Let feedback be feedback : what I'd do with eBay, part 3

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I said, in a recent and rather grumpy piece, that eBay has lost its way, that it doesn’t know what it is any more. I stand by that. It’s not an auction site any more (nor, with fixed price sales increasing quarter on quarter, should it be made to be). In an age dominated by niche and specific branding, saying “we’ve got everything” probably isn’t going to work. But eBay does still have one thing that makes it unique. That thing is feedback.

eBay invented feedback. Pierre Omidyar’s idea for a way to drive out the dishonest from his site was unique at the time, and still remains counter-intuitive for many retailers: if you’ve ever tried to explain to a CEO why, yes, she should let her customers slag off her company on her own website, and no, she shouldn’t delete their comments, you’d know just how counter-intuitive it still is.

eBay feedback has an additional factor that makes it so much more powerful than a standard “product review” on any other ecommerce site: it’s on eBay. The person or company for whom it was left doesn’t get to edit. They don’t get to delete stuff they don’t like. There isn’t even the perception that they might do so. They just have to sit there and take it.

How powerful does that make a buyer? We forget this, when we’ve been trading on the site for a while, but stop and think about it for a minute. There’s nowhere to hide. If you got bad service or shoddy goods, you can tell the world – and it’s right there where the merchant’s still trying to trade. Isn’t that going to ensure that they get it right for you, or if they don’t get it right, they at least put it right?

And by and large, it works. Where else do you have 99%, 99.9% customer satisfaction rates, not as the exception, but as the norm? eBay should be proud of this. They should be shouting it from the rooftops. But they’re not.

eBay has done almost everything it could have over the last few years to undermine the feedback system. Once the possibility of a seller negging a buyer had been removed, buyers were protected from bullying to influence the feedback they left, and were free to leave honest feedback. That should have been the full extent and the end of the system changes.

Buyers currently score sellers five times – for one transaction, is it worth the trouble? It looks more like a census form than a feedback form. Increasingly, buyers say they can’t be bothered. The happy buyer doesn’t click the boxes – and because they think they have to click them all, they don’t click any. Only the unhappy bother with feedback. That’s sad.

But if the system is too complicated for buyers, it’s too consequential for sellers too. We’ve all seen, over and over again in the last year, the nonsense of DSR scores down to a tenth of a point being used to control sellers’ trading ability. You shouldn’t be chucked off eBay or demoted in search or lose a discount because one buyer thought you overcharged on P&P. That’s not what feedback should be for (and if anyone talks to buyers, they don’t think it should be for that either).

Feedback is too blunt a tool to use in the way eBay is trying to use it now. If dolphins taught us anything, it was that. Let’s dump the DSRs and have feedback used for what it’s good at: expressing buyer opinion. If they think I’m rubbish, let ’em say so – but let me use that as a tool to improve, not as a stick for eBay to beat me with.

Last bit, coming up tomorrow…

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