When is a neutral not a neutral?

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Seller Non-Performance“It’s only a neutral.” A phrase that crops up again and again on eBay message boards. “It could’ve been worse, at least it wasn’t a neg.” Because neutrals don’t affect feedback percentage, and disappear from the feedback scorecard after a year, most experienced sellers tend not to worry about them. More often than not in my experience, neutrals are about buyer’s misplaced expectations (“these 6mm beads are smaller than I expected”, “these black jeans are not the colour I wanted”), or circumstances totally outside a seller’s control, like delivery delays. Much as we’d all like to, you can’t please all the people all the time.

Well, it seems that the days of “it’s only a neutral” are over. eBay’s new seller non-performance policy counts a neutral the same as a negative:

If more than 5% of a seller’s buyers are dissatisfied, as measured by negative and neutral Feedback left or Item Not Received complaints during a 90 day period, the seller is in violation of the Seller Non-Performance policy.

At first glance, keeping 95% of your buyers happy ought to be easy, and certainly we don’t expect that most sellers will be affected by this policy. However, if you’re selling very few, very big ticket items, you might want to put some additional safeguards in place: if you sell ten cars a month, you only need one buyer to complain that his petrol tank was half-empty, and that’s your eBay career over with.

More than anything I’ve seen in a long time, this policy shows how misplaced eBay’s “level playing field” is. If, as above, you sell very little, you can only piss off one customer a month before you’re finished. If you sell 100 items, you can piss off five customers. And if you sell 1000 items, that’s fifty customers who you can turn off eBay before you get any kind of censure. Who’s doing the most damage to eBay’s business, and to the business of every honest seller out there?

Even more worrying is that sellers who – at face value anyway – appear to be real assets to eBay are being targetted under this policy. Both UK and US message boards have stories from sellers with apparently 3% or less non-positive feedback, who are being told their accounts are being restricted or watched for possible suspension. Of course, as eBay haven’t released details of exactly how they’re making the calculation, this might be intentional, but threatening to suspend sellers who have perhaps 0.5% negative feedback seems to me to be a total misapplication of a well-intentioned policy.

Having been a Powerseller in the clothing category before I moved to crafts, I can say confidently that clothing buyers are harder to please than bead-buying ones. Does this mean I was a worse seller? I don’t think so – it’s just that some categories breed more bad feedback than others. I’ve long said that feedback doesn’t really matter, that it doesn’t pay the bills, and that *you* know if your buyers are getting a good service or not. I think this policy, and particularly the way it seems to be being implemented, gives me the lie on that – feedback and the ability to pay bills are now inextricably linked.

29 Responses

  1. I wonder how long it will be before a certain element amongst buyers pick up that poor feedback has a greater detrimental effect on the seller and use this to ‘bargain with’ the seller. Will ebay take a more robust approach to feedback extortion?

  2. Gill, that’s one thing I’m expecting to see a LOT more of. It’s especially worrying because feedback extortion isn’t on the list of reasons for feedback removal.

  3. The really sad thing is that there’s going to be a lot more sellers (understandably) resorting to feedback blackmail. If they get a negative or neutral feedback they’ll do their utmost to get the buyer to withdraw it because it might tip them over the limit 🙁

    Personally I detest withdrawn feedback, and even if it was a neutral once withdrawn you can’t see the rating so it’s easier to assume it was a negative.

    Now eBay are going to be pushing sellers to “resolve feedback issues with your buyers” I can only assume they mean do your utmost to coerce as many as possible into withdrawing feedback.

    I tend to ignore the odd neutral or negative, but I don’t ignore withdrawn feedback and I’m betting quite a few buyers are the same 🙁

  4. I think eBay are taking this too far and I think there’s a possibility that they will be shooting themselves in the foot.

    I have already seen one seller posting about eBay asking him to ask buyers to mutually withdraw bad feedback. In my mind that smacks of stupidity – if that seller is really so bad, why do eBay want to cover it up?

    Why bother creating the policy at all if they are just going to ask folk to fiddle the ratings?

  5. Taex – I’ve heard of a few account managers advising sellers to both chase up outstanding pozzies, and try for mutual withdrawls. It certainly seems that the Pinks “on the ground” don’t want to have to enforce this with some sellers – perhaps they can see that good sellers are victims of this already.

    As you say, why create a policy and then try to get people to get around it.

  6. Withdraw IMHO looks worse than a neg – some smegger last week gave me a N whilst giving a + for a purchase in the same order.
    Made for a well cheesed off 30 seconds, fortunately the buyer is also a seller and i really do need some crappy stamps on my buying id.
    just bugs the S**t out of me 1 month to go and a 100% clean FB slate and some smegger drops a neut – illegal or not no guessing what they are going to get shortly and can enjoy for 12 months !

  7. A while ago a buyer informed me (a month after purchase) that she had never received a pair of earrings – she said that she should have had them posted to her work address as she shared a mailbox. I immediately said I would post a replacement pair and she thanked me and said that was “very kind”. She then went on to leave me a neutral which read “good, quick communication when goods didn’t arrive as expected – resolved”. Under this new ebay policy this is the same as a neg!!! Is this fair? I might as well have said “tough” and taken the neg.

