Feedback system broken. ebay refuses to replace or refund. Not CQQL!!!!!

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As a long time ebay seller, HtF has found that the most frustrating part of being a seller on ebay (after the motivation-crushing fees) is the subjectivity of the feedback system which is designed to protect the buyers over the sellers. It’s frustrating because new buyers don’t directly pay ebay. They pay the sellers who in turn pay ebay. So who is ebay’s real customer? Yes, indirectly, a buyer paying a seller is an indirect customer but who should ebay really be protecting the direct or indirect customers?

HtF has been buying and selling on ebay since we opened our account in March of 1999 (last millennium!). We have received feedback as both a buyer and a seller and we have left feedback as both a buyer and a seller. We know the value of feedback for building the trust and security of the community. Ebay NEEDS a feedback system to protect buyers from unscrupulous sellers since they do not have any kind of application process to become a seller. Anyone with an internet connection and a camera (or scanner) can sell things on ebay and thereby with the perceived support and sanction of ebay’s name and reputation.

When a customer purchases an item on ebay they don’t always differentiate between the entities of the private seller and the corporation of ebay. It is very easy to misinterpret the private seller (or minimum wage customer service person ringing up your Hello Kitty socks) as a representation of the entire corporate entity (Sanrio, Inc). If the person who rang up your Hello kitty socks treated you like crap, you may subconsciously transfer this crappy attitude to the entire company.

In the past, both buyers AND sellers could leave a positive or negative feedback for each other but now buyers can leave positive or negative and sellers can only leave positive or none.  Of course, one buyer’s (or seller’s) opinion of a “positive” transaction can vary wildly from another. There is no standard for what it takes to earn a positive or negative feedback. While one customer might expect that an item merely arrive in a reasonable amount of time and in reasonable condition based on the listing description, another will expect that the item exceed all unrealistic expectations regardless of what the listing or ending price might have been.

This creates a problem for a small seller (like HtF) as the buyer has the expectations of the huge company (ebay) and transfers them to the tiny seller (HtF). Perhaps they don’t appreciate the way that ebay handles transactions, the fee structures, the fact that someone sniped them on the last deal they thought they were getting. Maybe they had to pay for shipping when they feel like they are entitled to free shipping thanks to the market shift created by Amazon. Maybe the last seller they purchased from WAS a scammer who tried to take their money. In these scenarios, some buyers react by setting unrealistic expectations for successive purchases from other sellers. And those successive sellers (potentially HtF) have limited recourse when they do not meet these standards.

The existence of a feedback system at all has resulted in a phenomenon known as “feedback extortion.” This is where a buyer knows how important it is to the seller that they maintain a 100% positive feedback rating, so they attempt to get additional value out of the item they purchased (eg. partial or total refunds of price paid or shipping cost, additional items, discounts on future purchases). And that’s where everything gets grey.

Any reasonable person would assume that Ebay’s goal is to keep their customers happy. The problem is they seem to sometimes confuse their direct customers with their indirect customers. Buyers and sellers frequently have opposing interests. When a buyer feels as though the transaction has not lived up to their expectations they are within their rights to leave neutral or negative feedback whether it is reasonably justified or not. And just as there is no vetting process or standards for becoming a seller, there is no vetting process or standards for leaving feedback. Ebay’s policy is to allow for the market to police itself intervening only when absolutely necessary. And when they do, they usually side with the buyer.

Buyers are also well aware that they have all the leverage at the feedback stage in their relationship with the seller. Sellers need buyers to leave feedback to reinforce their reputation as legitimate sellers on Ebay as this drives more business to their products. But many buyers refuse to leave feedback until they RECEIVE positive feedback which means that part of the cost of earning feedback AT ALL is leaving positive feedback in good faith that it will result in comparable reciprocation. Sellers are forced to open themselves up to a subjective standard of service even though the delivery of the product is consistent. Buyers believe that they are ENTITLED to positive feedback but that sellers must EARN positive feedback. For many buyers this means executing the sale to an unrealistically, unreasonably high degree of satisfaction.

Normally at HtF we set a minimum value on our listings. Our numbers show that it isn’t worth our time to post listings that are valued less than $25. Through the recent holiday season we intended to capitalize on the increased traffic and attempted to make our listings stand out in a grossly over-saturated market. We lowered the minimum value of our listings. In fact, we lowered it so far that in a few cases, we went back to $.99 listings which is something we haven’t done in years.

What we forgot about the lower priced listings was that they still come with the burden of unreasonably high, unrealistic expectations. In one particular case (yeah, the one that motivated us to write this) we received a neutral feedback from a buyer because they didn’t believe that the items we shipped met the subjective standards of our listing description even though the description included multiple photos of the items in question. Oh, did we mention that it was only $15? Did we mention it was for *2* Barbie dolls from 1989 that had never been removed from their boxes? Did we mention that we have sold 605 items since December of 2011 and none of those other buyers felt as though we misled them in any way?

The really frustrating part is that the buyer in this case, since they are not required to do so, did not allow us to take any steps to provide them with customer service BEFORE leaving us the neutral feedback. They were so anxious to wield their power to leave us a non-positive review and WARN other buyers against our deceptive practices that they forgot that they can actually resolve their concerns with us directly and allow us to rectify any kind of perceived slight or misrepresentation. Ebay gently RECOMMENDS that buyers contact the seller before leaving a non-positive feedback, but they do not require it.

What recourse do we (sellers) actually have?

There are a few options:

1. Contact the buyer and hope that they are going to be reasonable about resolving the transaction to their satisfaction. There is a functionality built into ebay that allows buyers to revise their feedback after the fact. The question is how far HtF will have to go to satisfy a customer that purchased a $15 item before it indeed becomes a case of feedback extortion? Not to mention that there are a lot of customers out there that don’t even realize there is a messaging function built into ebay. If they aren’t logged in and don’t have the messages sent to their regular email… they will never know that the seller tried to reach them.

