eBay’s sellers can beat Amazon (if eBay lets them)

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David Brackin is the managing director of Stuff U Sell, the leading eBay trading assistant in the UK and a regular Tamebay contributor. Today, David looks at recent eBay and Amazon purchases and concludes that eBay has better price, better selection and indeed eBay sellers can provide great service. The problem appears to eBay that eBay don’t brag about seller service and highlight that eBay’s sellers can beat Amazon.

One of the ways I like to keep fit is by training on the rowing machine and I use a heart-rate monitor to fine-tune my effort. However, the straps on these are constantly breaking or leaving themselves at home and I am always in need of a spare or two. So I hopped online the other day to buy a couple more as an experiment. I bought one each on Amazon and eBay and the experience highlighted the difference between the two marketplaces.

A search for “heart-rate chest strap” brought up a mixed bag on both marketplaces. The eBay page had a moving advert that took a while to load and both had listings with the monitor included and sponsored listings cluttering the results. But scrolling down brought up a couple of options on each.

The two options on Amazon come in at 8.99 and 7.99, both on Prime, both with good reviews. On closer inspection they both have the same description and same seller using FBA. Examining the reviews shows that it is just a hijacked listing – one of the joys of catalogue-based shopping. I bought the 7.99 one and opted for No-Rush Delivery with £1 credit off my next Kindle book, expecting delivery in 3-5 days. I could also have selected next day or two-day delivery free of charge.

On eBay I had two options at 4.75 and 4.76. Both with businesses addresses in China but proudly with logos on the gallery image showing that the stock was in the UK. Free Economy postage or pay £1.78 for Economy postage. That’s a little odd, but closer inspection reveals that the upgrade is going from 3-5 day courier to Royal Mail Tracked 48, which for unfathomable reasons is listed on eBay as a 2-3 day Economy service. Royal Mail Tracked 48 pretty much defines Standard shipping for small items. I bought the 4.76 strap with free shipping, expecting delivery in 4-6 days.

Both packages arrived within hours of each other on Friday (3 days) – the eBay package was slightly ahead because my postman is in the morning and the Amazon courier doesn’t get to us until the afternoon. Both chest straps are excellent, virtually identical and exactly what was required. And both had had quite a journey.

The Amazon one had left their service centre in Italy the day after I ordered. It had made its way to the distribution hub in Dunstable and then down to me. The eBay one was in a grey mailer with the Chinese details on it, which was then inside another grey mailer sent Royal Mail 48 from a freight-forwarder based in Leicestershire, presumably the landing spot for container loads of the devices awaiting onward shipment.

On the face of this experience, eBay should be winning business. A similar search experience yielding a wide selection of products being offered much cheaper (4.76 vs 6.99 is 32% off) and with identical delivery. But as Chris wrote on Friday, eBay spends too much time holding its sellers up to so-called “retail standards” and not enough time advertising how good its sellers really are. The delivery time I was promised was far too long, meaning I had no idea how good it was going to be – but on Amazon I had the choice of next day delivery and could search for it (what if I had a race in two days?). On eBay sellers can’t even adjust their handling time to allow Express Shipping to be sold as next-day.

As for buyer confidence, I can’t recall whether either eBay item had the Premium Seller badge on it – it’s not prominent to the buyer in the cluttered landscape of the eBay page and is mostly targeted at sellers instead of being a buyer aid. As a feature it’s been poorly implemented with bug fixes since the new criteria went live earlier this year as eBay’s tech has struggled to cope. By contrast I recall that both Amazon items were PRIME – it’s presented right next to the price.

Were the Chinese sellers the problem that Chris highlighted in his article? In fact no – the stock was already in the UK and ready to forward to me and was done so promptly and efficiently. I feel sure that if eBay allowed them to showcase it, the seller would have offered a next-day service as well and charged me for it. Finally, whenever I buy something, I find the purchase and checkout experience on eBay is always a slow and painful one, compared with Amazon.

eBay is already sitting on the competitive advantage it needs to beat Amazon: its army of sellers are already better at sourcing, pricing and serving customers. eBay needs to nurture this group and focus on fixing its own technical failings to unleash the power of the true offerings of its sellers into the marketplace. At the moment die-hard bargain-hunters will tolerate the eBay buying experience but it’s time that eBay took its powerful seller offering mainstream.

31 Responses

  1. I’ve long thought that eBay treat sellers like ‘the enemy’. Problems with a sale? seller’s fault. Glitch on the site? seller’s fault. Unhappy customer? seller’s fault.

