Buyer sued over negative feedback

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The Daily Mail reports that an eBay buyer is being sued by a seller for whom he left negative feedback. Chris Read bought a mobile phone described as being in good condition, but when he received it, he says it was both damaged, and not the model he ordered. He left negative feedback for his seller, and assumed that would be the end of the matter. But he’s now received a letter informing him that if he doesn’t retract his comments, he will be sued for libel.

The seller told reporters that he’d given the buyer a no-quibble refund: “surely that is great customer service and deserves positive feedback.” It’s not quite clear whether the refund was before or after the feedback: the buyer commented that it “took a while to come through”.

Earlier this year, a seller in the US tried to sue a buyer for leaving neutral feedback, though the judge in the case threw it out. But as Mr Read’s seller says he has been disadvantaged in search results due to this negative feedback – and with 2 negs out of 30 feedback in the last month, that would sound right – feedback really does now have the power to damage someone’s livelihood. I think we’ll be seeing a few more of these cases in the very near future.

32 Responses

  1. Fantastic, too many buyers have been brain washed by ebay in to thinking they have carte blanche over feedback and need to be reminded of the responsible use of feedback and the repercussions if they’re not.

    I had a buyer pruchase a phone on Sunday, received it Thursday and left me negative feedback because he claimed it was next day delivery service. The auction in the postage section said 1st class recorded, nothing in the actual auction itself about next day delivery.

    Ebay compound this by stating words along side the postage type telling them that, that should just state what it is, Special, recorded, parcels, 1st, 2nd class etc and not mention delivery times. But they want the buyer to be disatisfied so they can keep the DSRs down and not pay the discounts.

  2. I am not surprised this has happened.

    Sellers will of course defend their ability to sell.

    I wonder how Ebay will react to this.

    This is the second story in a week, of sellers taking recourse in the law.

    The watch issue and now this.

    When Ebay closed dialogue down for the seller and stacked everything in the buyers favour, dialogue was only naturally going to be opened via other channels…


  3. #1 “But they want the buyer to be disatisfied so they can keep the DSRs down and not pay the discounts.”

    You don’t seriously believe eBay want to make buyers unhappy do you?

  4. The seller’s a plank, how does sending the wrong thing that’s also damaged by the sound of it equate to “surely that is great customer service and deserves positive feedback” ??????

    As for sueing the buyer I hope he loses big time. Trading on eBay is tough enough already, the last thing we need is to frighten off potential buyers in such a spectacular fashion.

  5. the last thing we need is to frighten off potential buyers in such a spectacular fashion.

    There are many types of buyers…some need to be frightened off. Especially the ones who don’t read listings, have unrealistic expectations and abuse the systems available to them.

    I wonder what would happen if I put an ad in the national paper about my negative experience in Asda, especially if it wasn’t true.

    Ebay seem to think that negative Fb equals honest FB…very very wrong.

  6. Couldn’t agree with #5 more !!!

    I don’t know the exact details of this particular case so would not like to comment on whether the buyers feedback was just/unjust or even honest. However I have encountered my fairshare of unjust and downright untrue feedback myself so I know these buyers exist.

    I recently had to threaten to take a buyer to a small claims court to recover any money I lost as a result of their actions. Basically I sold an item and declared it was faulty and sold as spares/repair. He bought it then emailed and said it wasn’t working and wanted it exchanged for a working one!! I pointed out that it stated it was faulty in the auction and the price reflected that – at this point he admitted to not having read it properly. He then went on to state that he ‘would just recover his money by means of a paypal dispute’ as I was being unreasonable.

    Fortunately (this time) my threat of legal action put him off of starting a paypal dispute – however it didn’t stop him negging me! Ebay did nothing and said that feedback was just a buyers opinion!!

  7. #5/#6

    I’ve had one nutter buyer in my time and a couple of non-payers. But the other side of the coin is that most buyers are straight up folk looking for a good deal. What this event says to people is: come to Ebay and get stiffed and then get sued if you complain about it. This is an improved buyer experience? I just can’t see how this situation is the slightest bit better than what we had before. It could get nasty, but it was even.

    The sellers’ exposure to damage from malicious buyers is now too great, and the margins for error too narrow. I’ve shut down and moved on, rather than have to comply with such unfair and unbalanced odds, but I know for sure there’s going to be more and more marginal traders pushed into this kind of catch 22 by passing nutters, unlucky timing or the sheer idiocy of Ebay a la Kafka.

    The problem is that small sellers always get the excrement end of the disruptive innovation stick, and that what counts as a small seller is getting bigger all the time the more the really small ones leave. This seller now has no items on the site – looks like he’s being purged. He was 98+% 4.7DSR on less than 600 sales. How many more are going to be driven into the corner he found himself in?

  8. As we say in NYC – Oy vey. Without knowing the details, I can’t comment on this exact situation. But in the larger trend, it’s a problem for sellers.

    I sold a used suede coat, described accurately. Buyer says “oh, it’s got some marks” (on a used, light-colored suede – that were described) I offer $20 towards cleaning to offer good customer service. Buyer requested 50% rebate for cleaning. I said no, but would take back for full refund.

