Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The eBay Master Plan, Fact or Fiction?

This comment appeared for nano-seconds on an eBay Discussion Board. It has been seen on other boards, again for seconds. When I first read it I thought it was persuasive, maybe too persuasive like the urban myth internet spoofs we all fell for at least once and forwarded to every one in our address book.

Is it for real? I don't know. Is it interesting, yes and very plausible. It is just goofy enough that it fits the current Corporate mentality. Thanks to Anna who has guest blogged here. Enjoy.

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I posted this at the feedback forum at eBay but it was killed by staff less than a minute later. I should have known. My ID will be toast soon anyway. This was the only other place I thought where my statement might have an impact. Do with it what you will. After Chicago, my only desire is to be heard.

There will be those who will not believe me and I sympathize. I wish the facts were fiction but to deny what I know would be to live in a fairyland of make-believe. I understand that the bulk of this “manifesto” reveals a plot so against the spirit of eBay that it will be dismissed as lie. So be it. I cannot force the world to accept it. All I can do is state the truth as I know it and leave it to you and to your common sense and experience to judge.

The deck is stacked against me. Aside from the natural resistance to believe I know that the boards are stocked with eBay’s tools. Their goal will be to discredit me. I will be accused of being a “disgruntled”, “paranoid”, and “emotional” seller. Their words will be specially chosen for effect. That is part of the function of the tools and I am not fazed by it. However, to protect my own identity within the corporation, I cannot be too specific lest the details single me out to the powers that be.

What I intend to reveal is common knowledge to many in the management division behind the scenes.

By the way, the tools are not only the mouthpieces that promote the policies. The psychological tactics employed by the powers that be are far deeper and grander than that. The subtlety of the method is remarkable. The tools come in a wide range of flavors with their own, individual “characteristic” rhetoric. From those who are “for” the policy - and spread various degrees of hostility toward the sellers - to those who are “against” the change - and spread panic and further the divide with the buyers. Both serve the same exact purpose: a manipulation designed to remove the more involved and savvy small to large sellers who will not fit into eBay’s future business plan.

First, let me correct the record regarding the concept of sellers extorting positive feedback. While the violation was known to happen, the activity amounted to less than a tenth of a percent of the yearly transactions. Further, it involved sellers whose feedback percentages were below 80%. The absolute majority of sellers did not engage in such practices. Nevertheless, the powers that be could not resist the fact that promoting this notion of feedback extortion as a wide-spread phenomenon would be the perfect cover with which to hide the true intentions of the policy.

The powers that be want to transform eBay into an overstock warehouse venue. A kind of outlet store for the internet much like a cheaper and streamlined version of Amazon. From a strictly business point of view, given the size of eBay and the growing costs of doing business, it makes a certain kind of sense to shift gears. Think about it: when eBay started, sellers were about rare and unique items but here and now the majority of items are common, used counterparts of what can be found new online at retail sites. Truly rare and unique items are sold at real auctions; the “stuff in your attic” isn’t glamorous enough and won’t keep eBay afloat any longer.

The trend away from the rare and unique to the big box retailer is not new. Several years ago the powers that be noticed that the big “powersellers” were simply listing items that existed in their retail stores or inventories. Thus the concept of “buy it now”, “best offer”, and “eBay stores” were created. It was the nascent stage of the plan yet to be. Little by little, without the population noticing, the mechanisms required to replicate the average retail storefront were already in place - and with its rise came the slow, steady downfall of the auction format.

Yet outright pursuit of a retail venue would have led to a major problem that at the time could not have been surmounted. The vast majority of people, on and off line, know eBay as precisely the place for auctions of rare and unique items. The sellers and buyers held onto that perception too but in truth their opinion even involvement in new and improved version of eBay is irrelevant by a certain Machiavellian calculation made by the powers that be. As part of the plan, eBay calculated thus: even if they lost the sellers as part of the change, the buyers will be coming back to buy regardless of who or what operated within the retail-outlet venue.

No, it was the stock holders who the powers that be feared.

Only the stockholders had the power to change the direction set forth by the CEO and the board. So it became imperative to change the equation. Part of the plan is to devalue the stock gradually so that investors merely dumped the stock as opposed to wanting managerial change ala Yahoo. Then to buy back the stock at lower cost and to such a volume that no rebellion against the powers that be were possible.

By the end of July that phase of the plan will be successful and there est of the plan will be revealed without fear of backlash from those who otherwise would have had the power to pull eBay back from the brink.
Indeed, if you believe the current changes are obvious signals that small sellers are not wanted - be prepared - you have seen nothing yet.

