Revising feedback: it's time to allow change

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Back in February 1996, Pierre Omidyar wrote a letter about feedback: “People sometimes make mistakes. That’s just human. We can live with that. We can deal with that. We can still make deals with that.”

Sadly, most non-positive feedback stems from just such mistakes, and failure to communicate about them: damaged or missing deliveries only notified via feedback, the buyer who misunderstood the seller’s description, the seller who couldn’t post for a week but didn’t let their buyer know. None of this is bad: or at least, not so bad you’d want the offending party thrown off eBay. These are not the people of whom Omidyar said “Here, those people can’t hide. We’ll drive them away.” Feedback was designed to be a safeguard for the eBay community, but right now it’s a wedge driving buyers and sellers apart.

eBay need to incentivise good customer service, but the moment, once feedback has been left, there is little motivation to resolve any issues. Currently, the *only* way to reflect a resolved problem is mutual feedback withdrawal. Sure, sellers who are being scrutinised under the Seller Non-Performance Policy might beg, plead or bully for MFW, but that’s likely to be a miniscule percentage of sellers at any one time. What about the rest of us? Matt Halprin wants to see sellers resolve their problems but MFW offers no carrot to do this. Withdrawn neutrals look exactly the same as withdrawn negs, and “withdrawing” the feedback just tells the rest of the world that the transaction never happened.

A now-happy buyer should be able to reflect that in their feedback: and what better incentive for a seller to resolve whatever issue their buyer has, than the thought that their buyer could change the nasty red on their feedback page can be turned into a lovely green? Why not let them change their feedback?

Traditionally, the argument against making feedback editable is the propensity for blackmail: you left me a neg and I’m going to bully you and bully you and bully you until you change it. But arguably, this is already happening: more sellers than ever, anxious to protect their reputations and their livelihoods, are insisting they will only leave feedback for buyers when they have received a positive themselves. More sellers than ever are espousing “feedback policies” that say that if you neg me, I’ll neg you back and that will be the end of the matter. Feedback blackmail is already here.

But a happy trading partner should be able to reflect that happiness. If a problem transaction is sorted to the satisfaction of both parties, to say that that transaction then becomes worthy of no feedback at all is wrong: transactions where a problem is sorted out amicably are some of the best transactions there are! And if non-positive feedback has been prematurely left, that should *not* be the end of the transaction. It’s time to think the unthinkable, and make feedback editable.

31 Responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more!

    Recently I received a neutral feedback from a buyer who didn’t know how to use a printer. They had their PC set to print to US letter instead of A4 and didn’t understand why they had to press a button on the printer to process the job. They left a neutral.

    One phone call later and they changed the setting on their PC, the printer prints perfectly on A4 with no user intervention and they’re a very happy customer! 😀

    They’ve left a follow up feedback comment and they apologised profusely for leaving a neutral. Next time they need help from a seller they’ll contact them prior to leaving feedback.

    Now why would I want to withdraw the feedback? If I withdraw it then the original rating can’t be seen and it’ll look as if it was a neg. If anyone checks they’ll see yes it was a neutral and yes it’s a very happy customer. Surely that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day?

    If the customer could change it to a positive they would, they offered to withdraw it and I told them not to worry. If eBay want to take my account away for looking after my customers so be it.

    I do look after every customer to the best of my ability but I’m not going to muck about with honest feedback and pretend every transaction I handle is trouble free because that’s just not the case.

  2. I only send items when i receive payment why should feedback be and different ?
    its not blackmail or pressure its sound common sense to retain feedback, its just about the only bargaining tool available to a seller,
    Buyers are not entitled to feedback they dont pay for it, I dont sell it,

  3. its just about the only bargaining tool available to a seller,
    Exactly my point. It shouldn’t be about bargaining: it should be about good customer service.

    And I’m afraid that this new Seller Non-Performance Policy has made a nonsense out of “I don’t sell feedback”. We all have to consider feedback now because our future on the site is reliant on it.

