Saturday, May 24, 2008

Looking Back

Randy Smythe's post on My Blog Utopia two days ago has been on my mind, I have been thinking about eBay three years ago, early summer 2005 and today. A June 2005 Wall Street Journal Article could have been written yesterday.

eBay's latest fee increases, in February, have intensified seller complaints about poor customer service and falling prices ... further cutting margins, and fraud was becoming a problem ...

Customer Service

From one of the familiar seller nightmare stories:

eBay erroneously shut down one of (his) accounts for 14 days ... trouble listing products, completing transactions and sending email ... fielded angry calls from customers, the Better Business Bureau and PayPal -- an electronic-payment service that was in the process of being bought by eBay -- who all questioned whether his company existed.

eBay reinstated the account, but the incident soured the two men on the auction company. At the time, eBay didn't provide telephone customer support to all sellers ... called eBay but were told to send a request for help through email. After 10 days, an eBay employee called, but didn't apologize, "They were really cavalier," ... The glitch propelled the pair to enhance their Web site. "You can't depend on someone you can't communicate with"

Digging deep into eBay's dusty archives I uncovered this gem; a February 2005 Message from Bill Cobb said

eBay has a fantastic Customer Support team, but Meg and I
agree we haven’t invested enough in giving our CS reps the
flexibility and tools they need to really take care of you. So,
to start, within the next 90 days, we’ll shut down most of
our automated email responses. Our users will get a
“real” e-mail response to their questions - you’ll
hear from a human being
who will try to help you with your
problem or question right off the bat. We will only use auto
responses to acknowledge receipt of spam or policy violation

The same month from a Brown Bag Lunch. It is worth reading just to see how friendly things were then. Post #48

At this very moment we are creating an entire new phone team that will field all of the calls from members who have a stores subscription. This team will be made up of representatives who have been at eBay for some time and they will have complete knowledge of Stores so that they can help with general stores questions as well as the technical problems that you experience as store owners. This team will be available to take calls on April 1.
Where did that go? Everything today is automated response and usually has nothing to do with the question asked.

So what has changed? Ethics

Remember eBay's Community Values

Is there one single one of the five fundamental values which is honored or even thought about today?

For example in Seller Tips

Sellers are expected to consistently perform in a manner that results in a high level of buyer satisfaction. When a seller lists an item on eBay, and a buyer bids for and wins that item, the seller and buyer have entered into a contract that both members are expected to honor. If the seller doesn't live up to this agreement, it leads to a bad buyer experience that may result in negative or neutral feedback for the seller.

Does bad seller experience have any place on eBay? There are very limited protections in place for PowerSellers, protections which have no basis in reality and with loopholes you could drive a Mack truck through. If you are not a PowerSeller eBay policy as stated by Brian Burke is basically summarized as 'who cares?'

There will inevitably be a small group of folks that are negatively effected by the 12-month window but again, we think that recent performance and activity is a much better indicator of what a buyer can expect to experience than a performance rating from 7-8 years ago ... (We) define “track record” as active PowerSellers who have been on eBay for at least 12 months.

Yes, dear reader, you read it right, years of continuous excellent performance would not be a favorable indicator of what a buyer can expect to experience.

How ethical is it to make a unilateral decision to amend any neutral feedback to a negative? If I had wanted to leave a negative I would have left a negative! As a buyer if I had any idea that eBay would in future take my neutral and use it to disadvantage the seller I would not have left any feedback at all. My neutral meant precisely that, not negative, not positive. I did not give permission to change my opinion from neutral to negative. That is precisely what feedback is, opinion, the opinion of the person who leaves it.

How ethical is it to remove feedback from sales fully in compliance with eBay policy at the time the sales were made? An upper level executive makes a decision based on a flawed premise and clerical workers immediately start removing feedback. There are no published guides as to the parameters used in such decisions, no contact is made with the seller, no input is permitted and no accountability is required for eBay.

Noted eBay Booster, PowerSeller Skip McGrath commented in his newsletter recently and on his blog

I got an email from one poor fellow who took a breather from selling on eBay for quite a while. Consequently his total number of feedbacks for the past 12 months was quite low although his overall score for the past several years was high. But because eBay now only looks at the past 12 months and he had a neutral about 6 months ago, his score dropped from 99.9% to 87%. With that score it is going to be really hard to get sales and therefore improve his score when people who don't really know any better see a feedback score of 87%.

Arbitrary feedback removal together with adjustment of neutral to negative has far reaching implications for sellers in regard to deliberate disadvantaging of product placement in search, fees paid and seller protections. It also exposes them to payment holds.

Looking into my crystal ball I see a class action lawsuit, in the very near future from sellers who have outstanding DSRs and have effectively been put out of business by these policies. Something I would LIKE to see is a lawsuit from sellers who are paying standardized listing fees for search visibility with no guarantee under Best Match they will ever get what they are paying for.

Finally, food for thought. There are multiple resignations in the upper echelons of eBay including Matt Halprin, eBay's Vice President in charge of Global Trust & Safety after less than 7 months in the job, and Jim Ambach, VP Seller Experience. Why?

Y'all come back and be sure to click VICTORIOUSLY on any interesting links in the sidebar!


Anonymous said...

I think your crystal ball is right on the money. A CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT will be the only way to get things done to anyone's satisfaction other than eBay's. Unfortunately there aren't any people willing to put themselves out there to do it; so I might be the one. I'll give them a few weeks to see if they live up to their promises of fair play.

It's a shame that people who play by eBay's rules and are the seller that eBay claims to want are treated like crap. Maybe that is why I am retching today.

Sign me for now:
Anony Mouse

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the cornerstones of eBay's dynamic Community, Community Values need to be re-written
* We believe buyers are basically good, sellers are bad.
* We believe everyone has something to contribute to eBay's bottom line.
* We believe that an honest, open environment does not fit our business plan.
* We recognize and respect upper level Management.
* We encourage you to treat others the way you want to be treated; we will treat you however we want to, take it or leave it.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

To add to the Skip mention. He also unfortunately in the same post referred to sellers emails complaining about the latest changes as NOISE. Skip needs to get a little wiser.

Anonymous said...

Well you know, Skips pretty special, he is a Very Important Man and hobnobs with all the other Very Important People I guess something pretty radical would have to happen for him to realize he is just another seller and I would not wish that on anyone.
I am surprised, its ignorant and all, rude. I thought better of him.

Anonymous said...

You know, it's only a very small leap from presuming a Neutral to being a sign of dissatisfaction to taking the failure to post feedback at all to be a sign of dissatisfaction.

I wonder how long it will take them to start calculating our feedback percentage not as a being a ratio of total positives to total feedback but of total positive to total TRANSACTIONS.

I mean, the logic would be consistent with what they have already done -- "assumed" what the buyer meant by leaving the neutral. What's to stop them from "assuming" what the buyer meant by not leaving feedback at all?

Of course they would only apply this in one direction -- a seller leaving NO feedback would be construed as a failure on the seller's part, not as a criticism of the buyer......

Anonymous said...

Here, Here dspeakes!! RIGHT ON!!

Anony Mouse

Kevin_T said...

Henrietta said "Something I would LIKE to see is a lawsuit from sellers who are paying standardized listing fees for search visibility with no guarantee under Best Match they will ever get what they are paying for."

Look into the finer detail of the changes to the multiple listing policy and how it affects search, it is much worse than just Best Match for people who sell runs of similar but different items. This will seriously impact on the collectibles market, whether selling or buying....