eBay Feedback: Will Conducting Tests in the Marketplace Provide any Real Answers?

Posted on May 21, 2009. Filed under: eBay | Tags: , , , , , , |

The eBayInk blog has an article this week titled eBay Conducting Feedback Tests in the Marketplace in which eBay wants to know what eBayers think of the new feedback system.  Below I am laying out my arguments as to why the eBay Detailed Seller Rating (DSR) system fails to accurately measure what should be measured.  Then I will speak as to my experiences with eBay surveys and how I know that members’ input is not even being considered in eBay’s decision making processes.


DSR: Accuracy of Item Description

What exactly is eBay trying to measure here?

1. Was the seller’s description of the item what was actually sent?  In other words, if a seller stated in words and pictures that the item was a a blue lamp but a green throw pillow was sent then the item was not accurately described.  However, in that case, shouldn’t the greater concern be whether the seller ultimately makes it right and the buyer gets what they ordered?  If the buyer did not receive the actual item that was described then they should be able to return it for the correct item or for a refund.  If the item is a rare collectible and certain flaws were not accurately disclosed then the buyer should return for a refund.  When the seller has to keep refunding and losing their shipping fee and possibly their eBay selling fees then they will be financially motivated to list their items more accurately.

Amazon does not ask buyers if items were described accurately which is a purely subjective opinion.  Instead, Amazon uses an objective measure — how many items, as a percentage, are being returned.  If a seller has a return rate that is too high then they are prohibited from listing.  That makes much more sense than asking the buyer to subjectively rate a seller’s description and to do so anonymously, as eBay asks its buyers to do.  How is the eBay seller supposed to know that buyers think a particular product description is inaccurate if the ratings are anonymous?  

2. Does the item actually have all the stated specifications, work in the manner as described, and is of sufficient quality for the money paid?  In other words, when you buy a name brand item you expect a high quality that works as specified.  If you buy a knock-off at 1/3 the price then the item may not perform to the level you desire for more than a few weeks if ever at all.  And if you are buying online, how do you make a decision on a particular model among all the choices?  Often times, you look at reviews.  Reviews from other customers who have bought the item before you are often times the most helpful information available.   Amazon’s customer reviews are what I read before making a purchasing decision.        

Amazon Customer Reviews (from the Amazon website):

As part of the Amazon.com Community, you can submit written or video reviews for any product listed on Amazon.com to help other customers make purchase decisions.   For guidelines on submitting reviews and participating in other Community forums, please visit our Community Guidelines  Help page.

If several customers state that a particular model failed initially and had to be returned to the manufacturer for a replacement, then I am not interested in gambling that I might get a good one the first time so I would buy a different model.  In any case, the seller is not describing the item inaccurately if I receive a “lemon” for which the manufacturer sends me a call tag and issues a replacement.  But in the eBay system, the seller IS held accountable since the buyer would state that the item was not as described.  In contrast under the Amazon system the buyer would give a poor review of the product NOT the seller as long as the seller assisted, if necessary, in the customer getting the replacement product.

3. Now, eBay is considering asking the buyer: Was the item what you were expecting (based on the item description)?  That is almost laughable to me.  Any long-term eBay seller knows that eBay buyers are notorious for not reading the item description but instead have their own expectations of what they are purchasing.  How many times has an eBay seller given examples of a buyer who has complained about a product because they “thought the item would be bigger” when the EXACT measurements were given in the listing.  The buyer doesn’t disagree that the measurements of the item received are the same as what was stated but rather that they expected the item to be bigger.  Perhaps some people have poor depth perceptions and cannot accurately grasp the approximate size of “6 inches” in their head but does noone have a ruler or measuring tape at home anymore to know the size in advance of purchasing? 

And, speaking of expectations, how many items are sold on late night TV to people who have “expectations” that some part of their anatomy will be enlarged if they use the product.  Buyer’s expectations should be reasonable (with some common sense applied) and should also be based on the description as provided but that is not always the case.  The bottom line is that some people have unreasonable expectations even when the item is very accurately described and if eBay asks buyers if their expectations were met then eBay would be measuring the wrong thing.  Amazon has it right.  If the buyer did not receive the item as expected, then the buyer returns it to the seller and Amazon objectively measures the percentage of seller returns.  On the other hand, eBay just asks that the buyer anonymously inform the seller that some item they purchased is not as they expected.  How does that make a buyer happy or resolve any issues? 