So far what have they done? All they have managed to do is silence a seller’s ability to warn others about buyers (half of the purpose behind the original idea of feedback), burden you with higher and higher fees, dangle “treats” like discounts while setting the bar of eligibility so high that the rewards cannot be reached. and, by the way PayPal deals with “complaints” leave you vulnerable to fraud. What if worse was yet to come?

They know if you do not feel safe that you will not use eBay. The changes that have been enacted only eliminates the small sellers. Meanwhile they want to eradicate the mid-sized seller too. And they want to ensure that both do not return.

For the mid-sized seller the DSR became the tool of choice. The powers that be raised the level of what is a good seller artificially high. No manipulation is required; they know exactly the effect of the policy. This is why buyers are told that 4 is a good score and sellers are told that 4.9 yields discounts and higher listing placements. As long as that fractured point of view exists, eBay does not need to interfere with the DSR as has been suggested, the buyers will be killing the sellers naturally.

By August there will be no pretense and the intentions of the new and improved eBay will be clear. The following is only a partial list of the rules that will be imposed. It comes from a memo that circulated within my corner of the managerial department the week before Chicago. I cannot be too specific about certain items and I cannot reveal details of the latest additions without endangering my anonymity.

1. Neutrals will be converted to negatives complete with red icons and reduced feedback scores. Afterward neutrals will not be offered as a choice of feedback.

2. The entire process of feedback will be automated. Buyers and sellers will chose standard feedback from a list. For sellers this operation will be performed automatically upon the buyer winning. For buyers there will be an extra free line with which to add a few comments about the seller without restriction to content. Replies will not be allowed.

3. The implementation of a stricter rules regarding shipping. From the boxes, packing, labels and tapes to where you can buy postage. Orders have been placed for prototypes of “eBay” boxes. UPS and FedEx will be instructed not to accept “eBay” merchandise if it’s not inside “eBay” boxing. They will know, of course, because when sellers buy the “eBay” postage from the “eBay” source, a detailed list of contents with item numbers will be available to the shippers upon scanning a bar code. As for those who continue to use USPS, another level of quality control will be implemented - buyers will be asked, upon confirmation of delivery, if the seller used “eBay” standard shipping items. Naturally, no verification of the buyer’s truthfulness will be attempted, and continued ‘infractions’ will result in suspension. eBay will have other ways to check if a seller is not using the “eBay” equipment - as they will be required to buy at cost the supplies immediately after items are listed. (This is such a large scale operation behind the scenes that I feel comfortable sharing as much of it as I know.)

4. Sales taxes will be included automatically; shipping cost and sales taxes will be used to determined FVF.

5. Item descriptions will be “standardized” with templates which include the posting of a new, universal return policy. Only yearly subscribers to the retail-outlet venue can opt out of these universal return policies but even they cannot alter the template structures being devised.

6. Strikes against buyers will be eliminated as the whole concept of a buyer and bidding will be altered. FVF will be calculated when payment is submitted.

7. Time to Close will be eliminated entirely. Best Match will be the non-alterable default. Best Match is a system that caters to the needs of shoppers not bidders.

8. Placement within Best Match will be determined by several factors, the most important of which will be the extra display features added onto the listing.

9. DSRs can be removed by retailers and powersellers who pay a certain yearly fee.

10. The end play itself which consists of four phases:
a) the main focus shifts to retail sellers whose fees are on a per listing basis
b) stores will be replaced by a classified section, fees will be based on yearly subscriptions and FVFs
c) occasional auctions will be conducted for unique items (celebrity auctions, items that have been featured on the news, etc.)
d) total elimination of auctions for regular sellers.

From the point of view of eBay’s agenda to change gears these alteration make sense. The powers that be want to turn eBay into a retail venue format. Therefore the “buyer” must be changed - bidding and commitments to buy are part of the past. In a retail venue, the item is either in your cart or not and you only commit to buy when you pay at checkout. The seller is also redefined in the way they will be required to do business. They will be forced to copy the methods of retail stores.

The goal is to become Amazon Lite. Unlike Amazon the merchandise will be stocked by the retailers in their warehouses, eBay will be just an electronic centralized venue for outlet sale - a “trusted” name with a wide customer base and popular name recognition.

That is the future and as I write this I know that it cannot be stopped. There are no investors with enough clout and will to challenge the CEO. Stock holders will simply walk away. eBay will not sink, however, it will be exactly in the position its rulers intend it to be at.

Sellers, my advice is simple. You are not wanted. Leave. If you stay, you will be crushed. Leave. Go away. You cannot win.

