Target Left eBay: What Sellers Can Learn from Its Failure

How Poor SEO Sunk an Otherwise Highly Successful Retailer

Rogers Park Chicago Target Store
Photo of local Target store in Chicago

I visited a Target store for the first time while on vacation through Minnesota with my family in the 1980s.

My Pop, having secretly purchased a football emblazoned with the Vikings logo, told me to “go long” as we walked out of the store and into the parking lot.

I can still remember the enormous red bulls-eye, visible behind my dad’s head, as the bright blur of purple spiraled into my awaiting hands.

Like I felt on that summer day many years ago, people around here generally love Target.

While Walmart stores are few and far between in Chicago, Target continues on a regular basis to open new stores throughout the area.

For example, the one pictured above — which is within walking distance of our office — had its grand opening just a few weeks ago.

But Target’s growth is certainly not limited to the Windy City.

 

Target’s impressive overall growth

To begin with, Target is on track to expand its U.S. brick and mortar business by as many as 44 stores — with 24 of those expansions occurring this year alone.

Target also continues to improve upon its web-based offerings, such as “curbside pickup,” and to increase total transactions placed on its website.  The company reported in March an annual growth of 35.4% in online sales.

And finally, Target maintains a massive presence on eBay Australia.  In fact, Target was one of only a handful of major retailers eBay AU selected to serve its premium membership program known as “eBay Plus.”

To lend some perspective to Target’s relationship to eBay in the Land Down Under, a recent study by Tamebay revealed, “eBay Australia attracts more visitors than the next seven largest Australian ecommerce sites combined.”

It seems obvious, then, that Target as a company is doing extremely well.

So it was really difficult to understand when, one year ago last month, Target made a monumental shift in its online selling strategy and completely abandoned its eBay.com store.

Target as a company is doing extremely well.  So it was really difficult to understand when Target made a monumental shift in its online selling strategy and completely abandoned its eBay.com store.

Why did Target leave eBay?  Let’s find out.

 

Target’s poor eBay search rankings

For a long time prior to last year, I had been keeping a watchful eye on Target’s eBay.com store.

I honestly don’t know why I was fixated on Target.  Perhaps it was because of Chicago’s general love for it, or maybe it was my wife’s hilarious disdain of Target that propelled my interest.

Whatever the reason, I would periodically go and check the company’s search rankings on eBay.  And they were always poor.

In fact, prior to Target’s leaving eBay, my working title for this article was, “Why Target’s eBay Search Rankings Are Pathetic.”

It used to be fairly easy to find the listings for “big box” retailers on eBay, because they often received logo insertion directly into the eBay search engine results page (SERP).

Target Logo Insertion in eBay Sold Listings
Screenshot of Target’s logo insertion in eBay sold listings

The only way to see this feature of Target’s eBay listings, however, was to search its sold listings.

This was because the top 200 results on eBay rarely showed a listing from Target, regardless of the search phrase.

As a point of comparison, a query for “outdoor wall lights” on Target.com currently brings up 102 search results.

But the same phrase would bring up no Target listings on eBay.

And the reason was simple.

Really lousy SEO.

 

Target’s redundant listing titles

Sellers are given 80 characters with which to create a descriptive title for their product listings on eBay.

Although it is a myth that listing titles need only describe the individual item, many sellers don’t even do that.

One of the first things that stood out to me about Target’s listings was that, as is the case with many eBay listings, the titles were consistently vague.  This practice led to an even worse problem, however, in which Target’s titles were actually repeating each other.

For example, the following Target product title:

“Sea Gull 1 Light Outdoor Wall Lantern – Black”

was used not once, not twice, but six different times.  In six separate eBay listings.

In addition to Target’s lack of individual title detail, the titles themselves were also frequently too short.  Some of the company’s titles on eBay were literally only 40, or even fewer, characters in length.

But this only scratched the surface of the issues I uncovered.

 

Target’s “stuffed” item specifics

As most sellers know by now, all eBay listings have an important feature that ties directly into the site’s structured data platform, known as “item specifics.”

These largely closed-ended, dropdown fields are driven specifically by a seller’s eBay category selection and must be completed in accordance with the exact options they provide.  Failing to do so is disastrous for SEO and results in listing displacement, a phenomenon on eBay in which product listings disappear entirely from eBay search results.

