The History of Multi-Channel Software – Part 1

Multi-channel software, love it or hate it, if you’re selling online and using the online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon, you need it and it makes a massive difference to you being able to run a successful online business or having to wade through the endless repetitive tasks each day manually.

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on that covers the history of multi-channel software and is the beginning of a journey that will change the future of multi-channel software.

If you were wondering, this is directly related to main reason why I have been so quiet lately and together (thats us & you) will be changing the world of multi-channel eCommerce software forever and dipping our toes into the world of 3rd Generation multi-channel software.

However before we can get to the really cool stuff, we need to start our journey from somewhere and the best place to do that is to reflect on where we have come from and where we are today and this is what this article, part 1 and accompanying video is all about.


Part 1 – The History of Multi-Channel Software

Myself & Dave have put a video together to explain the history of multi-channel software below.

You can subscribe to the UnderstandingE YouTube channel here:

Proprietary, 1st & 2nd Generation Software

From it’s beginning where proprietary tools like Turbo-Lister (eBay) and Seller Desktop (Amazon) were created by the marketplaces themselves, then through the demands of businesses to expand further and add-in several missing features tools like InkFrog (1999), Auctiva, AMan Pro (for Amazon) and ChannelAdvisor who appeared on the scene in 2001. The 1st generation of software born and was there to help businesses be more productive with these channels.

Then the 2nd generation came around in the latter part of the naughties (around 2008/2009) where “Auction Management Software” turned properly into “Multi-Channel software” and was needed by businesses as they really started to leverage both eBay & Amazon and other online sales channels. We suspect this was because the Amazon marketplace really started to take off around then and the requirements changed for online businesses, they were selling in more than just one location, they had eBay, they had Amazon, their offline trade and the website platforms out there were getting better & better.

A Change in Requirements

This change in the landscape of business requirements spawned multiple 2nd generation providers that include ChannelAdvisor, who jumped from 1st generation (as they added in Amazon support), MarketWorks, ChannelGrabber, Linnworks, eSellerPro, SellerExpress and numerous other software companies who have come in later such as Brightpearl & StoreFeeder that have woken up to the apparent lucrative world of multi-channel software and whom we see today.

Some companies haven’t made the jump from the 1st generation at all, InkFrog, Auctiva & AMan Pro haven’t really strayed from their original selling platforms and that’s “ok” if that’s all you need for your business.

In the cases of eSellerPro and 247TopSeller, these were created by the failings of the original two providers that serviced the United Kingdom, ChannelAdvisor & Marketworks to adapt to the UK (and Europe for that matter) fast enough.

eSellerPro started as a shipping solution and with an integration to Sage from MarketWorks that then evolved into the tool we see today (see here for the unofficial history), as for 247 TopSeller well this was born in the same 2-3 months time window of eSellerPro because neither of the existing options (CA & MW) would meet the requirements of UK wholesaler.

Cost, Cost, Cost

The current options for business owners like yourself that use multiple sales channels (including the marketplaces) all fall into one of the two camps when it comes to pricing, fixed price and a percentage of sale.

Generally the “smaller” providers offer fixed price software where you pay a set amount each month to them for them to help you manage one or more marketplaces, these are generally medium cost and viable options. The more expensive options appear from the larger providers such as eSellerPro and ChannelAdvisor, where you’ll have a committed minimum monthly bill in the region of £500-600 and if a percentage of sales (around 1-2%) exceeds this value, then you pay more. That’s why you’ll find numerous businesses paying in excess of £1,000 a month for multi-channel software.

It doesn’t matter which path you have followed up to today, all the current 2nd generation multi-channel software products offer good-ish value for money.

As a whole, they all do the same tasks with similar features when we look at them from a high-enough level (in some cases it has to be really high with a slight squint). When we get down to the minute detail, there are major differences which explains the differences in the amounts that different providers charge and it’s these smaller details that generally depict which business uses which software provider because their business needs these small, less “transparent” options.

3rd Generation

It took a mistake by one of the 2nd generation providers to force this path to be explored and when we joined the pieces of the puzzle together we ended up with something that is greater than the original parts combined. What has been missing up until now is for us all to work out that this is actually viable and what we found, personally I was very surprised by.

The 3rd generation is a completely new take on multi-channel eCommerce software and while I say completely new, this has been around for the best part of 3 years already. We’ll cover more on this in part’s 2 & 3.

We don’t have all the answers, frankly we never will, however we know this path works. It’s highly flexible, ridiculously inexpensive and leverages the might of both open source and the backing of a massive corporate umbrella. For the past 7 months, I have followed it myself and there are examples of businesses turning over millions each month using this method.

The Vision of the Future

“A hybrid of both free and paid for open source software where multi-channel business owners can pick & choose the tools that suit their business, both now and in the future

We’re going to leave you with the vision of the future of multi-channel eCommerce software and we’re starting a journey today and we both invite you to join in at

PS. You can find part 2 here, where I admit I was wrong. But what about?

Magento Powers 26% of the Top eCommerce Websites

It would be easy to guess that a large number of eCommerce sites are using Magento, but what I didn’t realise is that Magento powers 26% of the top 1 million sites ranked on Alexa.

And… where it gets really interesting, is this number increased 12% in only a four months!


Magento Domination February 2013

In the chart below taken from the February 2013 eCommerce survey, Tom Robertshaw identified that Magento accounted for 9063 websites out of the total 34,864 eCommerce sites ranked in the top million sites, coming in at a cool 26.08% domination, outstripping all other eCommerce website platforms by miles.

Magento Usage Statistics Feb 2013

Looking at the chart above, Magento is the clear winner in this, but it’s curious to see that we have Virtuemart, Prestashop, Zen Cart, osCommerce and OpenCart pretty much level-pegging for usage across these sites and the once “stable of eCommerce sites”, X-Cart is literally nowhere to be seen at all nowadays.

12% Jump in Magento Sites Ranked

Seeing Magento topping the list wasn’t really a surprise as we all know how versatile it is, however when we look back at Tom’s earlier survey in October 2012, we see in a window of just 4 months, Magento jump from 8063 sites to 9063 in February or a cool 12% increase of Magento sites appearing in the top million sites.


The curious thing is, this insight was reported in February and we’re 6 months further on in September, which makes you wonder has Magento has topped the 10,000 sites mark yet?