    She left nasty, inaccurate feedback as a response because she wanted the coat AND the money; or if not that, then for me to also pay for her RETURN shipping. On this selling ID, I sell consignment items, mostly luxury goods. I am now not only disadvantaged in search, I am on the “restricted seller” list. That means I cannot list my client’s items using the correct brand names. Which means significantly lower selling prices.

    I’ve been successfully selling since 1999 with great feedback and few problems. Buyer is fairly new (but not brand new.) Her boldness in demands seems to stem solely from no fear or concern about her own rating, fed by the subtle message from eBay that sellers are bad news.

    I can see the seller’s frustration here.

  9. Folks, read what’s been written. At no time has the seller said that what the buyer is saying is untrue, draw your own conclusions, to me it’s fairly obvious.

  10. Two years ago I received a neutral for sending the wrong thing. However I did ship the correct item, the packaging just happened to change. In the listing I stated it worked on Mac OS but the second batch of the same item no longer said that (no idea why). Then the buyer complained the CD didn’t fit in his drive so I posted an ISO of the included CD on my website. He accused me of trying to give him a virus.

    Four things about this:
    1) I received unfair feedback
    2) Didn’t retaliate (I definitely wanted to)
    3) Didn’t send the law after him
    4) Didn’t get hurt by some eBay policy

    Take away #4 and ability to do #2 and I’m not surprised this is happening. Sending a refund doesn’t completely absolve a seller. But I also fail to see how the comments are libel.

  11. The person getting sued said it was petty.

    What is petty is getting a full refund on an item and then leaving a negative feedback still. As for this scaring buyers from Ebay…..Ebay is already doing a great job of this (and scaring away the sellers). They don’t need the courts to help.

  12. eBay used to remove the neg and the feedback if you popped down the local solicitors bunged them a tenner and swore some oath or what not, now eBay just remove the comment if you do that and the neg stays.

  13. If we believe what was written in the article I think the buyer was correct to leave a negative feedback. His experience was negative. If we believe the sellers feedback received we should all be relieved that he no longer has any live listings.

    Buyers don’t know the ins & outs of seller non performance & why should they need to? They just want to pay for their goods and get them as described, within a reasonable time frame. Of cause different customers have different levels of expectation. This is the same wherever you sell.

    In my opinion feedback has had its day but some measure of seller performance is needed to weed out the cowboys.

  14. #12

    Chris, that’s the entire problem. Whether this particular seller wins or loses his case is neither here nor there. Because there is now a real material loss to sellers directly multiplied from negative feedback, marginal sellers will increasingly resort to the courts to protect their business advantage.

    The fundamental basis of all commerce since the reign of the Angevins has been: caveat emptor. There is now a perverse incentive for malicious buyers to cause material loss to good sellers by using negative feedback. Those good sellers will defend themselves in courts because that’s the only defence Ebay has left them with. Sooner or later a seller will win, and the news will flow around the world just like this story has. This new system isn’t going to work, buyers have too much power and sellers have too little.

    Coming soon to your store: someone who doesn’t want to pay for the goods.

  15. This may be a marginal case, I don’t know enough details to comment and even those that have read all the stories and heard all the interviews probably still don’t KNOW the FACTS. However sooner or later someone somewere will take a lieing cheating dishonest buyer to court and prove the case that it has affected their buisness

    Sooner or later someone will also take ebay too court for their unethical policies or for stepping over the line with their policies. They are already tredding a fine line. How any company can rewrite the definition of ‘Neutral’ and get away with it is beyond belief.

    I get neutral feeddback stating things like ‘good item – many thanks’ or ‘great – thank you’ and Ebay use that against me in their SNP policy. People who serve on Asda’s tills must hear that 1000’s of times a day but it doesn’t mean that they are doing a bad job or Asda as a company is bad.

    Ebay remove listings on a whim – I listed an Ivory coloured dress (removed as Ivory is banned from Ebay). Another seller gets a genuine listing for a computer game removed because EBay THOUGHT it was a promotional copy. Mistakes like this can lose a decent seller their livlihood.

    Problems with their search last week lost me hundreds of pounds.

    How long will it be before someone starts a paypal dispute for their Ebay fee’s as ‘Item not as described or not received’. They are taking money for a shoddy service and sooner or later someone will take them to court over it.

  16. #17 What has this story got to do with “malicious buyers” & “good sellers”.

    Bad sellers are defiantly much more of a problem on eBay than bad buyers.

  17. eBay called me up earlier this week (checking I had heard about the upcoming changes to postage max limits) and said that in November they are re-instating Seller ability to leave negative feedback on buyers.

    Maybe this will help balance things back up – if buyers have back that niggling worry that their own rating might be at stake?

