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eBay heeds complaints from sellers

After limiting the number of featured auctions it displays on category pages, some upset sellers cry foul. Now the online auction giant is reversing its course.

In the face of seller protests, eBay is reversing course with a change it made to the way it displays featured auctions.

Earlier in the week, the online auction giant began limiting the number of featured auctions it displays on category pages. But after hearing from some upset sellers--who pay $19.95 for each auction that they feature--eBay will drop the limits, the company said Wednesday. The old listing format will be back in place within four days, eBay said.

"After considering the effect these changes have had on sellers who utilize featured items, and on buyers who used specific browsing tools that are no longer available, we are reinstating the previous format," the company told customers on its announcements board. "We apologize for the inconvenience that these changes have caused our members."

eBay representatives did not return calls seeking comment.

This is not the first time eBay has changed course in the wake of seller dissatisfaction. Last fall, the company introduced a new "Checkout" system intended to help streamline the closing of auctions, and required all sellers to place a Checkout button on their auctions. But when sellers complained that the system duplicated their efforts, eBay later allowed them to opt out of using it.

Similarly, the company allowed members to opt out of a new recommendation service after some sellers complained that the feature was directing their customers to competitors.

The change to the featured listings affected where certain items appeared within the company's category listings. Previously, buyers looking through the listings of Canon digital cameras, for example, might find a page or two of featured auctions before reaching the general listings.

Now, instead of seeing all the featured items first, buyers see only those featured items that end within the same time frame as the other items on the page or that are in the same price range. Instead of always being on the first page of listings within each category, which gives them the most prominence, the featured items often won't make it to the first page until the auction is about to expire.

Kathleen Rockney, who sells high-end used clothing on eBay, said the change made her "physically ill" when she found out about it on Monday. Rockney, who features about one item a week, had just paid to feature a custom-made women's ensemble that originally cost around $4,000. Although her featured auctions typically sell for good prices, the ensemble doesn't yet have any bids and had fewer hits than she expected.

"I was upset," said the Fountain Valley, Calif., resident. "If you put my auction on page 357, no one's going see it."

Rockney said she's pleased that eBay has decided to go back to the old way of listing featured items. But she'll be happier when the change is made.

"I'm going to hold my breath till I see it," she said.