Let me know what you think in the comments box below.

And Breathe – Amazon Price Parity Going!

Take one big sigh of relief with the Christmas period upon us, some very welcome news for you…

The OFT welcomes Amazon’s decision to end its price parity policy, which restricts its sellers from offering lower prices on other online sales channels, across its Marketplace in the European Union from 30 August 2013.

A special thanks to John who sent the link over a few minutes ago, Amazon are ditching the horrific “price parity” rule for EU as of tomorrow (30th Aug). This is almost on par with Steve Ballmer announcing his retirement :)

You can read the full details here

Do note that the Amazon price Parity rules are still going to be in effect in the USA though.

I don’t think anyone will miss it, will you?

Using Amazon Keywords Update

To continue on from the article  Q&A: How Can I Use All the Search Keywords for an Amazon Listing Kieran popped over a very interesting email and wants to share with you, the feedback here is exceptionally curious.

Hey Matthew

Just found out something useful and interesting from Amazon support.

I was having trouble with an ASIN, I lost it in the search as if it was suppressed.

I contacted them to ask about it and found out something interesting.

I have been told you must leave a space after your comma in the keywords otherwise it picks the whole box up as one keyword.

The guy explained that he tested my keywords and as an example he searched “slot-in slot in” and my product came up on amazon, the keywords looked like this “slot-in,slot in”

I think this is soooo important if this is the case and i noted that your article does not show spaces between your commas and keywords.

This came from Amazon support.

Currently a potential buyer would have to search for “Slot in slot in 3ds stylus touch stylus pen” as an example because i have setup my search terms wrong!

I hope this is useful to you, its certainly useful to me as currently most of my keywords are completely useless as there are no spaces.

Kind regards


So using spaces is recommended :)

Sneak Preview: The Reason Why We Have Been So Quiet Lately :)

Have you ever had an idea that gives you chills down your spine?

We believe that we’re going to change your world forever and for the better too.

Hit play on the video below:

It’s not 1st generation, nor 2nd generation, it’s 3rd generation with a completely fresh look on the world of [something amazing].

She’s not ready yet, but she’s coming soon, infact one month from today and we will change your world forever.

Be notified the moment she’s live here

Are you Selling on Amazon Yet?

Howdy, myself & Dave F are working on the “Ultimate Guide ” to selling on Amazon and to make sure we’re on the right track, we have two questions for you.

We thought it best to pop these into a quick 2 minute video, just hit play below:

Question 1 – If you’re already selling on Amazon

Is there one tip that you can give a new business owner who is about to start selling on Amazon?

Question 2 – If you’d like to sell on Amazon

If you are about to start selling on Amazon, what one thing would you find most useful to you?

Your Feedback

You can let us know your feedback by leaving a comment below in the comments box

Why is eSellerPro still the best of a “Bad Bunch”?

It was 3 years ago I left eSellerPro and still today, eSellerPro is generally the better choice for larger multi-channel marketplace businesses, but why is this? That’s the question I aim to answer in this article & accompanying video.

I’m answering the same question a couple of times a week and rather than repeating myself over and over, I thought it would be more productive for me to create a video and explain the once :) If I’ve referred you to this page, scroll down and hit play on the YouTube video.


So why 3 years on is eSellerPro still the best of a bad bunch?

Just for the record, “Bad Bunch” is not my term, this is the term being used by business owners like you to describe the multi-channel eCommerce software providers out there today.

And back on topic… Well, the answer falls down to only three key areas:

  1. Inventory Management
  2. Importing & Exporting
  3. Stock Control

So let’s look at these in more detail. You can either follow these in the video below or the written overview that follows.

1. Inventory Management

I’m really surprised that none of the other providers have picked up on this and this can be boiled down to two key areas, inventory structure and the extensible data fields called “custom fields”. So let’s look at the inventory management side in more detail and custom fields, I’ve covered before.

Simply Master, Sub, Listing, Variation and Kit inventory records are the answer here.

No other multi-channel software product out there has an inventory system similar to what is found in eSellerPro and it’s still holding strong  with the inventory types we created over 6 years ago. And this boils down to several key inventory types, these are:

  • Master
  • Sub
  • Listing
  • Variation
  • Kits

Basically you have maximum control over the way your inventory works and if you’re selling products that come in variations or have more than one sales channel, then these really come into their own and kick every other software providers butts.

2. Importing and Exporting

If we take a moment to look at what some of the other software tools have out there and then look at eSellerPro, you’ll then understand why importing & export still rocks in eSellerPro.

Let’s take Linnworks, what would take a single import in eSellerPro takes 3 imports in Linnworks, oh and then you have to combine this with a disjointed interface, managing lots of inventory becomes cumbersome.

Now let’s look at ChannelAdvisor, ChannelAdvisor has the second best importing system out there and in a few places a superior import system as you can run excel based logic when importing product data, but it’s let down by the poor inventory management system behind it, thus falls flat on that part.

ChannelGrabber, they still don’t seem to be able to handle a single import for all products, instead you have separate records for the same product. So if you have one product and 10 listings on the channels, you have 11 records (or there-abouts), times that over 1000 products, you can see the problem.

Other software tools like SellerExpress, StoreFeeder, 247TopSeller etc… I’m unable/unwilling to comment on, but they don’t have the same inventory structure we covered in #1, so they’re basically flawed for larger businesses when compared like for like.

3. Stock Control

In eSellerPro there is a system that was a cool idea in the beginning and even today I’d personally class it as “insanely cool” and I bow to the developer that built the code behind this, it’s amazing.

This all boils down to the way that stock is managed over multiple sales channels and inventory records. But let’s keep it simple!

Say we have a pair of sunglasses that we have 10 in stock, we are selling these on eBay on two accounts, Amazon and our website, we can sell these sunglasses on all the sales channels and when the stock level decreases, then all the channels are updated, when we have stock arrive, then the stock levels are also updated.

But it doesn’t stop there with the channel profile you can set up minimum quantities to limit the risk of overselling, you can use it to calculate prices and it’ll list and delist products as your products come in and out of stock and also by it’s very name “Channel Profile”, you can have more than one profile doing different things for different products

So why is eSellerPro still the best of a bad bunch?

Their inventory system is designed for large multi-channel marketplace businesses, their import & export system is one of the best and most flexible systems out there and finally with the Channel Profile, you can have ultimate control over where and how products are listed.