It is not uncommon for big box retailers to simply replicate their own sites’ listing data when creating product listings on marketplaces like eBay.

Target was no exception.  Its item specifics content ignored the format of the fields entirely, stuffing as much product specification data into the fields as possible.

Target's Item Specifics on eBay
Screenshot of Target’s item specifics on eBay

Much of the information Target was providing in its item specifics was not only not in accordance with eBay’s requirements, it was also an overwhelming mess.

Listing after listing was loaded with data that was both hard to read for buyers (particularly on the mobile app) and doing nothing whatsoever to get the listing found in eBay search.

The problems didn’t end there, however.

 

Target’s non-compliant item descriptions

The item description, although less visited on the mobile platform, is still an important eBay listing feature.

Sellers are given an opportunity to both succinctly describe their items in this area, as well as to demonstrate their overall professionalism.

In the case of Target’s listings, desktop visitors were greeted with a button labeled, “See full item description,” instead of an actual item description.

Target Item Description Button on eBay
Screenshot of “See full item description” button on Target’s eBay listing

Descriptions on eBay must meet a number of requirements to avoid a whole host of listing problems.

Announced in May 2017, product listings that fail to use HTTPS protocol links in their description templates will receive the above-described button in lieu of a visible item description.

I guess Target never got the memo.

To make matters worse, Target was using Frooition’s content management system (CMS) to list on eBay.  This meant that Target’s item descriptions were coming directly from Frooition’s servers.

My experience with past clients who have used Frooition is that their listing descriptions frequently experience slow load times.  A video I took when collecting material for this article a year ago, recorded a server lag for Target’s Frootion-served template of 67 seconds.

I am fairly certain that my recording, which was taken viewing the details of a sold listing page, was affected by the demands of my screen-sharing software.

Regardless, Target’s listing templates were observably out of compliance, adding to its other SEO woes, and unquestionably reeking havoc on conversions.

 

Conclusion

It’s honestly pretty hard to fathom why a successful American retailer like Target would completely shut down a vital sales channel like eBay, the second largest marketplace in the world.

Unless, of course, it simply wasn’t performing.  And clearly Target’s eBay store wasn’t.

But the reason isn’t what most people likely now believe.

Days after Target left the eBay.com platform, eBay CEO Devin Wenig stated the following:

“There was a time when eBay was very focused on big retailers.  We’re not now.  That doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t situationally partner with a big retailer here or there, but we’re not at all dependent on big retailers for our GMV and, quite frankly, it’s not an area of significant focus for us.”

eBay as a company has been distancing itself for some time from other large players in the ecommerce space, including those on their own platform.

Evidently eBay feels it doesn’t need them to survive.  And perhaps that is true.

But Target’s eBay.com store didn’t fail due to a lack of focus on the part of eBay.

It failed because eBay buyers simply couldn’t find Target’s listings in search.

What’s puzzling, however, is how Target managed to remain on the eBay.com platform for as long as it did without being notified of its gaping SEO holes.

It appears Target would have responded to proper counsel, as the company’s listings on eBay Australia, which are far superior to those that used to be on eBay.com, demonstrate.

Interestingly, Target uses a different CMS on eBay AU, namely ChannelAdvisor.  As much as I am not in favor of their eBay optimization recommendations, Target’s listings are performing better using ChannelAdvisor’s listing tool.

Third-party software companies like ChannelAdvisor and Frooition consistently provide sellers with selling guidance, including SEO advice.

In fact, I had a recent public discussion with Frooition about eBay SEO, and they plainly stated they do just that.

Did Frooition advise Target as to its awful SEO?  We’ll probably never know.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder:

What would have become of Target’s eBay store if someone worth listening to had?

Keep your chin up.

About Dave Snyder 9 Articles
Dave is Founder & Chief Analyst at List Rank Sell. He began his intensive testing and study of eBay SEO in 2010, which eventually grew into a full-service agency dedicated to the practice. Dave has developed a methodology that embraces traditional search as well as technical SEO specific to eBay. Previously, he led a successful career as a tax analyst representing Cook County property owners.

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