Spring 2016 eBay Update: Sellers Forced Into (Barely Bigger Than) Twitter Size Descriptions

This is NOT a late April Fool’s Joke. And it gets worse.

At some undetermined point in time in the future (note that they do not have a date specified) eBay is going to deploy a bot that will look at listing descriptions, and if your description is more than 800 characters, it will write its own shorter description for smart phone users. The size will be 250 characters, which is less than two twitter tweets worth of words.

The update in question is here:

The bot will show that automatically generated description to buyers who are shopping on their phone.  The descriptions will be 250 characters or less — assuming an average of 6 characters per word, that’s around 41 words. Basically, one paragraph of automatically generated text.

800 characters, the threshold at which eBay says they will deploy a bot, is not a lot. It’s around 133 words, again assuming an average of 6 characters per word. In theory you can use special tags to select which 800 characters you want the bot to display in lieu of the auto-generated description, but this adds an extra step of complexity and, again, 800 characters (characters, not words!) is insufficient for many collectibles.

Another way to look at that 800 characters is to compare it to Twitter. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so 800 characters is less than six tweets. Try describing a lot of a couple hundred pieces of doll clothes, a few dozen Transformers, or even one nice action figure with minor issues, in the space allotted to 5.71 tweets.

Go one character over and eBay edits your description down to 250 characters (less than two tweets) and THEIR bot decides what your buyer should know.

There will be a link to see the full description, but how many buyers will view it or even notice it?

<sarcasm> There’s no possible way this could go wrong. </sarcasm>

eBay also makes SELLERS pay for the return postage if the buyer indicates that an item was “not as described.” The last time I had a return the buyer simply said that the “item doesn’t match listing” and did not elaborate and yes, I had to pay return shipping.

I have a very hard time believing that a bot can know what is important to a collector. Flaws and defects matter. Subtle variations matter. Lots of stuff that needs to be in the description matters and buyers need to see it. This often requires more than 800 characters to do accurately.

I’ve also had very poor experiences with eBay’s bots in the past and I have very little faith in eBay’s ability to deploy a feature that requires a formidable degree of artificial intelligence.

So now we’re faced with a situation where eBay will take it upon themselves to deliberately change and condense the listing description … and then if the buyer isn’t happy because eBay’s description bot left an important detail out, the SELLER has to pay for return postage and potentially faces negs, bad DSR ratings, and defects.

This is unfair of eBay and harms both buyers and sellers.

I would encourage anyone who buys or sells on eBay to communicate what a terrible idea this is to them. You can send them feedback by clicking on this link (from a computer, not a phone):


And then selecting the “comment” tag on the right side of the screen.

They are also on social media at:


Again, I think this update is bad for both sellers and buyers and could lead to real issues for both.

Author: LJ Cygnet

Friendly resident editor, owner, and blogger.

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