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Get to Know: eBay Shipping and Logistics

The first seafarers faced a host of challenges as they discovered new lands — none more so than figuring out how to ship new goods and raw materials back to their native lands. With the invention of air travel centuries in the future, explorers had to figure out how to preserve goods over long distances, navigate lawless seas, and load and unload extensive shipments by hand (ships would often spend more time docked to ports than sailing on the high seas). These challenges led to increased manual labor and higher occurrences of accidents, loss, and theft.

Cargo handling, even after the invention of railways and basic pallet-and-rope systems, remained incredibly labor intensive until the advent of the good old container in 1956. Container shipping revolutionized the shipping industry and roughly 60% of all goods now travel via sea containers each year. Ships, ports, trucks and trains, however, had to be modified to handle containers. The container sizes themselves were standardized so the manufacturing and shipping processes could be streamlined and made more efficient all around the globe. (For more information about mighty container, we recommend reading Marc Levinson’s excellent “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger.”)

So what does this history lesson in containers, trade routes and freight transport mean for you? As a director in eBay Marketplaces’ Shipping and Logistics department, I lead a team of software engineers who focus on the modern implications of this complex domain. We’re frequently asked what “shipping” entails in the modern era, and I like to say that we essentially work on providing services that can be used by eBay buyers and sellers to transport their items from one location to another. This involves a lot of different elements, such as integrating with different carriers and building highly-available distributed systems to provide common shipping functions like label generation and rate calculation. In cases where we don’t have direct data, we use machine learning to identify how long it will take for an item to get delivered and how much it will cost to ship it via various shipping services. We build experiences for our sellers that help them process their shipments easily and manage their post transaction shipping process from end to end.

In a nutshell, my team and I enable all kinds of shipping services integration on eBay. We’re a newer team, so we’re really excited to learn more and share our learnings with our customers — and ultimately help improve everyone’s shipping experiences on eBay. Join us on our journey as we blog about the team, the platforms that we build, life in the eBay Seattle office and what cool features and products we are releasing. We welcome your comments, insights and feedback to help us along our journey.


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By Farah Ali



2014-01-09 07:20:17 Reply

While it’s nice to see history as a reference point upon which to base new learning, ignoring certain basics, such as maintaining infrastructure, render any insightful lessons gleaned from that vantage point as less valuable.

My case in point, which is currently frustrating this Seller, is a bug in the eBay Bulk Shipping Label printing program, which continually refuses to send a Scan Form along in the printing process with the labels and Receipt. After I click to Print, the new tab opens and the labels and Receipt are the only things showing available to print – no Scan Form. In the last several months, when I attempt to print out 50-75-100 labels (albeit in more than one session due to the illogical, arbitrary 50 label limit), only once has the Scan Form not been in the PDF print form when the new tab opens (and yes, I do have the check box marked to print it – I check that religiously before printing). Yet, when attempting to print lesser amounts of labels at one time (3, 5, 7, 10, etc), the Scan Form simply isn’t there when the labels are. This was happening on a random basis over the past several months, but has increased lately, to the point that the last 4 consecutive times in a row (within 2 weeks’ time), no Scan Form materialized when shipping fewer items in a batch. During that exact same 2 week time period, when printing 97 labels one day, and 76 labels another day, Scan Forms materialized for each session.

The result is that these packages have to be taken to the Post Office, and I have to request the employee to scan them individually. So far, I have skated by on the good graces of efficient, friendly and caring USPS employees (yes, they do exist), most likely since the quantity is not great. However, they are not required to scan these packages on this basis, and I’m dreading the day when I get refused, since that will most likely be the new standard policy on these packages of mine from that point on.

In my attempts to rectify my problems, I finally was able to burrow upward through the byzantine and stultifying eBay phone support system, and recently was able to talk to a rep who was probably based in the US, who seemed knowledgeable, and could interact with me in a cogent conversation. The result of that conversation was an admission of this as a known bug, but eBay has it classified as Pitney-Bowes’ problem in their integration into the Bulk Label system. It’s not eBay’s fault, and eBay can’t do anything about it but report it to Pitney-Bowes. Logical? Yes. Helpful? No.

This speaks volumes to what you reference in this blog post. At present, I am not having an “experience…helping me process my shipments easily.” And from a bug that is known, has been known and reported for months, and appears to be getting worse, from my “experiences”.

If you are attempting to stretch the boundaries of shipping services and features available on eBay, and in particular, integration of third party providers to achieve this goal, then your focus has to contain the basic building blocks of that integration. First and foremost, of course, is relevance, but close on the heels of that requirement is reliability. They need to go hand-in-hand, and reliability is maintained by fixing problems as they occur. A service that doesn’t work as promised is not worth having.

Having sold just a little less than 600 auctions in the last 90 days, I realize that I am certainly considered “small potatoes” by eBay’s standards. However, even us “little guys” deserve systems that work when we want them, as they were designed to function. History is littered with examples of systems that were relegated to the trash heap, because they didn’t function properly, whether by relevance, design or maintenance.

    Farah Ali

    2014-01-10 22:48:28 Reply

    Thank you Elizabeth for taking the time to write such detailed feedback. I agree with your points about not losing focus on maintaining the core. Please know that you are by no means a “small potatoes” seller for us. It is people like yourself that built eBay and make it the unique and interesting marketplace that it is today

    I’m sorry to hear of your experience printing bulk shipping labels. Please know that we value our partnership with you, and would like to look into this situation more. Please copy your feedback and send it to socialCS@ebay.com attn.: Farah Ali using the address associated with your account. We will review and get back to you with some answers.


