Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Little History

eBay is run by people who have never retailed for a living or been self employed. Selling on eBay is like living on George Orwell's Animal Farm. All sellers are equal only some are more equal than others.

We saw the writing on the wall in 06 when store fees rose nearly 70% but stores inventory became visible in search to compensate. Sales took off and life was good. Two months later we were taken out of search again because "eBay needs to re-balance the marketplace and return to its core values" Translated this means big time sellers of imported junk were seeing declining sell through rates in their auctions due to buyers being able to find fixed price items in stores, and they were complaining, loudly. Management had an epiphany, eBay needed to re-balance, more auctions, less fixed price. Did store fees decline to previous rate, given that what we were paying for in the increase had been withdrawn? Don't be silly! Bait and switch anyone?

Back in 06 it was clear that we had too many eggs in one basket and we began to explore other channels. We explored alternative auction venues, none had the traffic to make the effort worthwhile. We built a website, we promoted it. We learned that if you are not paying 40% of your gross sales to eBay you can survive with less sales. Like most small sellers we were frequent buyers too. As our listing volume declined so did our purchasing volume on eBay.

We remained as eBay sellers through price increase after price increase, cutting overhead to the bone in order to remain competitive in our pricing because there was no viable alternative. This is not true anymore. Venues such as eCRATER, Loudfrog, and Etsy for the hand-crafters and their suppliers are much more viable for sellers.

The three straws that broke this camels back are:

1. Detailed Seller Ratings; which are extremely important to the viability of the seller and framed deceptively to the buyer. For example Shipping Time, on a scale of 1 - 5, 4 is 'quickly' to the buyer who thinks this is a good score. eBay regards 4 as so poor that you are a risky seller, will loose your power seller status with the much hyped 'discounted fees', are restricted to Paypal for payment (who may hold the buyers funds for up to 21 days). eBay ignores the fact that to a buyer speed of shipping has everything to do with when they have their purchase in their hand and nothing to do with how fast the item was packed and taken to the Post Office. Sellers are being rated on UPS and USPS job performance.

Looking at the Shipping and Handling charges ratings raises even more questions. How can FREE SHIP rate less than 5?

2. Feedback. We agree that retaliatory feedback is a problem. Most retaliatory feedback is left by super high volume sellers who use automated like for like programs. When a buyer uses negative feedback to ask the seller a question "When are you going to ship my item?" you can see why the programs are popular. Fixing the problem by preventing use of these programs would make more sense than removing the only tool a seller has to evaluate the buyer.

3. Buyer fraud is increasing and eBay ignores it. They get their fees regardless. Non Paying Bidders are at an all time high, for now. It is going to get worse May 1st. Because verification of Buyer ID is not required any buyer who dirties his ID simply abandons it and gets a nice clean new one. NARU? Not a problem! It is almost pointless to block a bidder. I had one blocked bidder come back three times with a different ID each time to win auctions she had no intention of paying for. I lost money each time and she is still out there.

4. Disrespect for sellers or, as I prefer the word, CONTEMPT. eBay management & their PR department disparage sellers routinely. We are 'just noise', 'flea market sellers' and we must be stupid too. A nickel less up front and 3.5% increase up the rear is not a decrease and we are smart enough to figure that out.

As a seller of high quality new American made greeting cards which I sell from $2 and up, fixed price, eBay & Paypal together take a minimum of 35c IF + 17.5 FVF + 30c + 2.9% = 82.5c (actually higher because Paypal's cut includes 2.9% of S & H) This leaves me with three choices (a) selling below cost, (b) raising prices = declining sales, or, (c) leaving eBay.

So, here we are, two years down the road from "eBay needs to re-balance the marketplace and return to its core values, auction sales" and eBay seems to have turned around and be driving in the other direction. Now we want more fixed price, and will be getting away from auctions as soon as we can.

Hear me well eBay. I will not be bringing back the 3500 multiple quantity listings I had in my eBay store when you shafted me in 06, those listings I removed when you doubled my listing costs in 07, those fixed price listings you would like to charge me 12% final value fees on. I am a businesswoman. I can't run a viable business with my venue micromanaging it.

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