DSR: Communication

So, what exactly are eBay buyers supposed to be communicating about with their sellers?  Sellers have a long list of topics that are taboo — cannot mention outside sales venues such as their own website, cannot mention that they take checks and money orders, etc.  And when a buyer wins an item, eBay sends the buyer an email.  When the buyer pays via PayPal, they receive a payment confirmation directly from PayPal.  So, the only thing left for the seller to communicate is the shipping.  Sellers who use Paypal for printing labels automatically get the benefit of an email being sent to the buyer alerting them to the shipping status.  And eBay sellers who use selling manager can have an email automatically sent when the item is marked as shipped.  Given this information, does an eBay buyer really need to rate a seller’s communication?  Well, I guess they do if they have expectations that an eBay seller will communicate with them about things other than purchase, payment, or shipping.

Just this morning I received the following email from an eBayer who registered August 2008 and has zero feedback:

Hi seller, I’m watching 8 of your items and was wondering if you would be willing to do a layaway.

Now I am sure eBay expects me to “communicate” with this potential buyer but I am not interested.  I have blocked the potential buyer because I am not interested in carrying on a dialogue about layaway.  And even if I did want to communicate to the eBayer that the eBay and PayPal system is not set up for layaways and that I don’t do layaways and assuming the buyer did purchase my items knowing that I don’t do layaways, I can only imagine how difficult it would be for me to get the buyer to pay.  And then I can only imagine what kind of DSR ratings the buyer would leave me for communication since they would obviously be displeased that I would not accommodate their layaway request.  I have often times thought of writing an entire book about the communications I receive from eBay buyers and potential eBay buyers.  It would be funny if it weren’t just a little bit scary sometimes.

DSR: Shipping Time

What exactly is eBay trying to measure here — the time it takes a seller to give the item to the carrier after receiving cleared payment or the total time it takes a package to arrive?  Amazon does have a seller performance metric centered about shipping time but the measure is objective.  If an Amazon seller states they ship within 4 business days, for example, then did they do what they said they would?  Did they ship when they promised?  I feel it is reasonable for Amazon to have this objective measure for many reasons.  The most important reason is because Amazon sellers do not receive an order unless payment is attached to that order.   And, therefore, when an Amazon seller receives an order they are expected (rightly so) to ship in a timely manner. 

In contrast, an eBayer can locate an item for sale on eBay that is on auction ending in 5 days then when they win the item they submit payment 3 days later via PayPal echeck so that the seller only gets the cleared payment perhaps 2 weeks (5 days for the auction to end + 3 days for the buyer to submit payment + 6 days for the echeck to clear) after the buyer first finds the item on eBay and places a bid.  Then assume the seller receives the cleared echeck payment on a Friday night and ships Monday morning (very timely shipping) and the item arrives 3 business days later, the total time from placing a bid to receiving the item could be about 3 weeks.  In the buyer’s mind this could be slow shipping.  However, the seller actually shipped the first business day that the cleared payment arrived and via a method that took only 3 business days to arrive.  The eBay system, with the fact that (a) auctions take awhile to end and (b) buyers can take awhile before they pay for what they ordered and (c) PayPal echecks take awhile to clear, skew this measurement of “timely shipping” with factors that the eBay seller should not be held responsible for but they are held accountable for all of these things.  And, most amazing to me, eBay fails to understand why sellers are frustrated with DSR ratings.

DSR: Shipping Cost

I have written so many times on my blog about why this particular measure is so incredibly wrong so I won’t lay out all the arguments again.  Instead, I’ll just given a personal example of how this measure is causing friction between potential buyers and sellers and how, in my case, I simply turn down the sale rather than haggle over shipping.

