How eBay “secretly” changed their background colour from yellow to white

I’m a big believer in incremental changes over absolute and the story of how eBay learned and adapted was a masterclass in execution of iteration to avoid a furore from their customers.

At eBay, they learned the hard way that their users don’t like dramatic change. One day, the folks at eBay decided they no longer liked the bright yellow background on many of their pages, so they just changed it to a white background. Instantly, they started receiving emails from customers, bemoaning the change. So many people complained, that they felt forced to change it back.

Not content with the initial defeat, the team tried a different strategy. Over the period of several months, they modified the background color one shade of yellow at a time, until, finally, all the yellow was gone, leaving only white. Predictably, hardly a single user noticed this time.

More recently, eBay recently underwent a redesign of the forms that people use to post items for sale. These pages are critical to the success of the site, used more than 1,000,000 times every week. Knowing that their users are sensitive to sudden, dramatic changes, the team came up with a novel approach to phasing in the forms.

After verifying the changes through usability testing, the team made working versions of the new pages available for previewing with a link on the existing seller’s page. After looking at the preview, users had the option of making the new forms their default. By tracking how many users converted to using the new forms, the team could measure it’s acceptance.


CTO @ OnCare