2. If the buyer DOES check their messages and is still NOT willing to be reasonable about revising the feedback… we can attempt to report them for what WE interpret as an abuse of the feedback system. In our opinion, the buyer has left us inappropriate feedback. We believe that we delivered the item in the condition that we stated. But again, this is a subjective matter, and if it comes down to review by ebay (which it has in the past) ebay will most certainly rule in favor of their the buyer and we will be stuck with that glaring *1* neutral feedback for an entire calendar year.

3. Reply to the feedback. There is a functionality built in to ebay that allows for a very short response from the seller after a negative or neutral feedback is received (did I mention that it was VERY short?). This is good in that it allows for us to say something like “why the heck didn’t you contact us before leaving a neutral feedback?” and any other buyers will know that it was the buyer who didn’t attempt to work with the seller. But this too is a flawed process as the buyer then has the option of replying to the reply. The buyer will always get the last word.

4. Of course… our other option is to try and take our business elsewhere, but as we’ve written about before here at HtF, there are a lot of positive things about selling through ebay, not the least of which is the amount of marketing dollars they put into bringing in new buyers.

HtF has completed 605 transactions in the past year and paid fees to ebay on ALL of them. Ebay didn’t receive money from any of those buyers directly. And that doesn’t account for items that we paid to list but went unsold. Again, money made from the seller and nothing made from the buyer. At a traditional in-person auction, a buyer pays an auction premium on top of the selling price of the item they purchase generally around 10-20% of the final sale price. On ebay, the buyer pays the final sale price but all other associated costs are paid by the seller. The seller pays to list, they pay a percentage of the final sale price, they pay a percentage of the shipping cost, they pay the Paypal fee for the money that they earned from the sale and up until very recently, sellers  had to pay for pictures (which are now a requirement for all listings).

If we break down the costs on this transaction specifically, HtF paid ebay a total of $3.59 out of a total sale of $14.99 for this transaction. That’s nearly 25% of the final sale price. The buyer… paid nothing to ebay. HtF has had an ebay account since 1999 and has received 1426 feedbacks which means we have most likely been a part of over 4000 auctions 99% as sellers paying fees to ebay (our numbers show that only about 1/3 of buyers and sellers actually leave feedback which means that the feedback score doesn’t accurately represent the number of transactions that a buyer or seller have been a part of). The buyers account goes back to 2004 and has *26* feedbacks. That means that, at most, they have been involved in less than 100 auctions in *8* years. HtF has 605 transactions (not counting unsold listings) this year alone. The buyer has *3* this year and *2* of those were in the last 30 days. Which one of these 2 accounts is more valuable to ebay? Why, WHY in the great popcorn creeping nonsense of what reality does it make ANY business sense to protect the BUYER in this case over their direct customer, the seller?

In the case, it doesn’t. But this is a very, VERY rare exception. HtF did 605 transactions this year and only *1* of them resulted in a non-positive feedback. That’s .0017% of our total transactions. If that number is even remotely indicative of how transactions play out over the whole buyer v. seller experience… it’s hardly even worth talking about much less devoting human resources to researching things on a case-by-case basis (or writing a 2200 word blog post).  Not to mention that it is almost just as rare to find an account that exists exclusively as a seller or exclusively as a buyer. This means that nearly all of the accounts on ebay are BOTH buyers and sellers. Ebay knows that most of their customers who come to sell on ebay also come to BUY on ebay. They know that even though someone came to ebay as a buyer, at some point they are very likely to sell as well and the line between direct and indirect customer get super blurry.

For every buyer that ebay brings to the marketplace they know that they are bringing in a very valuable commodity that will attract more sellers. They know that nearly every buyer is very likely going to turn into a seller at some point. Their security and feedback systems are designed to protect their largest and most valuable asset pool, their buyers, because the more buyers they have the more sellers they have and the more sellers they have, the more direct customers they have.

We’ll let you know if we get that feedback changed though because, in this specific case, it’s still wrong.

6 Responses

  1. haha. math fail: 1/605 = 0.0017 = 0.17%

  2. But I used a calculator. How can it be wrong?

  3. I’m changing my blogger rating for you.

  4. As an eBay buyer, I like the rating system. Essentially, if the buyer pays, there is no reason the seller should give anything but a positive review. That said, sellers routinely withold feedback until the buyer posts a positive feedback. To me, that’s crap. As a buyer, I actually read the seller’s feedback comments. I look for the typical response more than the negative/neutral ones. I don’t know if I’m typical, but I care more about percent and periodicity. Aside from that, I bid away.

    • Right, the negative buyer feedback generally has no purpose beyond “did they pay or not?” However, at least once a week we have buyers who taken 7-10 days to pay us after the listing ends even though it very clearly states that payment must be made within 48 hours. Now, if they email me immediately after the auction ends or with that 48 hour period I’m OK with it. But we also have issues with buyers who say “give me a week and I’ll have the money” then they back out of the purchase. I could have resold the item in that amount of time. It’s not fair to me as a seller and I need to have a way to warn future sellers that this person does not conduct business in a fair manner. What you will find is sellers who leave positive feedback but write something in all caps like “THIS BUYER IS TERRIBLE” or something.

      It’s time for buyers to realize that the system has changed and that most sellers are not weirdos selling crap out of their basement trying to scam everyone. Most sellers are willing to take a loss on an item if it means saving their rating (because ebay puts so much weight on it).Non-positive feedback should only be left after the seller has not demonstrated a willingness to satisfy the customer.

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