  8. Here in india we came across a victim of this policy and was debated vigorously …. a seller with over 500 feedbacks and 98.9 percent feedback is asked to resolve 2 neutrals and 1 negative …. the neutrals are from new buyers who are not aware that a neutral affects so much to a seller …. when asked them to withdraw neutrals , they refused saying why do you want us to rate if we can’t give neutral …. i am satisfied with the product and anyways i have not given a negative , so why bothering me ?? And the negative that is being asked to resolve is from a buyer with only 25 percent ratings …… whatever the seller tries the buyer simply wont respond to any mails ….

  9. why the need is what I ask
    why not give the powerseller system more substance
    surely the point of the powerserseller program was to indicate to buyers that they can buy with more confidence from a powerseller,
    with this sellers could well be under a restriction from ebay yet still be pillars of ebay !

    a strange situation!

  10. A couple more things:

    Not mentioned above, but definitely included in the “dissatisfaction” figures: significantly not as described claims. With many account managers advising sellers to go for mutual withdrawls, one might assume that these are not included: however, there is *some* anecdotal evidence from sellers to say that they *are*. This needs clarification.

    Secondly, why is this being done on old-school feedback when eBay has the more subtle tool of DSR/Feedback2/the stars to use? Accuracy of description already asks for further information if a buyer gives a 1 or a 2: Brian Burke has said this is to be extended across the board. So why not use THIS plus Paypal claims as the indicator of seller non-performance? “Dispatch time, score 2, comment, got lost in the post and had to be replaced” obviously doesn’t indicate a problem seller, whereas “Dispatch time, score 2, comment, didn’t post it for a month til I put in a Paypal claim” probably does.

  11. I think that it is enevitable that larger sellers will have more negative feedbacks, firstly as the chances are much higher if you are selling volume, and secondly because they cannot afford to individually deal with each order in teh way a small volume seller can.

    I think that eBay sellers put too much emphasis on the 100% positive feedback. In the real world some buyer are a pain in the arse, and will give you negs whatever you do Trevor (100%!)

  12. I think that eBay sellers put too much emphasis on the 100% positive feedback.
    Trevor, this isn’t (for once) about sellers’ perception of feedback. It’s about eBay closing accounts because of feedback. And volume sellers who are currently relying on the “we can’t afford to give good customer service” excuse are going to have to think again, because eBay’s policy is going to force them to do that, or lose their accounts.

  13. Hi Trevor, it can happen to anyone, it only needs a blip. For example in the last month one of your companies accounts received 206 positives, 13 neutral and 9 negatives. That’s 10.68% buyer dissatisfaction. The account has averaged 2.81% unhappy buyers over the last year so it’s obviously not normal. It’s enough of a blip that it could get restricted though if it’s carried on for much longer. If you’re in the danger zone so could anyone else be 😮

    I’ve also heard the normal story that if one account is restricted or closed then *all* accounts belonging to that sellers are restricted or closed 🙁 I know that’s normal policy but it’s scary that for example one lot of stock which turns out to be faulty from the manufacturer could result in enough bad feedback to close you down even if you refunded everyone. It’s not the customer service that matters, it’s the feedback and if they all left neutrals you’re shafted!

  14. any seller who has a leave feedback first policy now stands an even better chance of being caught with their knickers round their ankles

  15. External issues over which sellers have no control will also have an effect, such as the current postal strike. I cannot believe the vitriol coming from some buyers at present, whose items purchased last Thursday onwards haven’t arrived yet 🙁 This will no doubt be reflected in feedback, if only the DSRs.

  16. It clearly looks like eBay is starting to clamp down on “non performing sellers” however it does appear to be heavy handed and with little or no communication (wow another first for eBay, NOT!)

    The only cause for complaint that sellers have is that whilst eBay haven’t communicated that they are doing this, is that they wont publish the figures/calculation that the sellers need to adhere to so that the really good sellers can actively monitor and take note for themselves if they are approaching the thresholds *before* eBay notify them that there is a problem.

    Personally I think eBay have to clean up their image, and I think that is perhaps one of the first steps, watch out for more!!!

  17. A couple of interesting points from this thread on the Powerseller Board:

    From an email sent to a restricted seller by an eBay support rep:

    “I am afraid that I am unable to tell you the specific criteria in which your account [seller’s name] has breached these guidelines as to do so would lead to the opportunity to manipulate feedback to stay outside seller non performance criteria.”

    This is patent BS as many Account Managers *are* doing exactly that – encouraging their sellers to stay outside the non-performance criteria. In fact, if you impose an absolute, numbers-based bar, that’s what everyone is going to do. If you want to stop this, you have to introduce a much more subjective system, where each account is looked at on its own merits. Will eBay do that? I think not.

