this disaster does not illustrate why sellers have been screaming about incompetent management at eBay and motivate the Board of Directors to change the management team, then nothing will. When management is this dishonest with the public over a system wide failure, then it is no wonder that buyers and sellers have lost confidence is eBay as a marketplace. eBay sales have been in steady decline for the past year. The cause of this decline is - and continues to be - the failure of eBay management to make improvements that actually benefits buyers and sellers. If John Donahoes' destructive innovation was benefiting buyers and sellers in any way, sales - not listings - would be growing. Sales are obviously not growing as evidenced by eBay's last 12 months. Having lots of inventory on the shelves does not drive sales. Sales are driven by happy shoppers, and eBay's management team has never understood who their most active shoppers are, instead they choose to treat them as if they were a disposable and replaceable commodity. Management disregard for eBay's most active customers is the reason eBay continues to fail. Unless and until there is a management change at eBay, this trend will not turn around, only customers will.

  3. I am surprised that ebay has been caught out by this. Predicting the holiday rush is always difficult but not unexpected.