And frankly what did you expect?

After all I genuinely did believe that eSellerPro was the last software product I would be helping create for multichannel businesses, this is clearly shown  six years on as it’s still the better choice of a bunch of providers out there.

I hope that helps you!

PS: If you’re one of the 3rd party software providers I just covered above and don’t like my summaries or explanations, make your software better, the keys to doing this are covered in the video :)

One Simple Website Mistake Could be Costing You Customers (and Sales)

This one mistake could be costing you website customers & sales and it’s soooo easily checked for and fixed.

In the example I’ll be discussing in a moment, most likely lots (and lots) of good money was paid for a quality website design, support, a full green bar SSL certificate (that’s the best part of £800 a year) and a bunch of Magento extensions to boot, but something so simple is easily overlooked and if the “big boys” can overlook this then the same mistake can be made by us and that’s why I’m sharing this with you.


The Live Example

The best way to show you this is by an example and this morning while looking at the eBay daily deals, I spotted this jacket from Regatta, ever curious to see what they were using for backend software, I opened up one of their images at and we’re looking ok so far right?

When we strip out the image path keeping the subdomain inplace and they’ve done almost the right thing (htaccess or PHP redirect is better) and set a meta redirect on the holding page which then should forward the user onto the main website at and there, that’s the mistake.

The non www domain is a dead site.

Dead Website As No DNS Settings

Imagine what your customers will think when they see a page like this

Open a new tab in your web browser and type in both the www and non-www versions of your domain name and check that they both work.

If your website displays when you go to both “” AND “” then happy days and if your website redirects itself back to one of the version only, send your boss this email and say “Matt O says I’m cool“, if not read on.

In this specific example when the DNS was setup for the domain name “” a CNAME record was added which points to a subdomain of “” (the DNS settings are shown here where the mistake lies in that the catch all /wildcard DNS record for the domain name go to a different server to the one where the eCommerce site is actually hosted and it’s not answering web requests so we get a dead page, which is bad.

DNS Mumbo-Jumbo: If I’ve lost you here with talk of “DNS”, think of DNS being a postcode for the internet which helps your browser find the right address to make a delivery to & from.

When you type in “” in your browser, your browser goes off and finds the unfriendly IP address using a human-friendly name  or “postcode”. I’m sure you’ll agree that “” is a lot more easier to remember than “”.

These “DNS settings” are set by the website domain owner with their domain registrar, companies like Godaddy, One & One or Heart Internet for example.

Keeping it Simple

In the example above for “” this is not a straight forwards fix. The reason being is we know that the domain “” responds to requests and so does “” but “” does not, combine this with their DNS settings and no record for the subdomain “feedback this means that their web server is not configured to answer requests that are sent to “”.

That can get deep really quickly so instead if you website is not responding to both www and non-www requests, the simplest way of handling this is to ask your domain registrar what setting you should enter for your DNS settings so that your website responds to both www and non-www requests and if they can’t help, then ask your web-hosting company.

Tip: If like me you’ve forgotten who you registered the domain with, go to, enter your domain name and look for the “Registrar” entry, this will tell you which site it was registered with and which login details to fig out.

Redirecting WWW to Non-WWW (and Vice-Versa)

I’m not going to cover the ins-and-outs of this here as it’s already been very well documented. The easiest way is with a htaccess file and below are two links that show you how to direct both ways as you desired:

Which version you use doesn’t really matter, what does matter is that the user ends up at the same site for both entries and you don’t have duplicate sites responding on both www and non-www domain names.

Special Note for Magento Users

Magento is quite particular in the domain names it responds to and if your site is using Magento as is the website is in our example, then decide which way you are going to go (www or non-www), ensure that the DNS settings are working (this can take a few [up to 72!] hours to kick in) and then make sure that you set you Magento design settings accordingly.

If you don’t and change the DNS settings or add a htaccess rule that says otherwise your site will get caught in a redirect loop and won’t appear at all.

To remedy this, follow the steps below:

  1. Go to Admin > System > Configuration > General > Web
  2. For both the “Base URL”s in the “Unsecure” and “Secure” blocks set the domain name accordingly
  3. Press “Save”
  4. Now check the website is responding correctly

Using the example is in the screenshot below:


Make sure you set the domain name correctly in Magento

In Conclusion

Even the big boys make mistakes and working around this is relatively straightforward,  you just ask your registrar or web hosting company what you should enter, in most cases if you ask, they’ll even change the settings for you too.

I personally prefer the non-www domains, that’s why this site is the non-www version, but if you were to type in “” in your browser, you end up back here at “” and if this was an eCommerce product based site, then I’d not be losing customers and ultimately sales :)

Which version do you prefer? www or non-www? Let me know in the comments box below.

How to Turn on PayPal IPN When Using Magento & PayPal

What I’ve been really surprised by over the past few weeks is the number of sites that don’t actually have this turned on and it’s just not limited to self-builds even the really expensive Magento builds are missing this out this as a step.

Turning on the PayPal Instant Payment Notification (IPN for short) is an excellent idea as means that when a customer pays for an item using PayPal then the payment information will be updated on the Magento order details in the administration panel.

It only takes a few moments to enable and I’ll show you how to enable IPN for your Magento site below. This will mean that when you receive an order via PayPal Express for example, you can actually see the transaction details in Magento and if you’re using eSellerPro and have the eSellerPro Connector enabled for sales order processing, your order & payment details will match up automatically.


How to Enable PayPal IPN

Setting this up won’t take more than a few moments and here are 6 simple steps to do this:

#1 Login to PayPal

#2 Hover on “Profile” and select “My Selling Preferences”

PayPal IPN for Magento Step 1

#3 Halfway down the page, click on “Update” next to “Instant payment notifications”

Paypal IPN for Magento Step 2

#4 You’ll now be presented with a  page similar to this, press “Choose IPN Settings”

Paypal IPN for Magento Step 3

#5 Now enter the following details:

  • Notification URL – This is simply replacing “” with your website address. <= This is the part that normally trips everyone up as they’re not sure what to enter here.
  • IPN messages – Set this to “Receive IPN messages (Enabled)”

PayPal IPN for Magento Step 4

#6 Press Save

That’s it job done.