I am sorry because for too long I have been a complicit tool behind the scenes. I was part of those teams and think tanks that spearheaded many of the “innovations” you know very well and which will be used to destroy you. I know I will not be believed. I will be mocked and ridiculed by the tools and even those who are real, actual people will be hesitant to accept what I have to say. What has been done to this community, the plots and schemes hatched in meetings and across memos, is far, far worse to endure within my soul than any treatment I will receive at the hands of the tools by posting this. You do not know how much they hate you. It is my conscience that I want to clear going forward. Again I apologize. There should have been a better way for the powers that be to effect the change they wanted for eBay - instead they succumbed to cloak and dagger deception.

RIP eBay

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There you go, fact or fiction, time will tell.

In the same vein I would like to point you to a recent post by Randy Smythe on My Blog Utopia! This lady has a bit more credibility and awesome crystal ball skills.


Y'all come back


10 comments:

allbusinessauctions said...

Henrietta,

Thanks so much for all of your comments on the Trading Assistant Journal.
I to received this long and extraordinary comment in my blog comments inbox.
After reading it I came to the conclusion that it was not plausible. I certainly hope I am write in my evaluation and that this is just as it appears, a hoax.
One key factor reinforcing my evaluation is the fact that this same comment was sent to multiple eBay related blogs and websites at the same time. To me this indicates a concerted effort to cause buzz with this strangely written narrative.
If the author is out there reading the few blogs that posted his comments, I would hope that he/she would take either Randy Smythe or myself up on an offer of anonymity if they would come forward and provide some background.
But without any supporting information, I can not possibly suggest to my readers that any of this is true by posting it in the Trading Assistant Journal.
Please contact any of the serious bloggers or Journalists who are ready and willing to protect your name if you are in fact a real eBay employee and if you purport this story to be the honest truth.
I suggest that we will all only hear silence, or see another long fantastical tale and never learn the identity of this phantom commenter.

Anonymous said...

This may be a hoax, I don't know. But some really far fetched and smelly planning are not unknown in the corporate, or even the private world.

When looked at as an evaluation and prediction to the course eBay appears to be taking based on eBay actions so far, interviews of key personnel, and other comments -- it is not so far fetched or silly.

The outcome could very well be right on target - hoax blog comment or not.

TomH

Henrietta said...

To make it perfectly plain, I am not the author of this post. It was taken off an eBay board.

Equally, I am not now, nor have I ever stated that it is the truth or genuine. What I said was that it had the feel of a hoax and where it came from. Either way, fact or fiction, obviously my readers found it as interesting as I did.

Anna said...

Sometimes there is a very fine line between "irresponsible journalism" and the truth - also known as a "scoop." Say what you will - that's the whole point!!! To get people THINKING!

And think they should.

While I too, hope this commentary is unfounded, how many people would have believed recent policy changes were possible if someone had leaked the dirt about the feedback changes last year? Who would have dreamed the eBay community would be in the chaotic state it's currently in worldwide?

How many eBayers still don't have a clue or are only just now finding out about the feedback changes - many because their good reputation has taken a surprise hit?

How many underhanded things has eBay pulled as of late?

* Forced PayPal use in Australia
* 21 day holds on a seller's money while PayPal collects interest
* Setting unobtainable goals for discounts to increase a seller's fees so eBay profits
* Encouraging buyers to give negative and neutral feedback to prevent sellers from ever obtaining those discounted fees and increased seller protections
* Conveniently neglecting to update feedback and policy pages so buyers are unaware that a “good” DSR rating of 4 can destroy a seller
* Deciding that neutral means "a negative buying experience" and retroactively penalizing the reputations of both buyers and sellers accordingly
* Allowing hoards of unethical buyers to neg and extort sellers victoriously

The madness just goes on and on. Would any of us have believed it possible had we read someone’s blog speculating about it last year?

People need to be aware of what eBay has done, consider what it might be up to behind the scenes, and plan their business strategies accordingly.

EBay’s so called "experimental" PayPal only scheme in Australia is the perfect example of what sort of surprises could still be in store for any or all of us with very little notice.

Who among us is so foolish and blind as to believe this corporate monster isn't capable of doing whatever it takes to continue to pad it's profits?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anna. #3 (the shipping stuff) sounds weird at first but it's possible. I've seen it discussed everywhere and what I've noticed is that people aren't looking at everything. FedEx and UPS have *stores* where people come and drop off packages. What if the checking for ebay stuff happened at those stores? What if you had to buy the postage at those stores? Who knows what other rules would be put in place. FedEx and UPS, if they were paid enough by ebay, might refuse the item or might flag it so that the seller gets dinged or whatever. After the feedback change and the Ozzies going PayPal only I don't put anything past ebay anymore :(

Ed said...