  4. my future on the site is reliant on buyers

    we have nearly 9 years full time selling on ebay, the new seller performance thing holds no fears for us,

    too much is made of feedback

    selling is what interests me

  5. I’d be fine with editable feedback IF they change to Amazon style where no fb is left for the buyer at all, so a retaliatory neg wouldn’t be part of the negotiation to get it changed. Then you could be confident it was changed because buyer realized they made a mistake, or seller fixed the problem.

    Otherwise it would just be a further mockery of the system, where it gets changed just because the innocent party doesn’t want a neg for leaving a neg. At least at present most experienced buyers add the withdrawn cont to the negs, knowing 99% of them are.

  6. “At least at present most experienced buyers add the withdrawn cont to the negs, knowing 99% of them are.”

    And that unfortunately is the problem 🙁 I have a neutral, if I withdraw it then it looks like a neg. If I leave it I stand the risk for the next 90 days it could be the one that pushes me over the limit and eBay restrict my ability to sell.

    I can’t win, and the buyer is a very happy buyer and would happily change the neutral (that was left too early) to a positive.

  7. a retaliatory neg wouldn’t be part of the negotiation to get it changed
    Toby, that was one of the things I considered before making the suggestion. However, it’s my belief that sellers who’d open such negotiations are the exact same people who are currently using the threat of negs to get mutual feedback withdrawal, and/or negging everyone who negs them. So I don’t actually think this would make much difference.

    There will always be people who use threats and blackmail to achieve what they want. I think running the entire system as if everyone were like them is a mistake: the majority of people are good, honest and want to have a positive experience, and by and large, those are the people we should we should design the system for.

  8. did not miss the news, just think it wont have a great affect on me, or sellers like me

  9. I agree But What I would like to see that they can only upgrade one positions. I. E. If they get left a Neg they can get it upgraded onto to Neutral. Or if they left Neutral to Positive.

    Because there was a reason why they left Neg to begin with…that way buyers can still see if it is a slow shipper or item broken anything…just not to go from a Negative Exp. to a Positive Exp…just doesn’t make since.

    Of course you can also see people paying for Feedback increases as well….that maybe a problem…Hey I’ll pay you $10 to change the Neg to Positive!

  10. Here’s another thought…Ebay can track the payments through Paypal, right? Lets say Ebay makes it if the Buyer pays immediately the system automatically leaves the buyer a Positive feedback…That is all the Buyer should be rating on is speed of payment, not if they leave the seller positive feedback.

  11. “Lets say Ebay makes it if the Buyer pays immediately the system automatically leaves the buyer a Positive feedback…That is all the Buyer should be rating on is speed of payment,”

    No sorry, I don’t agree. For a start Paypal isn’t the only payment method. I get cheques, POs, bank transfers etc. Secondly, speed of payment isn’t the only thing. What about the buyer who wears an item of clothing, damages it, then wants a refund? Or says they haven’t received the item and sends abusive emails? There are all sorts of reasons why a buyer might deserve a neg after paying quickly.

  12. Lets say Ebay makes it if the Buyer pays immediately the system automatically leaves the buyer a Positive feedback…

    I don’t agree either. If sellers choose to have feedback left automatically when a buyer pays, eBay’s system will allow them to do that. But it is their choice whether to use this option or not, and should remain so.

  13. no one would expext a buyer to leave feedback as soon as an item had been despatched

    even though proof of postage or tracking number had been supplied

    So why this ethos of giving a buyer feedback on payment

    there are many things involved in a transaction other than payment

  14. @ North:
    Why? Because
    1) demonstrating to a buyer that you trust them is good for business.
    2) demonstrating to buyers that you *don’t* trust them is bad for business.
    3) it’s a unique selling point.

    I’m not going to argue with you about this any more. You have your point of view: I have mine. This is my blog, so I’ll espouse my own POV here.

  15. I have to admit as a buyer I do get an all over warm cuddly feeling when a seller leaves me feedback before I’ve even got the item. It just reassures me that they’re good people to do business with 🙂

    Doesn’t happen often, but nice when it does!

  16. Im In a unique position to comment today, as I’ve recently gone on a ‘low priced multiple item buying spree”.

    I’ve bought , since last Tuesday, 70 items. I have, as of today, received 35 positive feedback form my sellers.

