Minding my own business

No primary category set

Two things happened to me yesterday. The first was a survey from eBay asking what I think about my account manager. Maria is possibly the nicest of all the very nice people I’ve met at eBay: she’s also super-efficient, and I’m lucky to have her as my AM. So far, so good. But the last question of the survey was perhaps the most telling: after asking me if having an AM made me more likely to keep trading on eBay, they gave me a big text input box, and asked me how they could improve our business relationship. The 1000 characters I got to respond wasn’t nearly enough.

The second thing was that I got two neutral feedbacks. Normally, I’d shrug them off: it’s Christmas, after all, buyers are stressed and needy, the post is unreliable, tempers are frayed and time to sort problems is non-existant. But these two neutrals came on an account which doesn’t have very much feedback: it’s one I use for testing new lines and new listing styles, and it gets used pretty erratically. And two buyers is a high percentage of its feedback. Thank goodness those two buyers chose to leave neutrals not negs, because two negs would have got me an account suspension: all my eBay accounts gone, at Xmas, because of one non-paying bidder and one person who didn’t like the colour of her beads.

And I realised what I ought to have said to eBay in the survey.

Earlier this week, Saul Hansell wrote in the New York Times about eBay sellers’ problems. He quoted Scot Wingo saying “eBay’s relations with sellers over the last few years have deteriorated and are, at best, poor right now,” which is undoubtedly true, but then went on to characterise this as being all about fees. Quite honestly, fees are the least of our problems: at least we know what fees are going to be.

The worst things that businesses have to deal with are the unpredictable things, and over the last year or so, eBay have introduced more and more unpredictability. Though it’s been under the guise of protecting buyers, what they have also achieved is to alienate sellers. Seller Non-Performance, Detailed Seller Ratings, putting adverts for our suppliers in search results, and now removing us from search results based on feedback: the real problem for eBay sellers is that constant, nagging feeling that says “we can take it all away from you in a second if we want to, by arbitrary rules that we won’t ever properly explain, and you’ll have no right of appeal”. Because it’s that fear, that very reasonable fear for our livelihoods, that sends sellers away from eBay. We can plan for fee changes, but we can’t plan for total loss of our eBay income. It’s that that makes us look to our websites, to Amazon and to any other online outlet we can find – because in those places, we’re in control. We’re treated like adults running businesses, rather than naughty children who are going to have their toys taken away from them any time that Mommy chooses.

eBay will say – and they’ll be right – that the majority of sellers have nothing to worry about from measures designed to clean up the site. The problem is that although that might be what eBay *mean*, it’s not what sellers are hearing. The new policy against excessive P&P charges is being implemented on eBay UK this week: in a thread discussing this, Louise from beauty-buy-mail says what many are thinking: “I am having a serious re-think over Christmas. I have been on ebay for a long time and things have gone too far.”

eBay’s response to this, tacitly or occasionally explicitly, has been to say that for every seller who leaves the site, there are another five waiting to take over from them. This might be true, but it’s exceedingly sort-sighted. What’s better for the buyer experience: the established, knowledgeable, stable business seller who’s trading for the long-term and is prepared to allow buyers their legal rights, or the Dellboy fly-by-night who’s on eBay for a few weeks’ trading before he falls foul of some policy or other and is thrown off?

Going back to my feedback, of course it’s entirely possible that if I’d had two negs on one account, only that account would have been suspended, rather than the ones I actually make money on. I don’t know, because eBay still haven’t told me. Rumours of the SNP policy began almost a year ago, yet we still have had no official announcement that it exists. When would any other business partner change their policies, affecting your relationship, and not make sure you knew about it? Imagine if your bank, your courier, or one of your suppliers, made announcements of major changes on a chat board – you’d think it was laughable. And yet that’s exactly what eBay did.

eBay need a change in attitude towards their sellers, and I’m hoping that those survey questions indicate its beginning. Because eBay need to start treating their sellers like proper business partners. Instead of “disadvantaging” some sellers in search results, they need to do things properly: if sellers are undesirable, then throw them off the site. Third party ads in search just take the piss: have a little respect for us, please. And give us information: tell us what your policies are and how they’re going to work *before* you implement them, not months later – and give us the information to comply with them properly.

