eBay Deprecating Wildcard Search Functionality

Most successful online retailers have learned to follow the various golden rules of 4th quarter, one of the most important of those being “thou shalt make no drastic site or functionality changes”.  Recently, eBay announced that their user front end search will no longer support wildcards in queries. While likely a very small percentage of “regular” eBay users are even aware of the various search operators one can use on on the site, “advanced” users and advertisers have long utilized the wildcard to easily surface the optimal listings they’re looking for. At the time of posting, there is  no official statement from the eBay Partner Network on if these changes will impact searches for the ePN Custom RSS and/or the Finding API.  Since these two tools have character limitations, there may not be a fix for this, even if you applied all the possible descriptive variations to the query.  My hunch is that every search method will be impacted, and they’re just trying to figure out how to package this change as a positive one with some PR spin on their recent cataloging efforts or something similar.

eBay relies on sellers to properly list and categorize the items they want to sell, and for a variety of reasons, this makes it hard for a potential buyer to surface every listing of a specific item(s) they’re looking for. One of the best examples of use case here is searching for items from specific years. Say I wanted to find all the Led Zeppelin shirts for sale from the 1970s. By using the wildcard I can just do this original led zeppelin shirt 197*, instead of searching for original led zeppelin shirt (1970,1970s,1971,1972,1973,1974,1975,1976,1977,1978,1979).   Or maybe I’m looking for a Led Zeppelin hoodie, I could just use led zepplin hood* and catch all possible variations like hooded, hoody, hoodie, hoodies, etc.  Unfortunately, at some arbitrary point in the near future, during holiday shopping prime time, eBay is going to deprecate this feature. One can only imagine the potential hang ups in other product verticals.  From car parts to camera equipment, this change could be very difficult for sellers, buyers and affiliates.  We’re crossing our fingers in hopes that this change only impacts the main site search and not API calls.

9 thoughts on “eBay Deprecating Wildcard Search Functionality

  1. Hey Mike: Long time no see! I hope all’s groove in your world.

    There are indeed some under-the-radar workarounds that can be employed to re-enable wildcard searching functionality on eBay. Naturally, this can help hardcore advanced eBay searchers who like to hunt for very specific items that carry a variety of years, part/model numbers, or misspellings in their titles, and who would otherwise be very challenged, or unable, to find such items on eBay as they used to.

    Method 1: Admittedly, a shameless plug here… On the WatchCount.com homepage, just enter your wildcard’d search phrase and hit the “Show Me…!” button. Before Most Watched search results (which are also currently wildcard compatible), a special link will appear near the top, which takes you to eBay and shows you your search results there with wildcards enabled and functioning properly — the good ol’ fashioned way.

    Method 2: Another tip… While the Finding API had the wildcard feature disabled in parallel with the eBay main site, it seems core RSS feeds are still wildcard compatible. Just perform your search as intended on eBay itself. Then, alter the URL to append: &_rss=1 and view the RSS feed. Notice that wildcards are processed properly.

    These things are possible because it seems eBay is still quietly running the older search engine in the background, which can be tapped in certain ways. …There are a couple other strategies I’ve seen, like other URL parameters, and a homebrewed Firefox extension that triggers the classic search engine on eBay. …Not sure how long any of these “hacks” will work, but we’re going on a few months now a-OK. I read an opinion somewhere that eBay’s classic search engine should continue working in the background until eBay fully transitions all their international properties to Cassini.

    A neat example of the differences between old and new wildcard handling on eBay: search for “18* -18” (without quotes) in the Books category. That aims to include listings with titles that include years in the 1800’s, but eliminate the simple number 18. When performing that search on eBay itself under the new wildcard processing system, you get zero results, since eBay ignores the wildcard and “18” gets fully cancelled out in the search query. But with any of the workarounds above, you’ll get the results you intended, many of them with the year 18xx in the title.

  2. Extra stoked to see this comment here this morning. Great to hear from you Jake, and thanks for all the magical wildcard work around info! Hopefully the full transition to Cassini is still a ways out.

  3. Just a follow-up here to my earlier post…

    Check it out – we finally launched a full-fledged eBay Wildcard Search tool over at http://WatchCount.com/wild/

    While we’ve had a simpler version embedded in our homepage since late last year, we now have a free-standing page that indeed enables wildcard searching on eBay with many of the advanced search options we’ve all been used to for years!

    As an example Mike, I quickly tried your earlier 1970s Led Zep shirt search: original Led Zeppelin shirt 197*

    On eBay normally/directly I got zero results at the moment I tried. But with our new tool, I get 28 matches right now, pursuant to proper/classic wildcard handling:

    http://www.watchcount.com/ebay-search.php?cc=US&bkw=original+Led+Zeppelin+shirt+197*#serp

    Hopefully we can continue to offer this search tool for years to come, but admittedly we’re dependent on eBay quietly allowing these “background searches” way off in the corner of eBay’s vast landscape. Fingers crossed.


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