    They don’t treat us like valued partners, they blame us for everything that goes wrong and give us increasingly stupid hoops to jump through, mostly because they want some to give up so only the most determined are left.

  2. Ebay don’t value sellers that offer good prices and excellent next day delivery. There are a lot of excellent sellers on eBay who offer free 1st class delivery. We offered free 1st class on 75% of our items on eBay and an upgrade to special delivery on every item. Some items to offer a competitive price had to be 2nd class, but 1st class and Special delivery were offered on all these items. We had feedback praising our delivery. Zero late delivery metrics.

    We closed our shop on the last day of August 2018 because ebay made us feel like bad sellers they sent an email in June and July stating our returns were high and we would be eligible for a 58% penalty charge. Our yearly return rate is only 2%, we are new to business selling, only been trading 18 months, so sell low quantities at the moment, so are evaluated on 12 months with the metrics. We quality control all items we can and bubble wrap everything.

    Ebay are more interested in making money on things like return requests than rewarding the army of excellent sellers who offer Excellent, postage and packaging.

  3. Most definately… the first thing a buyer sees when they enter ebay is a huge banner which seems to suggest that sellers are out to con you but ebay will protect you!
    Why not have it shouting about the high levels of service the majority of us give? Personally as a seller i find it quite insulting!
    I think as Joe says, ebays biggest issue is they see sellers as just two things… an endless source of cash and the root of all evil. Has anyone ever had an issue with a buyer that has had to be sorted through c.s, that hassn’t involved the standard trst telling them that they must work harder to please the customer? I actaully won an appeal where the buyer made a false claim, then completely ignored me all the way through… escalated and won. I challenged it and won as well as agreement that scam buyers simply refuse to communicate through the whole case process simply so they can stop you doing anything but siding with them or losing. YET… in the reply saying i had won my appeal…. I was told to actively engage with the buyer to help avoid issues in furture!
    It’s like have to blame you even when there is nothing to blame! Didn’t read the listing? its ok… tell the seller to make the description clearer! Ordered with 3 days delivery and kicks off as needed it next day? No worries tell the seller to dispatch on time!
    It’s all the same. Not just that…. many buyers on ebay are (were) also sellers, so they no what ebay are like and often go elsewhere… plus sellers talk to others. Just ask about ebay in the pub… not a rosy review!
    I actually bought something on amazon rather than ebay the other day simply because i am fed up of lining ebays pockets in return for their shoddy service.

  4. It says it all on eBay when you look at the filters you can use when browsing similar items on eBay. You can’t filter on top rated seller only, on sellers offering same day despatch or sellers offering 1st class /special delivery as standard.

  5. Why tell sellers on ebay what we already know?
    How is this news, it would be news if ebay actually agreed to listen and were working with their only partners (sellers) to improve things… without sellers, ebay is nothing. It really is that simple!

    Ebays attention to the position as business partner to sellers is appalling..

    Ebay is all AI, and its crap.. AI is spun around the world as a solution, but it who writes the programme to be that solution…. None of the AI deployed in ebay is in favour of the seller… or even asks/considers seller input to be worthwhile..

    Then we read on tamebay they are opening a seperate £1millon sellers group… says it all…
    The input of the few controls the activity of the many.. No thanks…

    How about some news on whats been achieved for sellers?

  6. Two points strike me having read your article; eBay undervalue sellers, and eBay don’t promote good sellers prominently enough to buyers. I agree with both.

    Amazon’s Prime offering carries more cache than anything eBay currently offers. Where Prime positively promotes a very good deal, eBay’s top seller rating is most likely lost on buyers because it means nothing to them. From my perspective, eBay buyers are looking for specific items at the lowest possible price. Badges mean nothing to them.

    Amazon Prime is based around the concept of an ongoing relationship with its customers, whereas, eBay’s focus is on individual transactions. The two show the long-sighted approach of Amazon, and the short-sighted approach of eBay.

    eBay’s biggest selling point seems to be their money back guarantee, which carries a lot of cache with buyers. But, when you think about it, it is a huge putdown for eBay and its sellers; where Prime offers a positive, eBay’s offering has a huge negative at heart; “we’re a market-place, full of dodgy sellers, but we’ve got your back”. But, I believe this is, in many ways, intentional on eBay’s part. They want people to remember eBay, not the seller they bought from. This is why, I believe, eBay treat their sellers as badly as they do. Sellers are seen by eBay as a commodity, not an asset.

    eBay’s perception and treatment of its sellers is reflected in their new service metric; the purpose of the surcharge is to punish sellers, whether bad or not, and not to promote those who already do a good job. If eBay focused its efforts more clinically, it would better resolve any bad seller issues and afford itself more time to improve its systems, to better entice buyers to trust eBay and its sellers.