To test whether IPN is working or not is dead simple, just make a test transaction through your website (you will need a secondary PayPal account for this) and a few minutes later, check on the order in your Magento admin panel has been updated with the PayPal transaction details.

To help you, I have put to images below, the image on the left has no IPN details, the image on the right does.

Paypal IPN Not Working Paypal IPN Has Worked
PayPal - Magento IPN Not Working PayPal - Magento IPN Has Worked

If you’re seeing the extra information similar to the right image, congratulations PayPal Instant Payment Notifications are working for you, yay!

Did your Magento Design Company go the extra Mile?

Anyone can make a pretty website, however, did your design company go the extra mile and suggest you set up Paypal IPN for your site? Or has this caught you out too? Let me know in the comments box below.

Are You Being Overcharged on eBay Too?

Just like most of you, I bet it was quite a while ago when was the last time you dug in to your eBay invoices. Digging into the transaction history in one eBay account identified an expensive flaw with eBay’s billing when it comes to multiple eBay categories resulting in the account being heavily over charged.

Read on and let’s see if you’re affected too by this.

2nd Categories

There is a flaw in the way eBay handles the billing for fashion categories on the eBay UK site with second eBay categories, this results in your account being over charged, £2.70 every time or if you’re lucky just 36p a pop.

When you list into the eBay fashion categories on eBay UK, you are given a free picture pack.  This is great, you can add lots of images (12 of them, “happy days” springs to mind) which are especially important in fashion related categories. 

You don’t ask for this on the sell your item form or via the eBay Trading API, you are given it for free whether you want or actually use it

Remember this point, it’s important.

The problem occurs is when you list into a fashion related category as your primary category and then add a second eBay category that isn’t a fashion category. This second eBay category may not have a “free picture pack” and because you were given this without choice on the 1st category, your listing is imposed the upgrade fee of £2.70 per listing for the picture pack.

But it doesn’t stop there… as we’ve found you can also be charged 36p “Picture fee” on other items per listing that is listed into secondary categories, although the listing only has one image and there are no additional images. Oh and to top this off, on the account we found this on, the images are externally hosted as well. So that means anyone using 3rd party listing tools are also affected.

Ouch This Hurts

This is the direct feedback from a eBay UK business owner that is affected by this, I’ve checked their account this morning and the fees are there in their billing history exactly how they describe:

Hi Matt

Over the last few days I’ve revised some listings into different categories. Big mistake if I’d have deleted the listings and reuploaded I think I’d have saved £400 ish.

So I’ve uploaded an item into Clothes, Shoes & Accessories >Womens Clothing >Activewear (category ID 137085) and ebay have by default added a free picture pack (we didn’t set it).

Then I have revised the item and added a second category

Sporting Goods >Exercise & fitness>Exercise Clothes & Shoes>Womens Clothes (category ID 79758)

When adding this second category it has picked up the free picture pack on the original category that ebay has added and charged. £2.70.

It’s also charged for picture upgrades on some at 36p & I have listings that are the same as above moved into identical categories and have been charged the correct amount 1p. (anchor store listing with 2 cats).
eBay have recommended two options to stop being charged in the future

a) Remove the second category from any listings.

b) Upload blank images to delete all images from the live listings. Then re-upload the correct images back onto the live listings. But can’t give me any guarantee that this would work.

the option they didn’t say was to delete all listings and re-upload as this would cancel any future issues. But I think this recommendation would be too close to admitting there is a bug in their system. It should have dropped the picture pack when I added the second category.

I have been told that the picture pack charges are down to me as they are advertised clearly on the fees page. I have told them that at no point did I ask for a picture pack to be added to the first category so it can’t be my responsibility.

Unfortunately moving forward there is no setting in ebay to stop additional images charges.

Now there’s not much option but to remove any second categories from my listings resulting in me not using ebay properly and giving my competitors a massive advantage.

We’ve worked out how much this has cost this business this month, it wasn’t pretty as it came in at over £400.

Penalised for Playing Fair

This really does feel we’re being penalised for playing fair.

I know many of you use 3rd party tools and to duplicate your entire inventory, switch a few titles around wouldn’t take more than a few hours, but we generally don’t (most of you anyway, *coff*) and could easily list products into other categories, but in this case we’re adding the second category to play fair and not duplicate list everything.

After all, eBay has gone to such lengths to remove duplicates from the site such as the August 2012 where the a single fixed price listing was imposed, a duplicate listing tool back in 2001 to identify duplicate listings and I’m sure you’ve received them, the bot that scans eBay and slaps you for having duplicate listings with policy warnings.

Are you Affected Too?

A serious question, when was the last time you scanned down your eBay listing fees? Quite a while ago like the rest of us I’m betting.

Take a look at your eBay “Account Activity”, you can access this page from My eBay > Account > Seller Account > And clicking on the “View All activity” link at the bottom or  a direct link is here

Tip: A download option to CSV files is also available on this page too for those of you that have a large amount of transaction history and you can filter the charges using the data filter option in Excel.

My questions for you:

  • So are you affected by this as well?
  • Do you agree with me that this really is not fair for playing fair?

Let me know in the comments box below.

Making Sense of the Spring 2013 eBay UK Seller Updates

This is likely to be the most comprehensive guide there is to the eBay UK updates that are being released this morning that covers the all the changes that are included in the eBay UK Spring updates and a look on how these are going to impact your business over the next 6 months.

These updates require your full attention, pop the kettle on and pull your chair closer, we’re going to dig in deep and see what these changes are all about and crucially how they impact you and your business and we’ll also be looking at what wasn’t included in this update too.

I’m interested in what you make of these updates and how they’ll impact your business over the rest of the year. You can let me know your thoughts & reactions in the comments section at the bottom of this page. If you’re an eBay Top Rated Seller, then do let me know what you think of the changes you’re about to discover.


So What’s eBay Included in eBay Updates?

Almost across the board the updates are almost all positive and we don’t have any unknown surprises of what’s been included, the writing has been on the wall for the images requirements since last year when eBay US sellers got hit with the update, we have also known for a long time now that the “New eBay” was coming and it’s going to be rolled out in the UK this year and there is one word I know you love the most, “FREE” is included in this update as well.