    Secondly, it appears that restricted sellers are able to *list* as much as they like: the cap is placed on their *sales*. So eBay are still collecting listing fees, at the same time as telling sellers that if they sell more than a certain amount, they’ll have all remaining listings pulled. This is an absolute farce.

  18. we have 4 selling ids 2 of them are 100% not a neg for years and thousands of sales,
    one of them is good with 10 negs in nearly 9 years one of them is ridiculous with lots on negs
    all use the same staff, same packaging same delivery service and customer service

    so under this idea the ” bad “ID could cause the good ids to be restricted, wheres Ebays Logic ? we all know that any ID can get a bad run, negs are often as much to do with luck as bad service

  19. I am fully aware of a “powerseller” who sells copied discovery channel dvds who engages in a (sadly seemingly viable) policy of encouraging negative feedback leavers to withdraw their feedback so as not to be seen as dodgy. (Despite the usual disclaimers in his listings of “This BBC / history channel / discovery channel documentary is in the public Domain”…. , “Items sent in plain packaging to reduce postage costs” …etc…this seller seems impervious to reports)

    Whats the point of this whole “good sellers only” escapade if criminals can bribe their way into legitimacy?

  20. This policy could spell even more trouble for sellers if the recently proposed “double blind” feedback is introduced as this is going to mean buyers won’t be afraid to say what they mean in feedback for fear of a retaliatory neg.

  21. To be honest Steve that’s no difference to sellers who leave feedback on payment or despatch.

    The only difference will be sellers won’t be able to use retaliatory negs as leverage to pursuade buyers to withdraw feedback.

  22. Again Ebay are destroying their customer base..you know the ones who generate all that obscene Ebay profit….THE SELLERS

    This has to be one of Ebays dumbest moves ever…thank God selling on the Internet is evolving into a NON Ebay place

    This is a very good way for a sellers competitor to wipe them out…just buy a few items on different ebay accounts (I have 7 ..so it’s pretty easy to do) and leave all Negs/neutral…bam… comp GONE

    Totally brain dead…but what else do we expect from wondrous Ebay

  23. Would this not make more sense if it was on BUYERS performance…you know, you say payment required in 5 days and they finally get round to it in 3 weeks…or not at all…Paypal echecks that fail (at least Half)

    Or the buyer who drives you mad with 6 emails a day asking where is my item on an International mailing

    I had one idiot give Neg the day after payment because the item had not yet arrived in Spain from the UK…never even answered my messages…another neg from a Belgiun because as my listing said A slightly stained (washes out ok) pair of shorts …guess what …yes Negative because the shorts were ….Stained

  24. I have had my account restricted under this new policy.
    I had no notice other than an email which as I have found out is a bog standard one that everyone gets.
    My feedback is at 99.8% on over 1000 sales. Now apparentley I am in breach of this new policy. I phoned up ebay and asked why they did this. I never got a satisfactory responce in fact just the opposite. The guy on the end of the phone kept talking about ‘a happy customer experience on ebay’. What about my customer experience with ebay? Why cant we feedback them? I think we all know why.
    From now on I will NOT leave feedback untill I have been give it. I will also do my best to get any neg or nuertal feedback withdrawn.
    Just how stupid are these people? From my converstion with them I dont think they even understand it. They were telling me to sort out my outstanding disputes…I DONT HAVE ANY OUSTANDING DISPUTES. They were telling me to sort out any negative feedback… My most recent one was at tap sent to Latvia, the couriers were unable to deliver it so left a note. Got no response so sent it back to us. before we got it back we contactedc the buyer who gave another address, so we got it resent. The whole process took 3 weeks. Now this whole process was out of our control BUT guess what….the buyer left negative feedback for taking to long to send it.
    UNBELIEVABLE. How do we resolve that????

  25. That example is wrong — if you’re selling ten cars a month, then in the allowed 90 day period you would sell 30 — therefore one less than satisfied customer would be 3%, still within the permitted 5%.

  26. “herman cheesepump” (jeez, you must really hate your parents!), that example actually says “you can only piss off one customer a month” – over a 90 day period, that would be three customers – well outside the permitted 5%. Still, thanks for your input.

  27. This has turned out to be a problem for me. Here’s the catch. I was scammed by a buyer. The buyer filed a complaint with Paypal and left me a negative. She stated that she did not receive an item. I ended up refunding her money, even though I had a sneaking suspicion that she had the necklace. Well, I filed a claim with the IC3 (the internet division of the FBI). Well, guess what! She “found” the package with the necklace that very same day. Now, I have had my account suspended for two weeks under this non-performance rule. So, eBay has helped to perpetuate the scam. I, for one, am going to locate an attorney because this behavior is discriminatory against sellers (as is their 5 star feedback system that only provides feedback for sellers but not for buyers).

  28. Ebay is contradicting itself.
    I received the email from them yesterday stating that I had met all the standards to be considered a “good” seller AND a phone call telling me I was a bad seller and was being put on probation! ALL IN THE SAME DAY!

    Of course, I have heard nothing from any ebay person concerning my question as to why, how and what is the final verdict.

    It’s just a comedy of errors.

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