Let us be excellent : what I'd do with eBay, part 4

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At the weekend, I mentioned my thoughts about how feedback should evolve to a couple of sellers. Both were shocked: if there were no visibility penalty attached to bad feedback, they said, why would sellers care about it?

This shows just how far we’ve moved from where we started. In the olden days, a neg was shameful. Sellers worried about how non-positive feedback would make them look to future buyers. That’s how it should be: it’s feedback doing what it’s good at. One neg: meh; 100 negs: bad. Let the buyers be the judges.

That’s not to say that eBay shouldn’t be concerned with buyer protection and seller performance, but they’ve believed their own hype too much. Marking a seller down for excessive P&P charges does nothing to help the buyer who’s been overcharged. Negging a seller for non-receipt of your parcel doesn’t get you your money back. We need real customer service for buyers.

Most of the time, this should be and is provided by sellers. eBay aren’t helping here, I have to say: their ugly clunky messaging system and confusing seller FAQs page should be replaced with something that actually works.

But there are times when, for whatever reason, buyer and seller can’t or don’t resolve the matter between them. And that’s when eBay should step in: unlike almost any other site on the net, they’re an automatic third-party who can resolve issues that otherwise would end in stalemate. eBay have almost got this idea. They’re edging towards it with new policies like the no-fault refund, where they stand the refund when neither seller nor buyer is at fault. But then they undermine it by allowing the appalling customer service offered by some Outlet sellers – and by not enforcing basic legalities on all their sellers.

While the site is full of listings that say “I’m not responsible for items lost in the post”, of business sellers illegally claiming to be private sellers, and of even eBay’s own policies being flagrantly violated on the site, we won’t achieve this, of course. But these things could be easily resolved too. eBay France can flag up sellers who are listing too much (either in quantity or money) to be private sellers, so eBay UK can do it too. If eBay can spot sellers using certain brand names or the phrase “as new” or rude words and flag those listings for review, it can also spot sellers saying “I am not responsible for items lost in the post”. And if it can introduce a policy saying that all books have to have free postage, then it can damn well enforce that policy instead of letting sellers get away with saying “it says free postage but the real P&P fee is a fiver” (and even if that example turns out to be out of date in the next few days, the principle still stands).

In the first draft of this post, I wrote this:

eBay have lost their way. They’ve over-complicated things to such an extent that I’m not sure they can find their way back to doing what they should be doing: bringing buyers and sellers together. I think they’ve forgotten that part of their raison d’etre. The site now is like one of those listings written by a seller who’s determined that no bad situation will go un-covered by their terms and conditions, and you see great archaeological layers of every single problem they’ve ever had, taking up a foot of more of scrolling down the screen.

Then in the earnings call last Wednesday, John Donahoe used the phrase “bringing buyers and sellers together” two or three times. I start to think there’s hope that we could – not go back to the old-style marketplace of Meg’s twice-yearly fee increase, seller strikes, feedback blackmail and the rest, but move forward to a new way of eBaying, where we celebrate the simplicity of excellence.

We need to go back to basics. Dump DSRs. Enforce the law (not the eBay version, but the actual law). Help buyers when they need it. Stay out of the way when they don’t. And maybe that way, we can go on for another fifteen years.

Is that it? No, not quite….

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