  7. AT last a properly measured criticism of eBay by a recognised person. Comeon Tamebay forward this to eBay. Their shipping is across the board not per item their returns are guided by huge companies not small sellers their promotions are designed to pay them money.
    Nothing is for the seller just big business and eBay.

  8. Great article. eBay is it’s own worst enemy with the restrictions and crazy metrics it places on sellers.

    It definitely has the potential to challenge Amazon but I’ve seen nothing over the last few years to give me the confidence that it will.

    eBay needs to up it’s game big time as it’s only a matter of time before Facebook / Instagram etc have their own marketplaces.

    I can’t see Amazon worrying about eBay as competition anymore unless they overhaul their existing strategy of trying to copy what Amazon do, a year too late and implement it poorly.

    Amazon will be more worried about Facebook, Instagram etc, who don’t even have a creditable marketplace at the moment, than they will by eBay.

    It takes me 30 seconds to put an item on a “Sale Price” on Amazon.
    I can set the end date so that I can forget about it and don’t have further work to do.
    It doesn’t matter if it is just 1 variation within a variation listing that I want to put on sale, Amazon allows me to do this – eBay doesn’t.

    I can have separate logins for my staff on Amazon – not on eBay.

    I get fee discounts from Amazon on selected ASINs every week – I can apply these discounts as a sale in a matter of seconds. I can’t do this on eBay.

    When I think “What was the last change that eBay made that meant selling on it’s site would be easier or better for me?”
    I honestly can’t think of any in the last few years.

    I turnover a few million pounds a year on both marketplaces – over time things have gotten easier on Amazon and more difficult on eBay.

    Seller support is a bit of a joke on both marketplaces.

    I used to be account managed on eBay but not on Amazon, they got rid of all that to cut costs.
    I now have an Amazon account manager who has helped grow the account but eBay have gone backwards, I can have “dedicated” support if I pay a few thousand pounds a year for the privilege of an Anchor shop – even then I have to wait for a few weeks before they assign my account to someone.

    Reading the forums, the take up of Anchor shops simply to get access to better support was overwhelming and the resources weren’t in place so the support team are struggling to offer a better service than the standard support in the Philippines!

    Unless there are massive changes at eBay and they recognise their strength is in their sellers, I’d be backing one of the new marketplaces to compete with Amazon rather than eBay.

    Sad but true.

  9. The article highlights that eBay is cheaper than Amazon at the moment. That is true but ebay is becoming more and more expensive to sell on. The 58% returns penalty charges, addition charges added to use subtitles, and a push for more and more sellers to pay to promote their listings are all going to push the prices up on eBay. Ebay in this last few months have focused more on getting more revenue from its Business sellers than looking at the wider picture.

  10. Your article highlights a huge issue affecting UK sellers, that Chinese sellers are easily able to undercut them. When you look at why, it is not surprising.

    For £4.76, the Chinese seller was able to purchase the straps, ship them to the UK, later ship them to you, pay eBay’s fees, pay their payment partner’s fees (e.g. PayPal), pay toward their overheads and, presumably, make a profit. I couldn’t do that and I suspect few UK sellers could either.

    You don’t say whether the seller says they are VAT registered, or, if they do, whether the given VAT number is valid and actually registered to them. If not, on any of these three counts, they are possibly contributing to the mind-boggling £1.6Bn in lost taxes the UK suffers each year, due to VAT fraud. An act eBay’s UK customers are condoning through their choice of seller; wittingly or otherwise.

    Then there’s the post. As Royal Mail have a separate agreement, above and beyond the UN Universal Postal Union agreement, the Chinese seller will have benefited from the extremely low shipping rates available to them. Rates Royal Mail would never dream of offering their UK customers; customers who end up subsidising their Chinese competition by way of the much higher prices we pay for an inferior service.

    You don’t mention whether you filtered on UK sellers, but, if you did, it would not be surprising to find Chinese seller’s listings being included. eBay seem more than happy to allow buyers to be tricked into buying from overseas sellers. What then is the point of a filter that fails to work in the way a buyer might expect it to? We know from reading buyer’s feedback that many times it leads to bad buyer experiences, but eBay seem happy with that.

