Fee avoidance has always been an issue that eBay have struggled to combat. Fee avoidance takes many forms but the latest drive is to eradicate items with low prices but unreasonably high shipping charges – eBay have committed to crack down on this practice. eBay appear however, to be removing auctions with reasonable postage through ignorance of actual costs whilst ignoring auctions in categories where fee avoidance is habitual and blatant.
It is undoubtedly a poor buying experience to find an item you want at a great price just to discover that the postage cost is many times the bid price. This is especially bad when the postage price isn’t shown in search results and a great argument for eBay to present total price, including shipping to the buyers location, instead of the item price. At the same time the practise disadvantages buyers who list the true selling price with realistic shipping charges as buyers are likely to home in on the lowest cost items bypassing the more expensive. This undermines the marketplace for both buyers and sellers.
Sadly their drive to rebalance the marketplace seem to be targeting the wrong auctions. Rather than concentrating on prolific fee avoiders they have been removing listings which have legitimate postage charges commensurate with the weight of the item and method of shipping. Recent examples of removed auctions we are aware of include
A heavy hardback book with postage charge Â£5.50
Actual cost Â£3.85 for standard parcels
Actual packaging materials Â£0.85
Total Â£4.90 leaving Â£0.60 for handling and sundries
Telephone equipment weighing 8kg with postage charge Â£12.00 (specified as courier delivery from a VAT registered seller)
The lowest cost on the ParcelForce rate card for 8kg would be Â£14.25 (plus VAT) so Â£12.00 is reasonable.
As an alternative a 3-5 day delivery actual cost Â£9.97 for RoyalMail standard parcels
VAT on Â£9.97 = Â£1.75
Total cost Â£11.72 leaving Â£0.18 for packaging and handling. (NB This is the cheapest method available)
In these two examples if eBay were familiar with actual shipping costs quoted by Royal Mail or couriers perhaps they wouldn’t remove these auctions. To demonstrate just how poor eBay‘s understanding of shipping methods and costs are you only have to look at the examples they provide in the Excessive Postage & Packaging Charges Policy.
The Matrix Reloaded DVD
Domestic Postage UK Â£2.00 Royal Mail Second Class
Explanation: The seller is sending the item via Royal Mail First Class parcels and is charging actual postage prices plus a reasonable fee for packaging and handling.
In this example just what postage are they looking at? Second class? First class? Standard Parcels? If eBay can’t research shipping charges sufficiently to write their own policy it’s unrealistic to expect their customer service reps to implement the policy with any understanding.
To make the situation worse statements from eBay to sellers whose auctions were ended have been “We want each seller to have a balance in their listings, between the price and the shipping cost. So therefore I urge you to adjust them” or “relist the auctions with a postage cost below the original costs to show you’ve complied with the policy” (How much below?) “Just a little lower”. Such messages have naturally been treated with the contempt they deserve when actual or close to actual postage costs have been charged. Instructing sellers to incorporate shipping costs into the item price whilst others don’t is not providing a balanced marketplace.
Removing auctions for sellers where postage is high in comparison to the item cost, but where weight is significant and suggesting that sellers reduce postage below cost and incorporate it into the selling price also raises accusations of profiteering on eBay‘s part. eBay make fees on final value prices (and on listing fees if starting prices are higher). They do not make fees on postage. It’s worth noting sellers will simply increase selling prices to take fees into account degredating the buyer experience yet further.
There have been calls in the past for the postage to be incorporated into the item cost removing all ambiguity. This naturally raises difficulties when shipping costs vary between domestic and overseas destinations.
If eBay really want to start reducing fee circumvention they should look at categories such as MP3 players with shipping regularly ten times the cost of the item! Fee avoidance is sadly just the tip of the iceberg, sellers that resort to it often have grossly unfair and often illegal terms and conditions of trading. Examples include
“All items will be sent by Registered Air Mail and mark as “Gift”” (which is illegal and breaks Customs regulations)
Quoting shipping and in the small print plus “required insurance for the each item” (gouging even more money from the buyer without paying eBay fees)
“All sales are final, no return or refund will be issued” (so if it’s faulty they won’t help you)
“We reserve the right not to refund S&H when the item has been posted” (meaning if the product is defective they don’t refund you for the grossly overcharged postage – just the couple of quid for the product)
Muddying the water further some fee avoiding overseas sellers with low price high postage products have started to incorporate Union Jacks in their gallery pictures to trick buyers to thinking items are located in the UK.
– Unhappy buyers who fall for outrageously high postage charges and compulsory insurance
– Unhappy buyers snared with illegal or unreasonable terms and conditions
– Unhappy buyers who have a poor buying experience trying to wade through auctions with unreasonably high postage charges
– Unhappy sellers who feel their auctions are removed unjustly whilst seeing many others remain
– Unhappy sellers unable to compete against those trading unfairly
eBay desperately need to get a handle on fee circumvention in general and excessive shipping charges in particular. In their own words “Listings that include excessive P&P fees lead to a poor buying experience and unlevel the playing field by putting sellers who charge reasonable P&P charges at a disadvantage. These listings undermine the trust and legitimacy of eBay’s marketplace.” Trust and legitimacy works both ways, it doesn’t include removing sellers auctions that have reasonable postage costs whilst the site is infested with auctions that not only blatantly avoid fees but have darn right illegal trading practices.