    49 of the items I have paid for have arrived as of today…. Items that have arrived from the sellers who immediately left me a positive ? 6

    Items from sellers who have not yet left feedback – 43.

    I know im a naturally cantankerous & suspicious git, but my immediate thought (after the warm fuzzy childish glee of opening up 20-odd packets) was that, for many, leaving an immediate positive was possibly a “time buying” exercise.

    Y’know, a “Mark as dispatched, leave positive, post ….mañana, sometime, maybe” type of thing.

    (BTW, as a seller, Im in the reciprocal feedback camp. I’m happy when they’re happy, I’m done when they’re done, and to me, feedback = “done”. )

    On the whole “bad seller percentage” rubbish, I just think ebay have done what ebay do best, and made a simple process very difficult, by using the bastardisation of the feedback process as a smoke and mirrors exercise to deflect attention from the genuinely flawed parts of the site..

  17. I am not arguing I am debating

    and quite prepared to change my POV if a sound and realistic case for leaving feedback first is presented,
    I have tried both methods and none of them seem to alter anything much,
    other than I dont feel is if I am at the mercy of the nutters when I dont leave feedback first

  18. When I first started on eBay as a seller, I left feedback first for my first 300-ish buyers. Then I got a neg for something totally dumb that was not my fault. I was gutted.

    Then three more people did likewise in the same month (things like “bought 3 days ago and still not here” – from Thailand to UK for crying out loud) and I was furious. Two of them later withdrew their negs, but only after “negotiations collapsed” and I negged them for being illiterate (yup, I did used to add comments like that in negative feedback), plus added them to my BBL. All in all, those buyers put me off eBay and I moved over to eBid and never touched eBay for over a year.

    During two very busy years I racked up almost 800 feedback on eBid (and attracted more wholesale buyers than eBay has ever provided – many still buy now four years later).

    On eBid, feedback has ALWAYS been editable – both rating and comment, in either direction – up or down, or into or out of the middle (neutral). Even today, I can go back to my first feedback of 5 years ago and edit it – there’s no time limit.

    Then, suddenly, eBid became less fun after the second annual summer exodus of eBay sellers onto the “little free site” (summer 2004). The forums became nasty and wild instead of carefree and spontaneous, sales dropped, and nasty bidding / buying / selling practices started appearing more and more often.

    Then one particularly vitriolic (in and out of forum) ex-eBay buyer got the shock of their life, when, having previously bought off me twice, they bought a third time but had moved house and forgot to update details; their package didn’t arrive at their new address (the PO later proved delivery to the old one and I had to publicly post the proof as a scan of the receipt in the forum – no apology ensued).

    That buyer became so defamatory in forum that I reversed ALL their previous feedback (they hadn’t realised it could be done) and warned the admins to watch for retaliatory action. When it arrived, the admins wiped it all from the system entirely – no MFW count, no negs, positives, neutrals, comments, nothing was left to show we had traded ……. except the forum comments which were never removed and can still be found now, 3 years later.

    Should feedback be editable – Abso-flaming-lutely !!!!

    It may be the only reputation-protection tool available to sellers sometimes. It would also make people think a LOT more about what they post about other users in forums.

    (Having said that, eBay should also be given an annual feedback rating that sellers can post to, with a seperate one for buyers to post to – the difference between the scores would show if their policies are right or wrong. Although I suspect the sellers would be more active in awarding ratings.)

    At the very least, there should be a “Cooling off” period (of say 14 days) where a buyer or seller can edit the feedback rating and comment if they wish to – I probably wouldn’t advocate allowing longer than that – it’s too easy to abuse it, as I did all those years ago, if it’s left open to edit forever.

    In fact, I’d also advocate that negs and neutrals only show to the buyer and seller for 14 days to give them a chance to fix the problem and edit the non-positive if things are resolved. The system could easily trigger “resolution required” emails to both parties when one or the other leaves a non-positive. If not resolved and edited, they then go on the public profile. Of course blackmail & extortion safeguards would be needed, but I still believe only a very small proportion of bad feedback is down to such tactics.


    p.s. – And No, I no longer leave feedback first as a seller.