I sell a particular item for $24 plus $6.95 shipping.  Periodically, I run the item on auction starting for $9.99 with the same shipping cost of course and I run the auction for “advertising” since the listing will ultimately make its way to page one of the search.  While I list a quantity of 1 on auction, I have several of the same item in my eBay store available for immediate purchase.  So, I get a potential buyer who emails me about the auction telling me that (a) she is interested in my item but the shipping seems a little high, (b) that instead of $6.95 she thinks $4 or $5 would be more reasonable and if I would agree to lower the shipping then she would bid and (c) it is tough economic times and her budget only allows so much to spend on luxury items such as the one I am offering.  So, my response is that I can understand tough economic times since, we too, have to work harder and auction off more items and, since I can appreciate her concern about shipping costs that just for her I would agree to waive the shipping costs (free shipping!) on any item in our eBay store that she purchases with a Buy Now option.  So, that would be $24 total with no shipping.  I then sweetly end the email by stating that I am more than happy to offer free shipping so that she has no worries about the shipping cost.  Now, of course, the buyer doesn’t respond because she is not interested — she is hoping to get the item for $9.99 plus $4 shipping (about $14 total) instead of the $24 with free shipping that I am offering.  Even without reduced shipping, the $9.99 plus $6.95 is still a way better deal than the $24 with free shipping.  But most buyers get the point of my email — if you are focused on the shipping cost without considering the overall total costs, then do I have a deal for you.  Not once has any potential buyer who has emailed me to negotiate the shipping costs taken me up on my offer for free shipping on a Buy Now item at full price.  And any eBayer who emails me to negotiate the shipping cost on an auction automatically makes it to my blocked bidder list because I am certain that the buyer, if they won my item and paid the stated shipping cost, would definitely leave me a low DSR rating since they have already told me in advance that they are unhappy with the shipping cost. 

With the DSR measurement of shipping cost, eBay is just encouraging buyers to expect the lowest product price as well as then ask for shipping costs that are free or below actual cost.  What kind of seller can continue in operation by offering their product at or below wholesale costs then taking a loss on shipping cost only then to have to pay eBay and PayPal fees?

No online buyer likes to pay shipping cost.  Just like no eBay seller likes to pay selling fees.  If eBay were rated by sellers  I can assure you that any measurement asking “How reasonable is eBay selling fees?” would definitely fall below the 4.1 acceptable level on a 1-5 scale.

eBay Surveys

More than a month ago I wrote a blog post titled eBay Conducts Online Interactive Survey the Same Way as They Manage the eBay Marketplace in which I described how eBay informed me that I was chosen for an online interactive survey that was to be held at a specified time only hours before the event was scheduled and then proceeded to immediately send me a follow up email “reminding” me of the event that they had just invited me to participate in.  Well shortly after this took place, I received an invitation to participate in an online survey that was scheduled to take approximately 10-15 minutes.  More than 10 minutes into the survey I was 84% complete, according to the bar on the page, when the survey simply would not progress.  I tried multiple things but nothing worked so then I chose the option in the survey to report the problem.  I was then told that I would receive an email about the survey problem.  That was almost 3 weeks ago and I never received communication about the survey problem.  Instead, however, I received another invitation to participate in a different survey on that same seller ID account as well as two more invitations to participate in two different seller surveys on another one of my eBay seller ID accounts.  Then, of course, there are reminder emails I am now receiving about the invitations since I chose not to answer the surveys.

Why would I answer surveys when: (a) eBay invites to me to an online survey that is at a specific time only hours before the event and (b) I spend my valuable time to answer surveys and when there is a technical problem with the survey and I report it that no one contacts me and (c) when the feedback I provide to eBay is not even going to be considered.   What would lead me to believe that the feedback I provide to eBay is not even going to be considered?  In addition to the fact that eBay’s decisions and new policies have ended up harming most eBay sellers much more than helping them (which is evidence that eBay is not listening), the eBay Seller Advocate (Griff) has publicly stated that decisions have been made about things for which seller are still being surveyed about.

In the “Ask Griff” thread on the eBay community boards (click HERE ) it was stated that sellers are being survyed about things which have already been decided.  The parts in black are comments/questions from eBay community members and the parts in blue are from Griff, the eBay seller advocate.

Regarding the new “Certified Seller” or “Approved seller” or whatever it will be called, you said:

I am 100% for a program of this nature. Why? Because it will recognize first-and-foremost, seller quality, instead of quantity (customer satisfaction v.s. sales volume). In fact, sales volume in dollars will not be a factor for membership. This new program will will be attainable by any seller, small or large, regardless of category, with a high quality of customer service, and it will provide solid, tangible benefits to those sellers (said benefits will be announced upon launch of the final program in the future).

