A few days ago, eBay Australia put out a document entitled “Planning for a stronger marketplace“. It’s the result of several months of consultation with their sellers following eBay.com.au’s embarrassing reversal of their PayPal-only policy back in July and the absolute fragmentation of that community that followed.
The six-page document charts complaints and observations heard from sellers, and eBay’s responses. It’s remarkable less for its content, than for the fact that it exists at all: in ten years of eBay-watching, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this. It’s almost as if there’s been a sea-change in eBay’s attitude to their sellers:
eBay and our community of sellers alike need to focus on building repeat business from existing buyers so they continue to purchase from you, rather than taking their business elsewhere. We need your support to achieve this and if we work together, both sellers and eBay will benefit.
The message put out so often by eBay over the last few years has been that sellers are untrustworthy, and that only eBay and PayPal stand between buyers and being ripped off. A new message the eBay and sellers are in business together and are invested in each other’s success might be the only way that eBay management can keep sellers onside.
The roadmap for the future of eBay Australia is not, for the most part, anything very surprising. Divided into five sections – fees, feedback, support, PayPal and policies – many of the proposals are things we’ve seen in the US, UK and elsewhere. But there are a few tidbits worth picking out:
- free Gallery for eBay.com.au seems to be on the cards, in line with developments on many other eBay sites.
- the pop-up message telling buyers they’re free to leave non-positive feedback without fear of reprisal has been removed.
- the launch of a 10,000-strong “member panel” to consult with eBay.
- more detailed information will be made available for the DSRs and buyer satisfaction ratings, and
- “improvements to the language and tone” used on the seller dashboard. Not treating sellers like naughty children has to be a good move.
But the most important promise in my book is that eBay will limit to the number of times that changes are made, so that sellers don’t have to constantly edit and re-edit listings, rethink strategy once a month, and spend hours with Excel figuring out our fees. After a year of almost constant change, being left alone to get on with selling is exactly what we need. Of course that’s not going to happen – eBay say “please expect more change and understand that it’s not done for change sake, but for the ongoing health of the marketplace as a whole” – but to have change made more sensitively, more coherently and less often is an important step towards making a site that sellers might want to stick with.
It’s not just eBay’s tone that’s changed. They’re also getting more open with hard facts. Since the feedback changes were made earlier this year, I’ve heard many sellers complain that the number of non-paying bidders has increased. eBay Australia deny that this is the case, with this rather oddly worded paragraph:
September 2008 data shows that the share of non-paying bidders on the Australian site has reduced by 5.53% since the Feedback changes came into effect on 12 May 2008 so there is no evidence that this is currently a widespread problem.
I think that this means that there are actually fewer NPBs as a proportion of total sales on eBay.com.au (though equally, it might mean any number of other things). Even if they need to hire a copywriter, it’s good to see eBay going public with such specific figures. What’s most difficult as sellers is to be asked to accept apparently random decisions: if we had access to at least some of the data behind those decisions, it would go some way to rebuilding trust between eBay and sellers.
Of course, this is just a document. It says all the right things, but so did Lorrie and Stephanie in Chicago in June, and that didn’t make a blind bit of difference to the series of changes and reversals of changes that followed. Will 2009 bring a new partnership beween eBay and sellers, or are eBay Australia just the band playing on the Titanic?