David Brackin is the managing director of Stuff U Sell, the leading trading assistant in the UK and a regular Tamebay contributor. In this post he looks at his recent eBay customer support experiences concerning international sales.
I love the guys in Dublin. You call up and they are delighted to help, but you get the sense that as soon as the transaction is international they are mired in an arcane and impenetrable system that must be as frustrating for them as it is for the poor seller trying to resolve things. “I’m sorry I can’t deal with that: the buyer was on ebay.it” are words to strike desperation into even the most resilient seller’s heart.
You don’t even have to have made the choice to sell into Italy or listed on ebay.it – an innocent ebay.co.uk listing with the option to ship to Italy can see you corresponding with Italian customer services using Google translate and losing your time and your money. In a time when eBay is promoting cross-border trade harder than ever, it’s time they took an overall look at Customer Service from the view of the customer and not just what suits its peculiarly non-global organisation.
Over this past week I’ve had escalated to me five refund cases where the wrong result has occurred, amounting to nearly £2,000 which we’ve wrongly refunded. One was a Global Selling Programme item where the item was lost after arriving in Derby, another was an error by eBay allowing and escalation and closure of a case just fifteen minutes after it was raised on a Sunday morning; a return from an unusually canny new eBayer in the US, an INR item delivered with tracking to Tajikistan and a signed-for package sent to Japan that the buyer said they didn’t sign-for. All the usual slip-ups. “Edge cases” the product team would no doubt have referred to them – but all strikingly international.
There are always edge-cases and that’s why it’s important that there are humans who can see what is going wrong and ensure the right decision is made and that is where Customer Services becomes important. We only list on ebay.co.uk – but buyers can buy on any site which show the UK inventory, so as a hapless seller you are often thrown around various departments with no-one taking ownership.
This week, it has often taken me twenty minutes or more to speak to the right person in the right country about what odd rules they have in place on their particular flavour of eBay site. If you are accepting a return in the US, then you need to send an amount – any amount that is reasonable – via Paypal to pay for return postage: if you ask the buyer how much their preferred courier would cost, or ask eBay CS to clarify what is required then when the case times out after five days and you will lose the item and the money – no appeal to be considered.
If you send an item using GSP to Austria and it is damaged, then you will find that Austrian customer services tell you that since they do not offer GSP in Austria, they will not cover the damage they make. That particular one took me three months of chasing to resolve a £500 claim. Heaven help you if you were dealing with Italy in January – the customer service team there rely on Google Translate to deal with UK sellers by email only – and needed chasing every two weeks by the Dublin team to respond at all to an item with clear tracking numbers and proof of delivery. We still lost the case. I still don’t know why.
It’s time that eBay stepped-up on this one and took a leaf out of the playbook of their own Global Shipping Programme: use the fact that they are global to make it easy for both buyer and seller to deal with cross-border trade. That eBay is split into such rigid international silos is historical accident rather than good matrix design. That may be hard to change now, but it’s not fair that customers suffer as a result. One CS agent that I discussed this with suggested that it was international law that made this tricky, but I can hardly see how one team in Manilla can legally deal with things whilst another cannot. UK sellers should be dealing with UK CS and Italian buyers should be dealing with Italian CS and then the two CS teams should be speaking with each other and agreeing how to resolve situations.
It is surely easier for the two CS teams to communicate with one another and have an agreed framework for resolving issues than it is for either the buyer or the seller to be working with unfamiliar rules and language. This would have the further advantage of driving a harmonisation of seller and buyer rules and expectations across eBay globally and allowing it to flourish as a marketplace. At the moment there is just far too much that can go wrong with international trade, and every expectation that eBay will not put things right when it does.