Interesting read Henrietta

All the more so as I've read this after an email exchange with one of the BuildaSkill readers concerning a comment in the UK eBay Q&A board by Head of Trust & Safety, Richard Ambrose.

He has posted that a warning period is to be reinstated for sellers facing suspension under Seller Non Performance (SNP) and I emailed the response (off eBay) wondering what hoops sellers would have to jump through to be eligible for the warning period, as opposed to immediate suspension.

My thoughts were on the reasons given for cutting international visibility between the UK & US, and the then ignoring of those reasons when reintroducing it with a fee - the International Visibility Fee - as per the warnings I was issuing 16 months ago regarding eBay India having an international listing fee at that time.

This all leads into the comment in the post about PowerSellers being able to pay/subscribe to a service which allowed removal of bad feedback. Not so far fetched - after all, the former paid-mediation service eBay recommended (and probably owned) did not receive the traffic or revenue that it could have done.

Given recent actions and policies, why would eBay not want to open another revenue stream?

How long I wonder, before lawyers stop being the butt of parasite jokes, and eBay enters the mainstream as the pinnacle of that type of behaviour?

Ed

Anonymous said...

It looks like #5 on the list is coming true.

http://seekingalpha.com/article/82826-new-selling-form-sinks-ebay-sellers?source=feed

The question is: anyone still believe ebay when it says there's nothing to it? Anyone still believe ebay? Anyone?

dspeakes said...

I'm just glad I'm boycotting.

eBay doesn't deserve my business, now or in the future. They have no morals, no conscience, and are motivating SOLELY by GREED.


Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall after Donahoe drops dead and tries to argue with St Peter about why he deserves not to go to the hot place??

Anonymous said...

If it's true or false, I don't care one way or the another. I've had enough of ebay.

I closed my store two years ago with those changes and I've given up my powerseller statis and stopped selling and buying on ebay over these changes. I will not be returning to ebay to buy or sell, ever.

Word of mouth is a very powerful tool and I'm using my tool to drive buyers, as well as ebay's unwanted small to mid-size sellers to other venues.

Anonymous said...

I live in Australia.
And I beleive the poster.

And I have for the longest time. When writing on the ebay boards of my suspicians, I was ridiculed. One random person, whom I beleive must have worked for ebay to quell so called rumour, would come in and attack you, and render you a nutter, outright! then all his/her mates would come in, they would gang up on you and totally demoralize you. It happened time and time again to others who raised ebay/paypal's questionable and unethical actions.

When so many disgruntled sellers started writing and inundating the boards (called the round table), ebays 'pinks' (board monitors) started removing all the threads, and placing them in a 'HIDDEN' section on ebay, where most people looking for answers would not go, or did not know about. So the boards did not look so bad to any new comers. People were up in arms about that. LOSS OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH!!!

My post office lady has told me that ebay have been making deals with Australia Post!!!

Ebay Australia has fallen! Severely! Due to John Donohue's detrimental changes and using Austalia ebay as the guinea pig.
We in Australia have fought and fought hard, but ebay and paypal have secured all our lawful loopholes. And seem to be getting away with it.
We have thus far been able to stop the monopoly of Paypal only being imposed/forced upon us, meaning no other form of payment acceptance was allowable, even pick up items had to offer paypal as payment acceptance. But this has only been postponed, at the request of our ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commision).
Meanwhile, we HAVE to offer paypal, ebay "HIDE" sellers bank details, and shove paypal down all buyers throats. So most buyers are paying with paypal, lining ebays pockets with more fees from sellers. Sellers are furious. I am too and am particularly peed off with paying fees on buyers postage amounts which are sometimes in the vicinity of $100.00 We are not allowed to pass on fees, or say anything.

We in Australia are totally disgusted and are filthy with ebay/paypal.

Detrimental changes has caused between 50-80% in loss of sales, low end auction prices, traffic has gone down by more than half. People are walking away in droves, and ebay, if they read the boards are probably happy with that.

Dirty, underhanded and sneaky business tactics are driving off buyers and sellers in droves.

They have hurt ebay Australia bad.

And I feel for the people. Ebay is stabbing us in the back. Sucking us in and sucking us dry, all for money.

They could have done things differently, but EBAY/PAYPAL CHOSE TO HURT THE PEOPLE.

Lots of people in Australia, and hopefully, possibly, the world, will treat ebay like the plague.

Ebay is now a dirty word!
and so is paypal for that matter.

It has taken a long time though, because people could not fathom a huge corporation like ebay/paypal, to disembowel itself like they have done.