There is one word I know you love the most, “FREE” is included in this update as well

With the eBay UK site being the most highly penetrated site per head of all the eBay sites (hat tip to Chris @ Tamebay for working this out) there are deeper links into cross-border-trade and eBay are taking the extra steps needed to help expand UK sellers by working with 3rd party companies to offer tracked postage options into the EU with half decent rates too, plus clarity for international buyers from their native sites when selecting postage options.

While this update has to be one of the most positive updates there has been to date by eBay (I even questioned this in the call, “we’re 20 slides in, when to do get to the bad stuff? Come’on there has to be some percentage fee increases in here somewhere?”), we do have category & item specific updates in this update as well, that’s almost a given now. I’ll also be taking a look at what was not included in this update, especially around eBay Shops, for me one of the most undervalued parts of eBay that has been shunned again and got a fee increase too.

eBay’s Theme for the Spring Updates

This update has a theme to it, well three to be precise and they all revolve around those most dear to our hearts, customers and crucially what they are becoming to expect from any retailer out there online and offline.

Visual browsing and inspiration
“Online shoppers want to be able to see an item just like they can in a high street shop. This means lots of high-quality photos and clear item descriptions on every listing, especially for buyers using mobile devices. Buyers also like to be inspired by regular deals and great merchandising”

Fast and flexible fulfilment
“When shopping online, buyers can’t simply walk away with an item as they can on the high street, but they still expect the next best experience. Flexible delivery options, with same day or next day dispatch are standard expectations”

No surprises, no risks
“Online shoppers want the option to return an item, with ‘no questions asked’, just like they can in most high street shops”

What we’re now going to see in these updates are changes & updates that revolve around how businesses with eBay can help deliver these as a high quality package to customers.

Update: A short video from eBay on these changes can be viewed below:

Overly Harsh on Themselves

In the chart below, which was compiled by research by a visually impaired research company (joke, but seriously not sure where or how deep they looked?) multi-category retailers are compared to specialist retailers and to marketplaces such as eBay and rated them on a scoring system from good to bad.

Services provided by retailers and marketplaces

Services provided by retailers and marketplaces

Marketplaces appear to have had a really rough ride in this research, consistently scoring poorly.

Yes, we know that same day delivery & scheduled delivery have never really been part of eBay, but as a whole for customer service, most smaller businesses on eBay believe that outstanding customer service is their primary unique selling point and Amazon even changed the rules last year to penalise businesses that don’t respond questions within 24 hours, even over weekends regardless if you’re open or not with the Amazon Seller Ratings they released last September.

eBay swaps images on colour selection

This is a screenshot from the article I mention in a few moments regarding how listings change images on eBay.

I wish I had finished an article that I have been working on over the gallery options on Magento, in this I look in depth at the gallery options on eBay and Amazon, while neither of them are “perfect”, they are a lot better that what you get in almost ALL shopping cart systems out there, free and paid for!

Both eBay & Amazon marketplaces do a pretty good job at the fly over zoom options when there are larger images available and most serious business sellers on eBay have got excellent images, combine this with outstanding product data and many of you reading this would put large retailers to shame.

Update: Thanks to a nudge from eBay, there is a “Top tips for taking photo’s guide” that you can download here.

We’ll be back to the topic of images shortly as we have some important updates on this topic.

eBay Top Rated Seller Status Changes

This is the biggest change to the eBay Top Rated Seller status since it was brought in (and that includes the discounts going down last time too). In this update, we’re seeing a shift from eBay from looking at your performance overall at an account level, but also focusing at individual listing level as well.

You must offer:  (This is their words, not mine)

  • A minimum returns period of 14  days, using the new way of specifying your returns policy
  • 1-day or same-day dispatch
  • An express delivery option – offering delivery within 1 day
  • A free postage option
eBay Detailed Seller Ratings requirements removed

eBay Detailed Seller Ratings requirements removed

The caveat to this is that you don’t need to meet these requirements for all of your listings, instead you’ll only receive the associated benefits and final value fee discounts on listings that do match these requirements.

While you’re not forced to include these options, I know for several companies same day despatch would be impossible and next day would be a massive challenge, especially if we consider that products need customisations made to them before dispatch and is going to be a challenge for them to maintain the eTRS status levels they have previously enjoyed.

On the flip side to these requirements, the entry level to obtain eTRS (eBay Top Rated Seller) status will have it’s minimum of 4.60% for detailed seller ratings dropped [Update: This is actually an error, these are still required to meet the eTRS status] and the minimum percentage will be 0.5% or 2 (this is the 1 & 2 star ratings for the 4 detailed seller ratings, which is what we have now). Also, the barrier to entry has been halved from a minimum of £2,500 of sales & 100 transactions to just  £1,000 of sales for any the past 12 months.

Does this sound exactly like what happened with the eBay PowerSeller status when it was diluted when eTRS was brought in?

Is this a good or bad move by eBay? Remember you can let me know in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Free Pictures But No Advertising :(

The second most important marketing asset that we have available on eBay is changing (the listing title being first of course).

We saw in the updates that were released on last year where extra marketing information was basically banned from being used in product images (this is extra information such as brand logos and text such as “UK Seller” and so on…), in this update we’re being given advanced notice that in August of this year the same rules are going to be imposed on UK businesses.

Promotional messages & borders are going in August 2013

To sweeten the impact of this, we are going to be given free images, well 12 to be precise and when questioned, this looks like up to 12 images per variation as well (not just the 1st free one like we have now) and access to the zoom feature as well. A side effect of this is that the picture pack is no longer needed and is being retired, but the super-size upgrade option will remain.

To be fair we’re being given a decent amount of time to work on changing any images that we may have up with extra borders, messages and so on in them, even businesses with large amounts of inventory, this should be enough time to make the changes needed (although quite painful if you have +10,000 listings with them). If you’re selling in the vehicle parts & accessories categories, then you’re the exceptions list (again) and won’t be subject to these requirements or restrictions.

eBay are setting some new minimum requirements for when it comes to images, these are as follows:

  • Every listing must have a minimum of 1 image
  • That image must have a minimum width or height of 500 pixels
  • Watermarks are allowed, but under strict guidelines

It’s suggested that any images used are 1600 pixels on their longest side, as this causes the zoom feature to be shown on the listing pages and for refurbished items stock photographs are allowed, but not for used products.