    UK sellers are at a significant disadvantage and will, under the conditions mentioned above, always fail to be competitive when compared to Chinese sellers. That being the case, I suspect it will lead to the demise of UK sellers, which will have a negative impact on the financial strength of the UK.

    Rather than supporting UK business and growing the economy, my reading of this is that we’re simply shooting ourselves in the foot, and eBay are helping by pointing the gun towards it.

  11. Here is someone at last saying eBay look in the mirror.

    They keep chasing Amazon but have no idea what they are doing wrong.

    Messages in August eBay = 217
    Messages in Amazon same period 1.
    Returns wrong size on 1 particular item eBay 9 from 84 sales.
    Amazon same product 2 from 119 sales.

    Items coming back via post office with not called for after failed delivery in 6 month period.
    Ebay items 53 at average £3 postal cost each when we refund. so lsses of £159.

    Amazon same period ZERO!!!!!!!!!!

    even our postman says buyers on eBay are either stupid of just don’t care because they know the sellers are always wrong in eBays eyes.

    Why don’t ebay look into what their site does to encourage such crazy useage by buyers and implement a new system where a seller can report a buyer for not collecting parcels and maybe they will sit up and take note. After all when we don’t ship on time they penalise us the seller. All it needs is a system to message a warning to the buyer after a certain number of not called for against them

    If they do not believe it is an issue then i can provide a photo of each not called for item that is taking up a huge amount of space in our warehouse with the royal mail stickers on.

  12. No we can not compete with Amazon. If we get a deal on a branded product then they will eventually notice, they then price match you and your sales go from 3/4 a day to 3/4 a month.

    You may say “well lower your price again” – Yep you can do that, but they price match your ebay listing within about 5 minutes.

    How can they do it? Because they have deals in place to claim back the difference from manufacturers. We can’t compete with that.

  13. Amazon have won the war. Why? Because ebay have for the last 4-5 years just tried to be amazon. Nobody will ever be better at being Amazon than amazon themselves.

    Now, had ebay tried to concentrate on being ebay then they would have done well.

    Just look at ebay’s share price over the last few years. Stagnant.

  14. ebay is generally cheaper most of the time, as overall fees are slightly cheaper for sellers so sellers have to sell at a higher price on amazon.

  15. eBay is a a fish, long death in the water, just not realizing it:

    1) There premium concierge department, pretty much all senior people left long time ago. Is also the reason why service goes down in quality, and there only target is a happy costumers… however they higher people without business insights, and the last good senior agent left as well (guess there is only one or two left now, good luck getting them on phone, but +90% of there department is there 6 months or less in eBay),

    Anyway ever since then sales dropped by over 60%…. (while in high peak season)…. and nobody that explain anymore why.

    2) There normal service departments are mainly somewhere in who’s knows where third countries.

    In case you are wondering why you’re sales are going down (as it did took me 3 days of searching for the agent that left eBay):

    1) eBay new services metrics system in combination with there changes on the tracking, allow eBay to determine which sellers can handle the same services as FBA, and those sellers gets more sales, sellers who are small business and barely make a penny on a sale as is, won’t be able to trade at high volumes on eBay anymore.

    eBay used to have the system where a seller got a defect for every case opened against him, eBay took this out and noticed buyers where just opening cases and cases, instead of getting rid of there bad buyer population, they placed again the responsibility with sellers, and called it market target, however there system is not 100% up and running and a lots of issue with it, despite there saying only two consequence they do use it trace down sellers working at FBA standards, and give those more sales while taking sales away from the

    2) The new service metric system is open to abuse, as no agent can actually remove defects out of it, so if you want the market the increase and crash a competitor, all you need to do is buy lots of stuff from new accounts then open Item not received cases.

    3) eBay there servers are nearly full, instead of allowing for more listings, there asking sellers to remove all listings while not being ready with there tech to support these changes (in car sector it cost sellers up to 40% in sales). Now the strange thing is the cost to have more servers for listings, is similar to the loss in revenue on sales… just shows how eBay is not able to think, as with the product index it is just going to be copy paste of Amazon.

    4) Some select seller are allowed to do everything, when you have 27 accounts and you pay eBay around 1 million in fees each year, they won’t touch your accounts… no matter if you sell 27 times the same things…

    5) There new marketing systems decides if a buyer sees it or not… if eBay thinks your not giving enough discounts your promo shows on bottom of page… (we are selling lots of items and every three buy we give one free… leaving us on such a order around 5% profit…, shows on bottom… while where the cheapest on market as well cause of our low profit margins) Like seriously eBay do we need to give all our stuff away for free?