It will definitely not be called “approved seller,” (what an odious term!)

Furthermore, it is good to hear that eBay will definitively NOT be adopting the term “Approved Seller.” However, I need to ask you (and you may need to check on this), why did I receive the survey two days – yes, just two days – prior to my posting of this if this has already been decided it will NOT be this term? Is this not a waste of *my* time and eBay’s time and money to send this out when, in fact, it has been definitely decided this is a term which won’t be used?

I have no idea. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know why the survey contained that question. Maybe it is part of the overall structure of the survey. What I do know with absolute certainty is that the program will not be called “Approved Sellers.” Did I jump the gun on announcing this? Probably. Maybe it even might taint the results of the survey. I don’t know. But if I hadn’t made the assurance here, the volume on this issue would only rise and since I know for a fact that the name is not going to be Approved Sellers (the name is horrible), I decided to disclaim it once and for all. Don’t say I don’t ever tell you things before their time.

I’m now left wondering why I spent the 20 minutes doing this survey….

I think this last sentence, written by an eBay member, summarized it quite well.  It is not enough for eBay to pretend that they care by sending out surveys to sellers.  The quality of the surveys needs to be improved, both technically as well as the type of questions that are asked, and most importantly eBay has no business collecting survey data if the the input is not even going to be considered.  Why bother asking sellers their opinion when it is known in advance that their opinion won’t make a difference anyway?

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6 Responses to “eBay Feedback: Will Conducting Tests in the Marketplace Provide any Real Answers?”

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Survey questions will be phrased in such a manner and possible answers given that produce the desired result. Because eBay never reveals data, if only two respondents give the required answer eBay can with complete sincerity say “our sellers asked us to do this”

The surveys are part of the process. You have a meeting, followed by more meetings with powerpoint presentations. A consensus is reached which may have no relationship to the original idea because it has been improved, then legal looks at it and if approved it gets pushed up a level.

Many of the employees consider themselves to be sellers, they declutter and as Usher Lieberman once said, have 100% sellthrough. Profit is not a consideration.

Henrietta, if I didn’t have a profit motive for selling on eBay then most of my decisions sure would be different. I would have 100% sell through rate, too, if I always sold below my cost and offered free shipping.

Why hasn’t Brews been hired by eBay?

Griff does nothing but lie and frustrate honest sellers. I think Brews would do a far better job.

Regardless, I continue to enjoy this blog. I’ve learned a lot and share most all the same opinions.

GerberDaisyLady, thanks for the wonderful compliment! However, I cannot foresee eBay ever offering me a job. I think hell would probably freeze over first before they would want to hear what I would recommend.

I have to believe nobody is so stupid as to NOT understand the problems with Ebay’s system. Yet Ebay’s management stands solidly by that system. So the only other logical conclusion I can see is that Ebay is actively trying to reduce their base of sellers over a period of time. They don’t particularly care if they lose good sellers or bad sellers. Over time they want to usher in more large retail and diamond sellers and perhaps have a small base of larger powersellers. Makes sense…they can do away with most of their customer service – which they are already doing – they would have almost extinguished the fraud problem and all that would be left is for them to scoop in the revenue. They would have successfully stamped out the “noise”. If anyone can’t see this they are definitely fooling themselves. Sellers who simply cling to Ebay hoping for a turnaround or a return of common sense are whistling in the wind. Complaining about Ebay’s “stupidity” is beating a dead horse. Everyone should be using this time to spread out to other venues or their own site and start rebuilding what Ebay’s ridiculous new management has destroyed! Eventually they will see they were wrong..but by then it will be far far too late.

The situation at ebay is horrific for sellers where only a few socalled negative feedback is required to get delisted. The buyers know the odds are on thier side and when i was a seller i was frequently told that i should provide a partial refund as my posting costs were too high and if i did not then they would and did give me negative feedback. I was also left completely untruthful feedback when a buyer was so annoyed that I did not let her keep the goods and provide a refund that she completely distorted the facts. There was nothing I say or do to defend myself. I have since decided that ebay is really only a place for buyers, and i should imagine that even as I write the number of sellers at ebay is decreasing fast.

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