Below I’ve included some images around the new image guidelines to help you:

eBay Reccommended Image Sizes

eBay Recommended Image Sizes. A minimum of 500 pixels on the longest side and a suggested width or height of 1600 pixels, as this makes the zoom feature appear on your listings.

eBay images don't use borders

Borders are going to be disallowed when the image requirements are in-force.

eBay water marking Images

Watermarks are allowed for ownership and attribution, but not for marketing information such as specific details about your item or customer service. Your watermark should be no bigger than 5% of the total image area, have an opacity of no more than 50%, and never obscure the item. Links are not allowed in watermarks.

eBay no text or artwork in gallery pictures

This is the end of using the eBay gallery picture to help promote the product and/or your business and instead to focus purely on the product.

What do you make of these changes? Are they going to dramatically change the way you view eBay over the next 6 months? Let me know in the comments section at the bottom.

eBay Shop Subscription Changes

Did you know that there are approximately 400,000 eBay shops in the UK alone and these make a cool £81.4M per year?

If you’ve got a basic or a featured eBay shop, then the monthly subscription fees are going up. Basic is going up by £5 to £19.99 and a featured eBay Shop is going up £10 to £59.99 per month. For this, we’re getting 20 GTC listings (That’s Good Till Cancelled ) for the basic level and a whopping 60 GTC free listings per month for the featured store.

When we do the maths on this, this equates to 20 listings x 10p = £2.00, so that’s a £3 increase for a basic shop or 20% and 60 listings x 5p = £3 and £7 increase for the featured or 13% more.

It doesn’t matter how we mince this one, we’re going to be paying more for the same under-performing, lonely, forgotten-about-for-years, under-developed, under-promoted, generally-lacking, poorly-design, pants-marketing-tools and unloved eBay Shop. More on this topic later.

The New eBay is going to be Rolled Out This Year

The “New eBay” is more than just a logo change

For those of you that followed the Podcast series that we ran last year, one of them also included a deeper look at what the “New eBay” is. The “New eBay” is more than just a logo change, we have already seen some of these changes, but there are some massive changes coming for buyers this year as part of this and I’ve included the video from the Podcast that covered the changes below, which will take you through the updates that eBay have planned with the “New eBay” below:

Common Sense For eBay Buyer Protection Cases

Not just yet through, but in May when you win a buyer protection case, any feedback that has been left will be removed from your account and crucially excluded from the seller performance evaluation.

Same Day Despatch on the Item Detail Pages

eBay same working day despatch optionIn this update when it’s released, we’ll be able to set a “Same Working Day” option for our despatch times on listings.

I’ll cover this in more detail later in what was missing from this update, but for now you can only set your cut off times for your entire account as a single time user setting in your eBay account settings for all your listings.

Native Shipping Options When Listing on Other eBay Sites Locally

This always was a challenge when listing locally on to other eBay sites, which shipping option do you choose? eBay are adding 3 options for international sellers for Economy, Standard & Express options to the shipping options for international sellers when listing onto foreign sites directly.

If you’re using a third party tool to list with, do make sure that once these are released that these options are available for you, as this will help buyers see a true reflection on the right postage costs and delivery times to them.

Forced Immediate Payment Only on Buy it Now Listings

We’re starting to see the first imposed PayPal that we have seen to date, probably since PayPal nought and favoured over the previous billing system Billpoint (which was ok actually) and for listings that are over £650, PayPal immediate payment is required on buy it Now listings. It’s not clear yet whether this is on all product categories or if there are some exceptions (Motors for example), we’ll know more once the updates are public.

Faster Resolution of Unpaid Items & Feedback Removal

A while back (maybe 18 months or more) eBay lowered the amount of time it would take to open an unpaid item case, from April this year eBay are reducing this by 50% from 4 days to 2 days to expedite the payment process or for you to be able to relist your item more quickly.

Keep this in mind if you’re using third party software to automate your disputes and do nag them to make sure that you can take advantage of the ability to create cases faster, as this ultimately means that you’ll get paid or you can release the inventory back to eBay quicker, either-way this will help cash flow.

Best Offer Changes

In May we’ll be seeing some changes to the “Best Offer” functionality as eBay test over multiple categories the ability to access best offers from multiple buyers for an item, but crucially the item actually only being won by the customer who pays first. That’s an interesting dynamic, which I can see sellers liking, but I’m not entirely sure how much customers will like this. Would you agree?

This is going to be tested in the following categories from May:

  • Computers, Tablets & Networking
  • Jewellery & Watches
  • Art

Category & Item Specific Changes

Ewwwwwwww these fill me with dread.

I’m not sure which categories are changing and how deep the item specifics are changing for the eBay UK category tree yet (I’ll update this article when I know), but any change when it comes to categorisation and item specifics makes me cringe. Data is the live blood of an eCommerce business, if you’ve got more than a handful of listings live, then you’re going to want to check these updates out ASAP.

As with any changes on any marketplace, you can gain a competitive advantage by being first to fully implement changes, this is especially true when it comes to categories and item specifics, unfortunately not everyone will read this site that uses eBay and even with eBay’s messaging over the next few weeks it’ll still be missed, read up on the changes ASAP and take advantage of the headstart on these.

If you’re using third party tools to list onto eBay with review what options you have around item specifics and factor these in as quickly as you can. I’m suspecting that the majority of these changes will be minor, that means within a few exports & imports you can have the majority of these changes licked and your data prepared for the updates.

Update: The categories that have updates are as follows and they’re not that bad on first impressions:

  • Clothes Shoes & Accessories
  • Coins
  • Health & Beauty
  • Home, Furniture & DIY
  • Jewellery & Watches
  • Pet Supplies
  • Sporting Goods
  • Vehicle Parts & Accessories

A by-product of these changes, two leaf categories are seeing an increase in fees, these are:

Current category Current final value fees New category New final value fees from 1 May
Home, Furniture & DIY> Celebrations & Occasions > Christmas > Santa Hats & Costumes (122751) 10% Clothes, Shoes & Accessories> Fancy Dress & Period Costume > Other Fancy Dress & Period (163149) 12%
Home, Furniture & DIY> Celebrations & Occasions > Hallowe’en > Costumes (10944) 10% Clothes, Shoes & Accessories> Fancy Dress & Period Costume > Other Fancy Dress & Period (163149) 12%

Also  the “Other Stuffed Toys” category will no longer receive free pictures:

Home, Furniture & DIY > Celebrations & Occasions > Valentine’s Day > Stuffed Toys (70981) will become
Toys & Games > Soft Toys & Stuffed Animals > Other Soft Toys (68394)

A full list of the category changes can be found here and the PDF downloads are below:

Business Policies Tool Being Launched

Back in the eBay May 2012 updates, one of the updates that wasn’t released was a new tool that that simplifies the policies for businesses and buyers. Sometime between March & July we’re going to see the the business policies section launched, this will allow you to keep manage your own custom settings for returns, postage and payment information in one central location.

