Monday marked the beginning of an unusual protest. eBay sellers are on strike.
The recent announcement of upcoming changes to eBay fees, feedback, and searches came on the heels of a year fraught with seller dissatisfaction, and has proved to be the proverbial last straw.
As a seller of my original art in eBay’s art community, I’ve watched these events unfold. eBay has a strong advantage in name recognition, customer base, and format, as well as a sense of community among sellers. However, much like participants in an unhealthy relationship, these sellers have stood by the auction site through the years, forgiving frustrating changes time and again. The fact is, the percentage of sales on eBay usually outweigh those on other sites. So sellers stay.
But with a resounding call of “eBay is not fun anymore,” buyers and sellers alike are leaving the auction site in droves. And from February 18-25, many sellers are striking in protest.
Beginning February 20, changes will be made to eBay’s fees, feedback system, and search functionality, among other things. While changes in fees and PayPal payment policy are sources of frustration, the majority of complaints are centered around the auction site’s newly discriminatory attitude towards sellers.
Written in the Stars
Feedback and searches are two areas which will be altered under the new rules. Previously, both buyers and sellers were ranked by the same feedback rating system. Participants in a transaction would leave positive, neutral, or negative feedback, together with a short description of the transaction. It was the same on both sides. eBay members relied upon a person’s feedback rating and descriptions—buyers placed confidence in a seller’s good feedback, while sellers felt reassured in seeing good feedback in a buyer. By the same token, negative and neutral feedback and dissatisfied descriptions were cautionary flags to anyone.
Under the new system, “Buyers will only be able to receive positive Feedback.” However, Sellers will still be able to receive negative and neutral feedback. In addition, a star rating system has been added to the seller’s feedback page. After leaving feedback for a transaction, buyers are asked to go a step further and rate the seller with one to five stars in four categories. What isn’t made immediately clear is that “4 out of 5” is considered “low” and adversely affects a seller’s overall record.
The stars will be tied to search engine rankings. Whereas before the eBay search default sorted items by “ending soonest,” results will now be listed according to sellers’ star ratings.
I encourage measures to help the shopper feel safe and comfortable. I spend a great deal of my own time trying to do just that, through clear listings, one-on-one communication, prompt shipping, and customer service. I’m a buyer as well as a seller. I understand what it’s like to pay hard-earned money to a stranger and hope you get what you pay for.
But I take offense at discrimination.
The new rating system places an unfair emphasis on sellers. People are people on both sides of a transaction. There are honest sellers and stellar buyers. But at the same time there are also dishonest people on either side. Under the new policy, sellers are at an increased risk of theft. With no fear of negative feedback, a dishonest buyer could say they never received the item in the mail, and request a refund from eBay. Fearing negative feedback and damage to search engine rankings, a seller may be inclined to issue the refund without complaint, and chalk up the item as a loss.
Fraud of this nature has happened many times before—except now, without the veil of protection from equal feedback, the potential for a seller’s risk is increased.
The eBay home page sports a new tag line: “Where else but eBay?” Apparently that’s not a rhetorical question, and eBay has taken it upon themselves to answer it.
While sellers are working hard to keep their stars from being tarnished, the search ranking they’re aiming for actually cuts into their potential for profit.
eBay search result pages now carry ads for other, off-site retailers.
How does a seller in eBay Motors feel when they find an ad for Toyota.com on the eBay Motors search results page? Or someone selling a lamp, who has to contend with a banner ad for LampsPlus.com above their listing? Why buy a video, when an ad encourages you to rent it from Netflix—with a free trial? How about the person trying to sell their iPhone. What goes through their mind when they see an off-site ad for the Apple Store?
Hmm….”Only $399 Free shipping” from the Apple Store itself, or $400 plus shipping from some person I don’t know.
What would you choose?
Following the “About” link near the ads opens a window that states:
“We think these relevant AdChoice ads will personalize and improve your eBay experience.” For a second, maybe, until I click one and wind up off-eBay.
Here’s an example. My sister is a 19-year-old photographer. While she pursues her college studies, she’s also trying to get a head start on her career by selling her original, limited edition photo prints in an eBay Store.
Say I’m a buyer. I have a wall I want to decorate. I decide I want photography. I enter “photographic print” in eBay’s search bar. This page comes up:
But before I hardly have a chance to see what’s there, I notice an ad for JC Penney’s Home Sale. That makes me suddenly remember I have an email discount from Penney’s. So I click on the ad, enter “photographic print” in their search bar, and here I am.
And an aspiring photographer paid her fees for nothing.
I have to tell you, that doesn’t “improve my eBay experience” in the least.
What’s more, this is in direct opposition to eBay’s own links policy:
“Non-permitted links include, but are not limited to: Links to websites or pages that offer to trade, sell or purchase goods or services outside of eBay.”
Like JC Penney?
“This policy promotes a more level playing field by ensuring sellers do not link inappropriately thereby creating a disadvantage to those sellers who link appropriately.”
Every seller I know agonizes over links, making sure they fit within eBay’s listing policies. They “link appropriately.” Yet eBay itself undermines the “level playing field” by linking to off-site retailers.
It gives the impression that eBay is happy to collect sellers’ fees, then turn around and sell buyers to other vendors for additional money. Ouch. That’s not fair. And we pay fees for what, exactly?
The workings of the eBay site have become convoluted and perplexing. The problems with the new policies are not just going to go away. Many good sellers will leave. New, short-term friends aren’t going to stick around very long to play. How is that a way to strengthen a business?
Why would anyone stay?
Before, I’ve had many reasons—chief among them being the market visibility, customer base, and community atmosphere of eBay.
But that’s actually a good question. Why stay with eBay after all, when other opportunities are growing stronger and looking better? With options like Etsy.com, Amazon.com, and Onlineauction.com, what reasons do sellers have to stay with eBay?
I wonder how many sellers are asking themselves that very question right now:
“Where else but eBay?”
…And then answering it.