Monday, October 6, 2008

Why Do You Hate eBay So Much?

A fellow seller asked me the other day "Why do you hate eBay so much?" I could have made a wisecrack answer, but the question was thought provoking and deserved consideration. I have thought about it and this is my response.

I don't hate eBay.

eBay is a corporation and is perfectly entitled to move in whatever direction it's CEO and Board of Directors approve. I am equally at liberty to do likewise.

Consumers always have choice and the most basic of those choices is not to consume. eBay had shown me, personally, in 2006 that it was an unreliable service provider. I am referring to the Stores Inventory in search implementation and subsequent abrupt reversal without warning a few months later. Like many others I had invested a substantial amount in inventory. Unlike many others I have always had a firm policy of not buying on credit. I own my stock and two years later I still own some of it! Strike one for eBay.

Shortly thereafter eBay kicked me while I was down. Store insertion fees doubled. I had begun the (for me) long and difficult process of building a website. My capital was tied up in stock so I could not pay someone to build one for me. I did not want to be at the mercy of another instant e-commerce solution, therefore a stand alone website seemed the intelligent solution. Strike two for eBay.

Auntie May (the fictional dumb small seller of fleamarket junk) & I are fond of aphorisms. You may roll your eyes at this point (although I would bet money you can't do it as well as the Good John does) but there is often a lot of truth in them. this applies to the person who, as Auntie May would say "done me wrong".

Once, shame on you, twice, shame on me.

In the corporate culture employees take their cues from the top. I wrote about this here and here in May. As John Donohoe was preparing to take the reins from Meg Whitman in December 2007 he gave an interview to the Financial Times. There are clear indicators of Donohoe's attitude towards sellers in that article,

Mr Donahoe has cast an outsider's dispassionate eye over some of the site's practices and found them wanting. During an interview at Ebay's headquarters in Silicon Valley, he talks with the clear and untroubled certainties of the consultant, and has the prescriptions to match.
John Donohoe subtly conveys an inner certainty of his absolute superiority in every way to the sellers who pay fees to utilize eBay's services. This contemptuous attitude was absorbed and magnified by lower level employees, aided by Usher Lieberman of the PR department, and now it permeates the entire company.

My colleague at the Brews News commented on this last week and again here. Please note that The Brews News are not hysterical noisy boycotting ex-sellers. They are a group of multi identity PowerSellers who are still trying to run their businesses on eBay. Key phrases in the post are
He immediately became belligerent
he was insistent
he was adament
he was rude
asked me what I wanted to discuss with the TSAM
the rep grilled me and told me to explain

Does this sound like a Customer Service Representative assisting a valued and high volume paying customer? No? More like a self important busy junior executive dealing with intolerable interruptions and inefficiencies from an incompetent subordinate?

A monolith like eBay Inc. makes the decision to follow a course of action and implement policies which are contrary to the interests of it's users. When eBay refuses to engage in a two way conversation with it's customers or listen to their concerns ("we hear you" does not mean "we are listening") the only option is to vote with your feet; I made the decision to not use eBay, either as a buyer or seller, and I sold my stock.

I repeat, I do not hate eBay. This blog is a chronicle of eBay's destruction of the brand. How eBay lost ITs groove. It says so right up top on the header.

eBay Inc opened on the Nasdaq exchange this morning at $18.50 and as I write this has dropped to $16.90. Today eBay announced two classified site acquisitions in Europe and the purchase of the US second largest online payments system Bill Me Later; which will merge with PayPal increasing eBay's near monopoly on online payments.

Y'all come back!

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Anonymous said...

I don't really know much corporate acquisition but do you think websites like can raise the issue of a monopoly to the public and government.

Kevin_T said...

"This blog is a chronicle of eBay's destruction of the brand."

There is a difference between being critical and/or frustrated, and hatred. Hate will be filled with vitriol and spite, this chronicle is much more balanced than that. It does give credit where it perceives it is due, it gives advice for both those who continue to trade on Ebay and those who are leaving to trade elsewhere.

The smug contempt Henrietta alludes to has been highlighted in Ebay's "branch offices" this year. The utter contempt that Ebay Australia treated sellers with at the first meeting over the proposed "PayPal only" policy in Melbourne, comparing sellers who didn't offer PayPal to heroin users in a throwaway line, through to the insulting thrust of the evening that "The issue is people don't make an informed choice." ( Admittedly the Australian Ebayers who were concerned enough to attend the meeting mostly returned the contempt.

Then there is the contempt that Ebay UK's head of Trust and Safety, Richard Ambrose, treats his subjects to. Mr Ambrose lovingly refers to those who are wrongly caught in the net of policy enforcement as "edge cases", but while he acknowledges them he has no interest in assisting them. It is not of concern to him that someone is suspended from their livelihood due to circumstances beyond their control, he is cleaning up his site and if people wrongly lose their livelihoods for a month or two, then that is a small price to pay for the greater good. When several articles went missing from a single shipment of a seller (the post office lost a bag of mail), the seller received neutrals for either slow delivery or (admirably) for refunding the buyer before the item finally turned up. In Mr Ambrose's opinion this reflected unsatisfactory customer service. If Mr Ambrose's income reflected his quality of customer service the man would be near starving in a gutter at this time.

He has also justified the cancelling of an auction by saying "Even though your wording was within the letter of the policy, it could easily have been interpreted as violating the spirit of it." Thus in his eyes, sellers simply complying with the rules is not sufficient. In this case, this was a seller offering a pick up only item the day after PayPal being required on all UK listings. PayPal's ludicrous seller protection leaves a seller with absolutely no coverage on a picked up item, and the seller stated that they preferred cash on pick up, although they accepted PayPal as per the rules. The seller was punished for merely being within the letter of the policy, and Ebay sellers are now expected to comply with any unwritten special hidden meanings rules may now have - particularly if they are of financial benefit to Ebay. Even more ludicrous, is that this problem has not been resolved after almost two years. At the beginning of 2007 new Ebay users were required to use PayPal on all listings, and a few were ripped off on pick-up-only items by people gaming the system, paying by PayPal, and then being able to claim their money back because the seller could not prove that they posted the item. Ebay has promised to fix this problem but can't be bothered actually including protection in the payment system that they tout as protection.

And finally, of course, the whole charade of PayPal protection tumbled faster than Wall Street, when ebusiness_supplies went into liquidation in Australia, after a prolonged period of non-delivery to buyers who believed PayPal's hard sell that they were protected. On this occassion it was buyers who were treated to the institutional contempt that has been recently bred into Ebay staff. Ebay hid behind double speak, and policies buried in multiple layers of PayPal User Agreements (yes plural - count them sometime), they stressed that wording and terms in the auctions negated PayPal's user agreements and buyer protection policies, but removed all of the auctions so that they could not be scrutinised.

I am sorry to ramble off the original point, but this really is an attempt to highlight Henrietta's lucid observation of the current Ebay culture:
"This contemptuous attitude was absorbed and magnified by lower level employees, aided by Usher Lieberman of the PR department, and now it permeates the entire company."

Unfortunately it does.


Anonymous said...


I agree that ebay is run badly and I think people are entitled to be a bit angry if their livelihoods have been taken away. But this ebay cartoon may make you smile!