Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Message From Australia on Change at eBay

"To me, the biggest change in connection with eBay this year..."

Hmmm, yes, it really is only this year. It feels like half of the ten and a half year period that I have been on eBay, but it really is only this year. There have been adversarial issues in the past, but nothing that prepared eBay's actual clientele for the treatment they have gotten this year. I am sure that there were cheers from some sellers when it was announced that Meg Whitman was departing from the eBay corporate structure, but I suspect most of those who were cheering would welcome her back with open arms if she returned to eBay now - assuming of course that those who were alert enough to the issues that Ms Whitman presented, have persisted with eBay this far since.

Some of the shifts are downright bizarre in the business sense. It is one thing to accept that there is a need to keep buyers happy so that they will return to the site and spend money and keep the wheels of commerce turning, but this years shifts in attitude, have created an illogical aura that the buyer is eBay's customer, and the seller is a supplier who is not to be trusted even though they are the ones who pay eBay's bottom line from all angles. PayPal is free to buyers, the so-called "protection" insurance scam is free to buyers, and of course the sellers (rightly) pay the listing fees and commissions for the items they sell, but sellers who attempt to pass on their costs and fees at any point in the transaction are now to be held in contempt (even though the majority of buyers actually see through the flaws in this logic).

Sellers are now the enemy in eBay's eyes, and in order to stop off-site sales and to increase the use of PayPal, eBay is attempting to convince the buyers of this. If they succeed, though, why would buyers return to eBay at all?

So the eBay seller is now an outcast in their own marketplace. The current and recent changes have removed everything intuitive from the search engine on eBay, and punishes sellers for having the audacity to try to build a profit margin into their business, while eBay itself steadily increases the fee structures imposed on sellers. My own business is probably paying at least 25% more in fees this year to eBay, through the listing fee "reductions" and "free" gallery adjustments at the beginning of the year on the USA site, and through the enforced acceptance of PayPal on the Australian site, add to this the steadily increasing postage costs and the inescapable increases in fuel costs which both affect every eBay business but are beyond eBay's scope and control, and I am thankful that I sell old and unusual items which create auction competition and a decent profit margin - I don't know how anyone can "retail" new stock on eBay. At the same time as eBay reaps their increased fees though, they are "rewarding" and "incenting" sellers to REDUCE their prices and offer free shipping - those who don't are punished through poor search exposure and are effectively being labeled greedy and arrogant by, umm, the greedy and arrogant.

The change has been constant and relentless this year for both eBay's customers, and those who buy on the site. Buyers I speak to in person complain of constantly having to relearn how to use the site, how unnecessary most of the change seems, and some reduce the amount they use the site for these reasons. Having to re-adjust each time you buy is just hard work, and becomes hard to justify when it is so constant. Everything that made this marketplace work is being interfered with, and yet the marketplace still works in spite of the way that eBay manages it and interferes with it. How this business model can survive though is beyond me, other than it's mere market dominance meaning that it continues to steamroll through eBay's section of the overall marketplace, replacing it's cast off sellers and buyers at a fairly steady rate. In doing so though, even if it remains a place of commerce that is viable to some, eBay has trashed it's brand beyond recognition this year. Sellers like me continue because, at this stage, it is still viable for my own business model and lifestyle, but any sense of loyalty that I had to eBay has been killed this year. I have plans loosely in place so that I can walk away from the site as soon as it is either nonviable, or I am squeezed out overnight by either policy changes or just waking to find that I am not a registered user. So be it.

Ranting yet again, Kevin

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