29 Responses

  1. And to add to my own over-long post, I’d like to make one very specific suggestion.

    Both Goofbay and Channel Advisor’s DSRWatch have been prevented from displaying DSRs to the 0.01 this week. As DSRs are – as eBay keep threatening telling us without giving us any further information – going to be more and more important over the next months, eBay need to give us MORE information, not less. Specifically, we and our buyers need to see not just the average, but the spread of DSR scores. If our score has dropped, we need to know if that’s because one buyer has scored us very low, or because the general trend is down. So they need to show us how many of our DSR star-leavers have given us 5, how many 4, and so on.

  2. I’d also like to see averages per category. Sure I understand eBay don’t want us to identify that the one buyer that bought from a category we only listed one item in marked us up/down, but with a minimum of say ten or twenty sales in a category before DSR averages were shown would be sufficient.

    Personally I’d like to know if, for example, I’m marked down on postage rates for laptop power supplies (Sent via Royal Mail) or if I’m marked down on printers (Sent via Courier). That would be a helpful pointer as to the areas I could improve.

    I’d also like to see an across eBay average for different categories on DSRs. Do clothing sellers have averagely higher or lower DSRs than computer sellers? Do sellers specialising in garden furniture get averagely higher or lower DSRs than those selling DVDs and CDs? Comparing DSRs with competitors is much more applicable than knowing you’re amongst the best, the average or (hopefully not 😛 ) the worst on eBay as a whole.

    Currently DSRs are a stick to beat sellers with. It wouldn’t take much more information from eBay to make them into powerful metrics sellers could measure their business by and target specific areas for improvement. Currently due to the sheer volumes of DSRs left for prolific sellers they’re meaningless unless you happen to be in the bottom 0.5%

    The final issue with DSRs is that it’ll take a year for the early ones to drop off the radar, and takes literally 1000’s of new ratings to raise your average by 0.1 star. If a seller identifies a problem, rectifies their listing strategy or customer service is it really fair to penalise them for a year or more before eBay consider them rehabilitated? It would be nice to see penalties such as for 3.9 or lower for postage to only apply to the last months or last quarter’s DSRs as then sellers *could* rectify the situation.

    As Sue said surely it’s better for eBay to have established and committed long term sellers. More visibility on DSRs could help sellers not only continue selling but for even the very best sellers to improve the service they give.

  3. Just a quick note to Chris’s very good point above: (“The final issue with DSRs is that it’ll take a year for the early ones to drop off the radar, and takes literally 1000’s of new ratings to raise your average by 0.1 star.”)

    Early in 2008, we intend to base demotions on a much shorter trailing period of DSRs.

    Richard (eBay)

  4. And while we’re asking about averages, I’d also like to know about national ones. Are sellers across the world going to be held to the same numerical standards – because it’s my impression that e.g. French buyers are much happier to give out the negs than British or American ones. I was talking to a French friend about this the other day: “French buyers love complaining,” he said, “feedback is a gift for them”. (Yes, both my neutrals were from French buyers :-D)

  5. “we can take it all away from you in a second if we want to, by arbitrary rules that we won’t ever properly explain, and you’ll have no right of appeal”

    They can and they do, I’ve learned the hard way this year that ebay don’t give a crap about any one of us.

    Having your own website is a steep learning curve, but at least I now feel in control of my own destiny, and not as though I’m working for an employer again.

    I don’t think I’m alone in believing that ebay thinks of it’s sellers as employees, and naughty ones at that.

  6. In regards to DSR’s & feedback, MHO is that they should be there to provide potential buyers with information – nothing more & nothing less. eBay should stick to their ‘merely a venue with a level playing-field’ line & not use them to affect search results. At all. Ever. Irregardless of whether or not their “arbitrary rules that we won’t ever properly explain” will affect me personally.

  7. Surely there must be some kind of trading law to prohibit this as it is discrimination based on a flawed and easily manipulated system.
    As it has been pointed out before on the PS board, there is absolutely nothing stopping sellers competitors from making purchases and giving extremely low marks accross the board to knock their rival from the “top spot”.

