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Auction placement irks eBay sellers

With the company limiting the number of featured auctions per page, many sellers say they're getting shortchanged. The online auction giant apologizes, but the policy stands, for now.

A recent change on eBay has stirred up a hornet's nest of protest from sellers.

As part of a change the company made earlier this week to the way it lists auctions, the online auction giant has begun to limit the number of featured auctions it displays per page. Many sellers, who pay an extra $19.95 for the prominent display of their listing, say they are not getting what they paid for.

"There's no reason for me to list on eBay under this format whatsoever," said Greg Aunapu, a Miami resident who sells high-end paintings and drawings on eBay. "What they are suddenly doing is turning it into classified ads instead of auctions."

The company said the change was done to benefit buyers, who can now sort listings by when an auction ends or by price, instead of having to wade through dozens of featured items.

"We believe that allowing buyers to sort listings, combined with the new treatment of featured items, provides more relevance for the buyer and should increase the quality of the exposure of featured items," eBay said in a note on its announcements board.

"We are going to evaluate these changes carefully to determine if any steps are necessary to improve the experience for buyers and to preserve or enhance the value of the Featured Plus listing to sellers," the note said. "If the buyer's or seller's activity is adversely impacted by these changes, we will take immediate action."

eBay representatives did not return calls seeking comment.

The brouhaha over featured listings is only the latest dispute between eBay and its sellers. Last month, the company saw flickers of dissent from sellers after it increased its fees days after posting record earnings.

The company saw more consequential complaints from sellers last fall. Some were upset with the company's Auction for America charity effort--which failed to reach its goal of raising $100 million in 100 days--saying eBay was using the auction to promote its proprietary payment service and was taking credit for their efforts.

Meanwhile, eBay stopped requiring sellers to use its checkout feature after many complained that the feature duplicated their own end-of-auction systems.

The San Jose, Calif.-based company also drew criticism earlier this week from privacy and auction watchdogs over its updated privacy policy and user agreement.

Limited listings
The change to featured listings affects how the listings are displayed within each eBay category page. Previously, buyers looking through the listings of paintings, for instance, might find dozens of featured paintings before they came across any of the general listings within the category.

Now, instead of listing all featured auctions first, the default option is to list only those featured auctions that end within the same time frame as the other auctions on the page. As a result, a buyer might only see two featured items at the top of the listings for paintings. And instead of always being on the first page or so of listings within each category, which gives them the most prominence, the featured items won't make it to the first page until the auction is about to expire.

eBay made the changes at the same time as it added a tab on its listings and a search page that allows buyers to search for items that offer its popular "Buy It Now" feature.

One of the complaints from sellers is that eBay gave them little notice of the change to featured listings. Although eBay notified members on its announcements board of the change, it did so after the fact, and some sellers feared that many were paying for featured auctions without knowing eBay had made the change.

"There's no telling how many people aren't aware that their featured items aren't even being seen now," said Trish, a seller of antique textiles who declined to give her last name.

In a note on its announcements board, eBay acknowledged that it could have done a better job notifying members of the change.

"We apologize that we did not appropriately communicate these changes to you and will redouble our efforts to ensure that proper notification is given whenever we make changes to our site," the company said.

Notice or not, many sellers say they won't pay to feature their items until eBay reverses its change. Many sellers are calling for refunds from the company.

Because of the change, Aunapu ended an auction for a Robert Wood painting on Tuesday hours after he listed it. Aunapu plans to list his paintings on Sothebys.com if eBay doesn't go back to the old system.

"I don't see how this helps eBay whatsoever," he said.