    Anyway, eBay does not care about sellers, if you don’t sell it tomorrow somebody will sell it, they only care about there buyers, and they don’t care how much claims a buyer make as it does not cost them anything… they just take it from your account and refund buyer…

    Good luck selling on eBay, however I would strongly recommend to work per FBA on Amazon, otherwise you end up standing up and out of nowhere 60-70% of your business gone… and not a single person in eBay you can get on the phone to see what is going on….

    eBay concierge 0/10, shame having to pay 100£ extra for it on the shops….

  16. @Alan Paterson, yes they are, it makes sense for them, to do so:

    1) They invest a lot of money in the system to detect this, in the past they used to give sellers a defect for every case opened, to keep cases low, if you had to many cases you would loose in your ranking as well, this system is only different in the fact it also compares with the entire main category, so instead of individual percentages if you go over market it is pretty much same as it used to be for ranking, the only difference is it is the market deciding the target (which is in some busy periods handy), however if for example you take the car category, if you sell tires and you sell clutches (not my products), but they would be in the same price, tires won’t come back that much, clutches will, so you score naturally higher then market without you actually doing something wrong.

    Or try selling women shoes and male shoes (we have two partner accounts one selling only women shoes one selling male shoes), women shoes on average we get 10% returns for various reason buyers keep opening as not as describe for free returns (especially after the weekend… eBay where is our protection against weekend shoppers?), (despite maybe on 100 returns 2 damage by courier on box not the shoes), and maybe one picking mistake which look can happen, in that case our partner just sends directly new shoes out, without return required, as not really worth our time compared to the margins and we don’t wan’t to sell used shoes (we do get 3% of buyers claiming used for some reason while used shoes never return, if they do return they go direct bin or they get collected for charity). That account dropped since those new metrics over 30%… cause of buyers keep opening for free return reason, while our male shoes where we would only have around 2% returns and more actual true reasons, increased by over 15%…. Then eBay advisers are advising just give them all free returns then the metrics will be better??? What about just taking action on those buyers eBay??? like we don’t care about you covering our postage return we can handle that, we do car about not loosing 30% of sales over buyers opening for wrong reason, like they don’t even change the reason code anymore…

    2) Our drop-shipping accounts, all the sudden lost 60-70% of there sales, we called eBay they informed us we had to prove supplier contracts before getting those 60-70% sales back… (which also means eBay is admitting to be able to manually control the visibility, of your items whenever they like), turns out it takes 2 weeks to fix at as there are only a few people somewhere in the US, that deal with this…. and like one week to convince an agent that we are having contracts and very good arrangements in place for every single item, even before they wanted to look at it.

    eBay is pushing every single seller to compete with Amazon FBA, but they don’t consider the small business owners , that don’t have unlimited budgets to keep speeding up services…

    3) Same with promotions, they now decided what is beneficial for sellers, on our electronic accounts we can barely run promotions anymore as they go straight to bottom. on some products we only have 5% margin just to keep up with market prices, but even if we say buy two items get 5% discount it’s not enough for eBay and they show promotion at bottom (costed us around 20% in sales on the electronic account while all service metrics are in line with market).

    4) There agent even admitted when an account is projected above standard, while being top rated the current month (which means you can still fix it, like we had courier that broke down in van, they removed the late shipments, after we had to send in lots of documents), but in the mean time we had like 2-3 weeks, above standard visibility, as it goes in directly from the moment it shows projected…

    So yes I’m 100% convinced they use this data in best match, why otherwise would 15 of our 20 accounts get huge sales jumps out of nowhere and the once that show slightly higher then market are systematically dropping (in one case despite only being slightly higher we lost +1000£ a day.. which magically fixed itself after 3 days, after filling huge complaint…)

    It would not make sense to ask seller to perform on market data, and then don’t do anything with it.. and for us it is easy to see cause we have so many accounts, if they change something in the best match.

    +20 Accounts all top rated for more then 3 years in a row, you can’t image the crap we have seen eBay doing on them. eBay does not care about it’s sellers at all, they only care about there buyers and sellers matching Amazon FBA.

    eBay is about reading between the rules:

    1) shipping +20£ must be tracked
    2) cases have metrics
    3) marketing is controlled by eBay on what they think is good.

    It are the perfect tools to control every single listing there visibility to match FBA standards…


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