    Also pointed out on the ps board, sellers who have free p&p don’t have 5 stars. Why? Because the buyer either doesn’t fully understand the system or because they are not happy with another aspect of the service, not covered by the star rating system. This makes the data incorrect and not viable for measuring anything against.

    What about those who never give a perfect score for anything? I know a few people like that who will never, ever give full marks as to them nothing is ever perfect. But hey, I am not like that so where I would give full marks for a transaction, my friend would not. The seller is being penalised becuase of a buyer’s principles and not the level of service, which is what this whole thing is supposed to be about in the first place!

    It’s a crock and has proved to me that ebay is no longer viable as the tools to manipulate have been improved to farcical degree.

  8. Is it possible that Ebay have had their eye on the court cases everywhere.

    So they want to “clean the sellers up”, to escape this image.

    Problem is, it seems to me, they have taken their eye off of the seller who is a good seller and treat all sellers as bad sellers.

    It seems they are also taking a sledge hammer to a nut again.

    For Sue to have two neutrals in the space of a month and be worrying about being restricted to sell is a completely ludicrous situation.

    Why not using the system thay have but soften the end where the good sellers are, but really hit heavy on the other end.

    No one wants bad sellers on the site.

    But we could all be forgiven the last year in thinking that Ebay want NO sellers on the site.

    So the disparity between good and bad sellers needs to be much higher, then yes, get the sledgehammer out…


  9. Using automated DSR results to “Clean up the site” is the daftest idea I’ve ever heard. I wont post their ID here, but last night came across an obvious P&P rip off merchant £5 item £40.00 P&P for an item that can’t of weighed more than 200 grams packed, yet their P&P charges DSR was 4.7, a quick look at past listings for the last three months show they’ve been doing this for some while to, go figure?

    I know full well why eBay are doing what they are the way they are, it shouldn’t be too hard to work that out for anyone with a few brain cells. 🙂

  10. I don’t personally have any issue with eBay using this as a tool against fee avoidance, Richard – assuming that’s what you mean with your cryptic comment. I pay my eBay fees – those who use that type of fee avoidance mean I have to pay more. “Level playing field” and all that.

  11. if it affects sellers like me I consider myself simply “MR AVERAGE”
    it affects ebay, so it dont worry me one jot, cos if they hurt me, it hurts them!

  12. and on the subject of account managers, I really cant see what use they are, they cant discount or offer anything they ring you up and bother you wasteing your time, prattling on about something you heard about months ago

  13. It’s not so much that account managers are useful, more that ’email support’ should be renamed ’email hindrance’ (eg ‘I have a listing issue which I have summed up in this single sentence’ – RESPONSE ‘thank you for bringing this feedback issue to our attention’, ‘it’s not a feedback issue, read my emails before you answer’, RESPONSE – ‘thank you for bringing this feedback issue to our attention’).

    Phone Supports’ going that way too (eg bloke I needed to talk to in PS Support refused to take my calls, even though it was his job & they way he went about it was illegal under UK law).

  14. got to be honest I have phoned ebay only once ever, and only then it was just to be awkward , I did not really expext anything other than waffle,

    the response I received was wonderful, the support was first class, if not better

  15. It kinda depends what the issue is. If it’s something very straightforward (“my competitor is linking to their website from their listings”) then email support is easier: there’s an art to emailing them too, keep it very short and very simple, and preferably give them a link to the relevent eBay policy.

    If it’s more complex, then phone support is – in my experience – pretty good. With both eBay and PayPal, on the few occasions I’ve had to call, I *have* felt like I was dealing with a human being, and generally my issues have been dealt with pretty quickly.

    However, I think it’s very useful to have someone at eBay whose job it is is to be on my side somewhat. e.g. when I was prevented by cross-border trading limits from listing on eBay.fr (yeah, go figure) Maria got that sorted in a matter of hours for me. With someone who didn’t know my accounts, that would have taken longer and been more difficult, I think.

    And especially now that eBay are more actively policing sellers, I think having a listening ear might become a lot more crucial.