  18. I have been regularly buying items on Ebay for 5 years or so but only recently started selling. I currently have a 100% feedback record which, for some slightly pathetic reason that I can’t quite fathom, I am actually quite proud of. However, I am currently involved in a Paypal dispute with a buyer who wants a full refund for an item I sold him, including the postage cost. He is claiming the item I sold him is a fake. I had previously bought the item from an Ebay “Power Seller” and can clearly demonstrate this from my own Ebay history and so replied that I did not believe the item to be a fake. This was almost a month ago. I am still waiting for their Solomon-like judgement. Paypal suspended the payment I received (£200) pending their investigation. And so the buyer currently has full use of my item and I don’t have my cash! And Ebay charged me a nice little fee for the privilege. I now await the inevitable negative feedback from the seller thus ruining my 100% record. That’s me done with selling on Ebay. I honestly don’t know why people bother.

  19. #21 I feel for you – feedback is far too emotional and 100% for sellers is a nigh on impossible goal. I can answer your last question though…. why do people bother? Because there’s darn good money to be made out of selling on eBay

  20. @ # 20

    You are the second person I’ve heard of saying there is some upcoming change to feedback in November. The last guy said eBay told him buyers won’t be able to leave negatives for sellers. I don’t believe either.

  21. My understanding of Libel is that the comments have to be untrue in order to win a case. Based on the commentary of events, the actual feedback comment is completely factual.

    If that is true, then he is simply suing over the fact that the comment has “a Negative” attached to it, which he claims has subsequently affected his business. He might have more luck suing eBay (if they weren’t so big and scary 😈 ).

    If he was called a crook or a scammer, he would have a case for libel, in this instance I think any judge will likely laugh him out of court. I myself have had a non-paying eBay bidder state I was a scammer in retaliation for their negative. That was actually libel, but it was not worth the hassle of suing.

  22. Whether the seller’s action is justified or not is irrelevant to some extent. The seller almost certainly wouldn’t have any desire to take such action if they weren’t being disadvantaged in search results.

    Taking legal action against a buyer for negative feedback received is a pretty bad place to be and doesn’t say anything positive (no pun intended) about the seller. Problem is, this sort of publicity is bad for everyone who sells on eBay, and will only lower buyer confidence.

    eBay can’t stop sellers taking this sort of action, so they should consider whether the ‘lowered search’ policy is driving behaviours that could cause more damage to the site than the original problems the policy was designed to address.

  23. #3

    I seriously believe that ebay have structures in place to keep thier profit margins up. And they encourage buyers to leave bad feedback. They also have a feedback system where 4 is good and 5 is exceptional, but tell the seller if they don’t get 4.6 they’re failing.

    I believe they’re deliberately vague to the buyers on the scoring system. If you don’t believe that ebay would use underhand tactics, then I only need to point you to the free postage directive, that they’re pushing, which we all know has nothing to do with getting buyers a good deal and is all to do with raising ebay FVF.

  24. A better approach would be the principle that if a seller refunds a buyer in full, there is no transaction, therefore there can be no feedback.

  25. #12

    Chris, I would’nt think removing this 1 feedback will help this seller much as there is nearly 10 more NEGs + numerous NEUTRALS.


    Must say though did like the 2nd feedback from another buyer;

    FEEDBACK: recieved phone, not as descripted! phone is blacklisted and can’t be used


  26. #13

    The definition of libel;
    If an ‘untrue’ comment or text is written or repeated verbally or is writing in public, it could be deemed as libel.

    So as the buyer appears to be stating the truth, as you say I cannot see any libel.



    I totally agree with you. Regretfully ebay themselves have done the damage with the new rules on feedback.
    Feedback should be a personnal experience of the buying (& selling) experience of an INDIVIGAL SALE, instead it has become a way of having a go at the sellers & opens the way for bribery.
    Ebay can sit in their Ivory towers ignoring this problem, but they do so at their perial. This is probaly what they will do though.

  27. #19 “Bad sellers are defiantly much more of a problem on eBay than bad buyers.”

    Let’s hope it stays that way, Jimbo, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. One of the problems with the current feedback regime is that it asymmetrically penalises small sellers more than large sellers. If you’ve sold a thousand items and one of them goes bad, it has a massively smaller impact (99.9%) on your trading than if you’ve only sold ten (90%). As a consequence of this, the impact of a malicious buyer on a good small seller would be dramatically escalated.

    Because bad sellers will already be pushed down the search ranking by virtue of already having a low satisfaction rating, additional negatives will have a marginal effect. It’s the good sellers that are most exposed to damage from malicious negatives. There is anecdotal evidence that intentional bad buyers are already damaging good small sellers. If sellers end up offering partial refunds in order to retain a good reputation, and thereby better sales, it is only a matter of time until negative feedback becomes a deliberate buying strategy by substantial numbers of buyers.

    The only defence a seller in this situation has is to get the negative feedback removed using a court order. Consequently, it’s reasonable to predict that: the numbers of sellers suing buyers will escalate, the number of marginal small sellers and new sellers of any scale will decline, and the reputation of Ebay as a safe place to trade amongst honest buyers (of which there are many) will deteriorate rapidly as more lawsuits flow from the current feedback regime. This is a negatively reinforcing downwards spiral, and the longer it is left in place, the larger the size of the sellers affected by it will become. This is not a good selling system and it needs urgent and comprehensive refactoring.


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