2014-01-09 10:03:55 Reply

Hi Farah -

Insightful article and congrats on your new role. Yes, it’s amazing the efficiencies that were realized with the railroads in the early 1800′s and then containers in the 1950′s (once they agreed to a few ISO standards in container sizes). If you can create the standardized format, you can get a much better jump on the competition, even if you have an inferior product, e.g. Beta vs. VHS. Obviously eBay did a great job of creating the standard and beating out OnSale (can’t remember which company was Beta or VHS back then :)

Last year I emailed Dane Glasgow some info on us, but maybe it would be a better fit for your shipping and logistics team as you figure out your last mile distribution strategy – both hardware and software.

It would be great if I could get in touch with you and get your feedback on what we are doing.


    Farah Ali

    2014-01-10 22:38:48 Reply

    Hi TJ, sure would love to learn more and give you feedback. You can send an email to socialCS@ebay.com with Attn: Farah Ali in the subject line and I’ll get in touch


2014-01-09 10:08:10 Reply

To whom it may concern,

I am a long time Ebay Top Rated seller who is committed to positive customer experiences. That includes accurately describing and providing items to buyers in the Ebay marketplace. I would like to discuss a growing problem with estimated delivery dates Ebay quotes to buyers as part of their purchases which negatively impacts how buyers perceive merchants and Ebay in the course of daily business transactions on Ebay. Please contact me

Thank You
Simon Haddad

    Farah Ali

    2014-01-10 22:37:14 Reply

    Thanks for reaching out Simon. Would love to hear your feedback and get you any answers that you need. However, in order to confirm you are indeed the account owner I will need you to send an email from the address associated with your account to socialCS@ebay.com attn: Farah Ali and we can continue the conversation.

Jim L

2014-01-10 09:52:46 Reply

Good post! With an interconnected world, shipping, logistics and international trade is perhaps one of the most interesting and challenging areas. I can imagine the complexities around dealing with multiple carriers and multiple policies and rules that apply can’t be easy.

As an eBay buyer, all these complexities are abstracted away from me which is great. I’ve also noticed that over the couple of years the shipping times (especially for international orders) are coming done which is huge.

Thanks for sharing and looking forward to hearing more details about this fascinating domain.


    2014-01-10 22:35:08 Reply

    Thanks for the kind words Jim! Looking forward to sharing more about the super smart team I work with and the cool projects in the pipeline.


2014-01-13 01:26:33 Reply

It’s really cool to see eBay investing more in the shipping field as it hasn’t been stellar in the past, but we’re definitely beginning to see incremental improvements.

The field is very complex and I’m sure a huge amount of work must happen in the background. I particularly liked the idea of using machine learning for shipping cost prediction that you mentioned above – would love to hear how that pans out.

Congratulations on the new team and looking forward to see what comes out of it over the next few years!

    Farah Ali

    2014-01-15 21:11:48 Reply

    Thanks TD for the vote of confidence and for appreciating the efforts made by the team. Stay tuned and we will keep you posted about all the cool things coming in the pipeline.


2014-01-15 04:47:39 Reply

Containers reduced cost, improved efficiency and grew the global economy. its time to think outside of the box (pun intended) all that wasted packing -surely its time we just took our goods and popped them into reusable shipper supplied containers and expected them to arrive safe and fast. Why are we having to wrap, protect and insure each individual item? its time that couriers and mail services took responsibility for thier business. Think about milk; the guy who took the risk of supplying mik to doorsteps in glass bottles revolutionised that business too. Ok the milk business has changed but its a good historical success story with similiar problems. Lets get ebay actually doing something rather than just trying to skim a few more pennies off of sellers all the time! start a revolution in the shipping business, its time to stand up and be counted.

    Farah Ali

    2014-01-28 14:41:10 Reply

    I agree wholeheartedly on thinking outside the box :) . Maybe we can take it a step further and manufacturers can package things in such a manner that they are shippable as is right out of the factory without requiring labels or other carrier specific stuff. This will certainly even the playing field to some extent. The best part: less wasted paper and packing materials and positive net impact on the environment. Thanks Steve for your revolutionary ideas, keep ‘em coming!

Shanaya Hargrove

2014-01-21 16:20:06 Reply

I am happy to know that eBay has a newer developed team focused on providing efficeint and faster shipping to their customers. In the past I was loyal shopper to to the company but I then shifted away due to delayed shipping and high costs. I am happy to know more time is being devoted to improve shipping as it is what usually determines my purchase on the site. I look at the cost and generally how long it will take before I purchase an item.

Thank you for you time dedicated to making your customers happy and I look forward to seeing what you and the new team develop.

    Farah Ali

    2014-01-28 13:40:31 Reply

    So great to hear from you Shanaya! I am sorry to hear you are not as active a shopper on eBay these days. Would really love for you to come back to our platform and provide your valuable feedback (either here or send an email from the address associated with your account to socialCS@ebay.com attn: Farah Ali). I would love to use your feedback and suggestions to drive enhancements to our product.

    Thanks again for the taking to write!

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