  16. the one time I needed an ebay short cut, my account manager was not available , I got an auto email to contact another account manager who was standing in for mine, when I contacted him, I got another email saying he was not available .and to contact the account manager I contacted first, 2 weeks later I received a response,

  17. Hey Sue,

    Thanks for this discussion! In the US we’re eagerly watching what happens to our friends in the UK because as you guys know you have become the eBay guinea pigs 😉

    To Richard@eBay’s point (BTW ,can you confirm he really is from eBay?) it’s not clear what he means by ‘demotions’ – is that the math that brings a DSR score down or ‘disadvantaging’ kind of actions/ SNP actions?

    When I read the statement, it was a little scary because it seemed like if a seller had a short bad period (maybe an employee leaves, you are short handed and your shipping times go up some), then you could quickly get hit with a SNP suspension?

    On the Saul piece, he chose to pick out the fees part, but I tried to paint a picture of how it feels to be an eBay seller with constantly shrinking margins, knowing that ‘more will change in 08 than in last 10yrs’, having policies changed on you and then living in fear of account shut downs.


  18. yopu can also be paranoid and allow it to cloud the real point of the matter,
    namely selling and making profit, when it happens or if it ever happens then I will deal with it, until then I will continue as I have done for the last ten years, if that aint good enough for ebay thats their loss not mine

  19. Hi Scot,
    Thanks for the comment. Yes, we know Richard is definitely from eBay, and “Demotions” is how eBay are referring to the disadvantaging in search results. So it’s good news that they’re going to be acting on DSRs more sensitively.

  20. The main thing I object to is the off-site links. I was just searching for a coat for my little dog and typed “dog coat medium” into the search box. At the tope it said 90 items found and at the bottom of the page were links to online pet shops, and I thought, surely there aren’t 90 items on this page?
    Only then did I notice that UNDERNEATH the off site links did it have a link to page 2. Silly me I was looking for it under the first lot of results!
    Never mind shop items, you get the links before you get all the auction and BIN items.
    It really IS encouraging people to go off-site.

  21. got to admit I often click the offsite links, if I am looking for something,
    it sort of makes it quick and simple to buy, packaging for instance there are a trillion offerings with all sorts of permutations of quantity and postage costs,
    the offsite link saves you the bother of trawling thru the listings

  22. Sue, I may be wrong, but my reasoning why eBay is letting an automated system do this instead of doing it the easier and more sensible way is from a legal point of view. It goes back to what I said some time back and to which I’ve not seen any reply from ebay. Ignoring all other factors for a moment, how can they justify charging two sellers the same listing fee while giving one better exposure than the other? A bit of a legal minefield. However, if they make it automated and tell people that’s the automated criteria you list under then they side step the legalities.

    Just my thoughts, but OTOH I could be talking complete nonsense, make of it what you will. 🙂

  23. hey,im new to eBay.but im guessing the whole dsr is a good thing. I know richard might not think so and i Dont fully understand his rationale behind discounting a seller who has a bad dsr. whole point of this is to clean up the site. for far too long now ebay has always been about the seller. just because eBay is a website and not a normal bricks and motar doesnt mean that some sellers can give applaing customer services and just say ”ah well, its only 3/10 customers that arent happy”. obviously the sellers that are affected by the dsr are not conducting themselves in the apporiparte manner. as i said im only new to selling but i would be devasted if i received a negative and I always communicate with my buyers. i feel the main downfall of so many sellers is communication…just because your behind a pc doesnt give you the right to treat customers any differently then it would if they walked into your shop!!! just my point and maybe im rambling!! anyways merry xmas to all you eBayers and lets hope 2008 is even better then this year 🙂

  24. Hi abs, try not to be devastated by your first neg. It will most likely come along at some time in the future and will probably not have anything to do with your good or bad service…

  25. Most buyers on Ebay are great, understanding and fair. However, a small percentage use the feedback and dsr system as a way of insulting the seller, thinking they have a right to personally insult you because some t^at of a postman has stolen your parcel (I used to be a postman, I know it happens…I have seen many sacked).

    Ebay is very biased towards the buyers and always has been, getting worse recently because Ebay want their site to go back to the way it was…people selling unwanted items. Ebay express is for business sellers now.


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