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EBay executives plan to focus on improving ''user experience'' in new year

EBay Inc. will focus on improving the ”user experience” in 2008 in hopes of making the world’s largest online auction more satisfying for its millions of users, a top executive said.

Engineers significantly updated eBay’s home page earlier this year – for the first time since 1999 – and made its search engine faster.

Next year they’ll focus on rooting out sellers with unethical or questionable business strategies – particularly vendors who charge exorbitant fees, said John Donahoe, president of eBay Marketplaces.

Many sellers lure shoppers with extremely low fixed prices or auctions that start at a penny – then charge disproportionate fees to mail the item to the buyer.

The phenomenon pervades lightweight electronics vendors, some of whom advertise cell phones or digital music players for virtually nothing – then charge $15 or more to ship.

A year ago, Donahoe said, eBay began asking buyers to rank sellers’ shipping costs on a scale of one to five. Users may now view that data in aggregate form and, if they want, decide whom to purchase from based on shipping fee scores.

The company may use the data in more palpable ways in 2008, such as incorporating shipping fee complaints into search algorithms; sellers with high shipping fees may not appear in the first page of search results. It also may include factors such as whether shipping was prompt or the seller responds to questions.

While they seem arcane, such tweaks have big ramifications for the tens of thousands of people who make their living through eBay. Donahoe, who came to eBay after a business consulting career, hopes buyers will be the beneficiaries.

”EBay needs to evolve the user experience to be more competitive and differentiated,” Donahoe said in the company’s San Jose, Calif., headquarters. ”We could start basing our search results or other policies on user feedback, or at least give the buyer a warning.”

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