With this tool being launched, later in this autumn we’ll be seeing new standard returns policies for the eBay UK site, this will include an expansion on who pays the return postage that we already have to include the number of days that a buyer has to cancel a transaction and implementing a standard returns policy for all business sellers on eBay UK.

eBay Returns Information

The standard returns policy can be updated in your site preferences section in “My eBay”

Note: This one will be interesting to read when it’s released, eBay UK publish that there are now 190,000 registered businesses on eBay UK and trying to cover sooo many different business types with one policy means this is bound to upset someone. We’ll know more later this year on this.

eBay Business Policies

Currently the eBay Business Policies is an invite only, this means you should expect an email when it’s released and you’ll most likely be notified within My eBay too.

When this was originally released, Dave Forest from eBay released the video below. If you’re not using advanced listing tools, this tool could save you a bucket load of time when it comes to these settings and is worth taking a the two minutes to watch this video:

eBay Charity Updates

eBay for Charity LogoeBay are removing the  £1 minimum donation from sellers for charity listings.

For the switched on business owners out there, you’ve gotta be thinking 1 pence is a small price to pay to have the charity logo on your listings and I can see this being heavily abused, sorry “used” when this update comes out.

All Ticket Sales Moving to StubHub

This is more of an informational update than anything. eBay bought StubHub in 2007 a platform dedicated to ticket sales and as StubHub launched in the UK last year, ticket sales are being migrated to the dedicated site and from the week commencing the 13th May 2013 all ticket sellers will be required to list on instead of the site.

So What Was Missing from the Spring Updates?

Now this is where it gets interesting, what did we not see updated or included in this release?

No Updates to eBay Shops Functionality

I just feel that the eBay shops owners like you deserve more

Another update passes and eBay Shops now have a price increase, but no extra functionality or exposure added in return. If there are 400,000 eBay shops in the UK, you would have thought that someone (there has to be someone!!!!) that has worked out that the obscene amount of revenue that these stores generate could be used to really expand on what has been built with the existing eBay shops and build these into proper eCommerce sites with features such as:


  • Domain mapping
  • Better themes
  • More configurable design options that we see in true eCommerce websites
  • Maybe responsive themes as standard
  • More SEO options for the shops
  • Daily or weekly deal widgets
  • Deeper shopping cart functionality
  • More custom pages, with more keywords
  • Maybe a proper content management system to make each business show that they are the experts in their niches



  • Better email marketing tools and a signup page that isn’t absolutely pointless
  • More advance cross promotion tools
  • Discount codes
  • Deeper links back into eBay search results
  • Other payment methods (lol, couldn’t resist)
  • Advanced search options that don’t need 3rd parties to create
  • An online chat system
  • Discounts for businesses that use Google Adwords to promote their eBay shop


eBay is a leader in Marketplaces across the globe, I just feel that the eBay shops owners like you deserve more. Do you feel this way too? Let me know in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

No Delayed Shipping Options

One of the points that were highlighted in the research at the beginning was that even high-street retailers are not really offering same-day or delayed/scheduled delivery options.

If you were looking at that research (and trust what it says), then surely would you not be thinking “We could add this into eBay now and facilitate this before any of the other platforms out there“. I feel eBay missed this one early and we’ve missed out on some cool functionality that could have given an edge over the outside world of eBay.

No Control at Listing Level for Same-Day Despatch

Having a global setting for all listings for a cut off time is nice and it’s s start, but for most business now use a mixture of business models for the supply & distribution of stock, then this is plain useless as some products won’t be despatched until the next day and this could be different options within the very same listing as well.

No Fee Updates

Always a welcome to have no fee changes, but makes you wonder what will be in the Autumn update, are they saving them up?

A Complete Reworking of the Types for Vehicle Parts & Accessories

Have you tried listing into the vehicle parts & accessories categories lately? What a nightmare this has become. I’m not sure, if anything has been planned over the use of the parts compatibilities, but they’re not simple to work with on a massive scale. One update that I didn’t include in the bulk of the article above is that eBay are reworking the parts compatibility tool for listing onto eBay directly, this is welcomed of course, but it’s still not a friendly affair.

No Variation Listing Expansion into More Categories

eBay variations are lethal, we covered these in a Podcast last year called “The 101 of eBay Variations + 7 Tips” which was one of the most listened to Podcasts we created. What was missing from this update was the expansion of variations to even more categories. I know some businesses that are crying out for these. (Are you too? Let me know in the comments section at the bottom)

No GTIN/EAN/Barcodes for Variation Listings

We also didn’t see the ability to set a barcode for each variation listing in this update. This basically means that variation listings on eBay don’t get the exposure they should do in Google Search & shopping, plus in the main eBay search. Think about it, if a customer knows the barcode of an item, do you also think that the customer has a credit card in the other hand waiting to buy the product? I do. So that’s why we should have this in eBay too, we have it everywhere else (*coff* Amazon, Magento…)


Out of all the changes that we have in this update, the one that is most likely to impact your business is the changes to the image requirements. If you’re in the vehicle parts & accessories which have missed this hit, then this is the end of the extra marketing potential of the eBay gallery image.

Personally I’m sad to see this go and I know many of you reading this will be hit hard by this update that will be hitting us in August. With up to 12 images now available for free in listings is a really nice extension to combat this but some categories already had free images, such as the fashion categories…

eBay category & item specifics updates are to be expected, they have been in the last few updates and the reasoning behind this is around the cross border trade into the EU sites, there are multiple sites that need to be aligned to each other and I’m sure we can expect more updates to these over the next year or so. On the bright side is that once they are fully aligned (or as as aligned as possible) then updates for inventory data that is used on multiple eBay sites should become a lot easier for businesses with large amounts of inventory.

I’m a little surprised at the bar for the eBay Top Rated Seller status being reduced by such a considerable amount and that the DSR scores are no longer part of this as well, just the minimums that are always tricky to maintain.