  19. Why couldn’t eBay leave feedback as it was, as it’s been for the last decade, it was never perfect but it worked and everyone understood how it worked.

    If there were to put as much time and effort into ridding the site of scams, fakes and obvious bad sellers there would be no need to start fiddling with feedback, adding stars and all the new policies in the first place.

    As for being able to change feedback where does it stop, what next, being able to change a positive to a negative perhaps, don’t laugh nothing eBay do nowadays would surprise me.

    Being able to change feedback is a blackmailers paradise.

  20. That’s just it! Why as a buyer, who has already sent you money(therefore I am already out Monetarily), have to leave feedback first? Why if the item is not as described, or is never sent, I post a neg. then you hit me back with a Neg…Tit for Tat(childish, unprofessional backstabbing)? I am Your Customer, it ISN’T a privilege for me to buy from you! It’s a Privilege For YOU that I buy!

    You know what it is called? Customer Service!

    Here is a Perfect scenario:

    A Buddy of Mine Bought an Item Form an Ebay Powerseller with over 15k feedback. Thought he was safe. He sent a Money order priority mail with tracking and signature. The Seller got his funds two days after the Auction Ended. That was on July 17. The seller never sent the Item, My Buddy contacted me about this and I helped him. I had him contact the seller again through Ebay not regular Email. Still No response. Ok now over a week has gone buyy still nothing My Bud Sent a Thrid Email this time he got a response The item was stated as shipping out that Monday…this was a saturday. Great. My Buddy waited 10 Days No item. Contacted through Ebay again to the Seller….oh Now he needed to confirm the Shipping address…But wait he said he was shipping on Monday ten days earlier…hmmmm. Any Way I helped My Buddy File a Complaint with Ebay about this seller. Only Then did this POWERSELLER even pay attention to this matter. Ebay Then cancelled all the Ebay Sellers Auctions…He had to do something! So guess what he finally sent the Items for Real, my bud got the Items Monday August 20th! This guy NOW EXPECTS My Buddy to Leave Positive Feedback in order for him to Leave my Buddy Positive! (Feedback Blackmail)

    This is WRONG Plain and Simple this is what Happens Everyday! Even from so called Trusted Powersellers!

  21. yep as a buyer you have sent money for the goods we have sold you ,not for feedback,

  22. So North, are you advocating that feedback should be done away with altogether, and that eBay should be no different from any other online classifieds site or shopping mall?

  23. of course not! just pointing out that feedback is not an entitlement
    and can not be demanded

  24. There is a problem with this:

    Customer recieves item.

    Leaves neg.

    Says: “Not happy, give me a refund and I will give you a positive…”

    For this reason, I am not sure it would be a good idea 🙂


  25. Mark another problem, Buyer pays for items gets item, posts Positive feedback, but in comments says item had a chip(or whatever)…Seller then posts Neg. due to the comment!

    Happens that way too!

  26. I don’t think that the ability to edit feedback would lead to all these blackmail scenarios – any more than it does now. How many times does feedback extortion happen, I mean in the real world, rather than in our worst imaginings? I’ve been trading on eBay for nearly eight years now, and it has NEVER happened to me.

    As I’ve said in a previous post, I think if we ran the system assuming that most people are good and honest, rather than assuming that everyone is a thief trying to rip us off, the system might work better and we might all have a rather more pleasant time.

  27. EBay have been saying for years that the Feedback Forum is not the place to communicate with buyers/sellers, suggesting that grown adults are capable of emailing/phoning each other and resolving issues. I agree.

    But all the changes eBay are making seem to go against that outlook and positively *encourage* eBayers to use the Feedback forum to communicate.

  28. Upon reflection you are correct Sue, it wouldn’t be any different that it is now, but it might be easier…

    After all, how many buyers at the moment know that feedback can be mutually withdrawn?

    Whereas this becomes a bargaining chip that is apparent to more possibly?

    Interesting discussion 🙂



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