We’ll also be seeing granular control over the eTRS status on listings that don’t conform to eBay’s requirements at a listing level, so if you’re not offering:

  • A minimum of 14 days returns
  • AND 1 day or same day despatch
  • AND an express delivery option
  • AND a free postage option
  • AND meeting the other requirements at account level

Then you’ll not be promoted as an eTRS at listing level, which is a little harsh, but if there are items that cannot match this, then the fairest way is to control this at listing level.

eBay are also working with 3rd parties around delivery options as well in to Europe & beyond. Again I’ve not covered this in the core of the article (mainly due to time restraints), eBay have teamed up with 3rd parties to work out decent shipping rates into these locations and especially around expedited and tracked options. This has to bow well not only for us as business owners (especially around PayPal issues), but crucially for customers too.

If eBay’s focus really is, “fast flexible fulfilment”, “no surprises, no risk” and “visual browsing & inspiration”, these core essentials are an excellent base to work from. We’ve seen them working on all these topics in this update, but also in previous updates as well. Sometimes these updates don’t go as planned like the image swapping and colour swatches that had issues in the run up to Christmas from the Autumn 2012 updates, but that’s OK, we know that sometimes updates won’t always go smoothly, with the customer as the focus point, they really can’t go wrong.

What Do YOU Think of the Updates?

That really is enough from me, what do you think of these updates?

  • How will the images update impact you?
  • Will you gain anything from having free images?
  • What do you make of eTRS being diluted?
  • Do any of these updates change your thoughts on eBay as a marketplace?

You can let me know in the comments box just below this article.

How to Enable Order Comments for Magento

If you’re using Magento, then it’s highly likely that you’re using PayPal and other payment methods on your site, the challenge is that by default customers can leave comments at PayPal etc… after the transaction, but those comments are not brought back into Magento and onto your order.

In this article I’ll show you how to add an extension that allows you to accept order comments, turn of comments at PayPal and what to do edit if this extension doesn’t work out of the box for you.

PayPal Express Magento Configuration

Annoying eh? So what can we do?

We’re left with two options, the easy option and the hard option.

Let’s start with the hard option first.

For this option we would need to extend the PayPal extension so it collects the message left by a buyer on the final stage, this is going to need a developer and it’s not something I have done personally, so I don’t have any code for you to do this. This would mean we have a bespoke version of the PayPal extension and also if we want order comments from other payment methods it would mean we’d have to do bespoke work for each of them, not easy to maintain, so we need a easier option, which I’ll show you next.

Now for the easy option

What we’re going to do is disable the ability for buyers to leave comments at PayPal and set up order notes in Magento, then add a free extension that allows order comments from buyers in the checkout.

Note #1: If you’re using another payment method that has a comments section that a buyer can add notes in and these notes don’t come back into Magento after the payment is made, then ask the payment provider for the steps needed to be followed to disable that option.

Note #2: If you’re selling on eBay, this will not affect your eBay transactions.

Disabling PayPal order comments

First let’s disable the ability for buyers to leave comments on PayPal website payments, to do this follow either the steps below or the direct link is here:

  1. Login to PayPal
  2. Along the top click on “Profile”
  3. On the “My Profile” page, select the bottom left option called “My selling preference”
  4. In the second section down, click the “update” link to the right of “Block Payments”
  5. For the option called “Display “Add Instructions to Seller” text input field:” set this to “No”
  6. Press Save

Tip:  While you are on this page, there are several other options that you should consider reviewing, such as the ability to block currencies that you do not hold, stop duplicate payments and also the name that appears on your buyers card statements too.

The image below highlights this option:

PayPal Express Disable Customer instructions to seller

Now what if we want customers to leave us notes on orders?

Well that’s easy, there is a FREE extension that does this for us :)

It appears that Magento doesn’t have the option to accept customer comments or order notes for a whole order, we have gift options (in System > Configuration > Sales > Gift Options)  which is way more complicated, but basic order notes, nope…

So the easiest way of having this is to use a free extension and I’ll show you how to add this extension in the steps below:

  1. Go to this page on Magento Connect:
  2. Sign in if needed and press the “Install Now” button
  3. Agree to the terms and copy the Magento Connect 2.0 URL
  4. Go to your Magento administration panel
    Special Note: If your Magento is compiled, disable this before continuing. If you have no idea what I just said, ignore this :)
  5. Along the top select “System > Magento Connect > Magento Connect Manager”
  6. You’re likely to be asked to sign in again on this page
  7. Under “Install New Extensions” paste in the URL we just copied from the Magento Connect site:Magento add extenion url
  8. Now press install and in the section that appears, press proceed.magento connect proceed
  9. Leave the extension to install and once you see the message “Cache cleared successfully” we know the extension has been installed as shown below:Magento cache cleared successfully
  10. Go back to the Magento admin panel and log out and login again (good practice after you install any extension)
  11. Now create a test order and on the final stage of your checkout called “Order Review” you should have a order comment box like this:


Magento order comments in the checkout

If the order comment is not showing in your checkout flow

If we’re not seeing this order comment box at the final stage of the checkout flow before you press the “Place Order” button, then we need to update one of the layout xml files. Sounds scary, but it’s dead easy and the steps are below:

  1. We need to edit one of your theme files called “checkout.xml”.
  2. Open up your favourite FTP program and login, now go to this path:/app/design/frontend/default/<your theme>/layoutReplacing ‘<your theme>’ with the theme that you are using on the site and look for the file called “checkout.xml” and open it.

    Note: If you do not see a “checkout.xml” in this directory, copy the default “checkout.xml” file from the “/app/design/frontend/base/default/layout” directory and put it into your theme directory.

  3. Open up this file and search for “onepage_review_info”Tip: Pressing Ctrl+F in any good text editor will show you the find tool
  4. We should see a block similar to the screen shot below and add in the highlighted line below:

    <block type=”checkout/agreements” name=”checkout.onepage.agreements” as=”agreements” template=”checkout/onepage/agreements.phtml”/>Add line to checkout xml file for order comments

In Summary

I’ve tested this with the current latest version of Magento which is and it works fine and without the need to edit the checkout.xml file. If you’ve followed the instructions above, you now allow customers to leave comments in your checkout process and have no hacked payment extensions. Sweet!

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