The Users of Feedback: Seller, Buyer, and The Platform Owner

Posted on November 16, 2009. Filed under: Amazon, eBay | Tags: , , , , , , |

The subject of eBay feedback just won’t go away.  On November 14th, Auctionbytes wrote an article titled “eBay Tests Reaction to Seller Feedback Changes” in which Ina Steiner shows how the proposed new eBay feedback includes a graph of the seller’s Detailed Seller Ratings (DSRs) in three areas: Item as expected, Arrived on time, and Packaging.

Ina further explains that respondents were asked to consider the following questions when rating a transaction:

On a scale of 0-10, where 0 is not at all likely and 10 is extremely likely, how likely would you be to buy the item you just saw?

On a scale of 0-10, where 0 is very poor and 10 is excellent, how would you rate the quality of this item?

On a scale of 0-10, where 0 is not at all reasonable and 10 is extremely reasonable, how would you rate the costs associated with getting this item?

On a scale of 0-10, where 0 is very poor and 10 is excellent, what kind of experience do you feel you would have with this seller?

Why do you feel that you would have this kind of experience with this seller?

Now, I have written numerous times about eBay’s current feedback system and have continued to critique the current feedback system especially in comparison to Amazon’s superior feedback system.  The focus on this particular article is to define the “users” of feedback and, in doing so, I think it will become even more clear why eBay’s current and proposed feedback rating system is flawed.


User of Feedback: THE SELLER

A seller uses feedback from buyers to know when they have done something right or wrong and, from that information, the seller can make any necessary improvements especially if a pattern emerges. 

Unfortunately, the term “eBay feedback” has such a negative connotation because the feedback isn’t always informational but rather is often times more punitive in nature.  eBay buyers leave poor feedback ratings when a seller won’t leave feedback first or when the seller won’t give a partial refund “just because” or won’t lie on a postal customs form, for example.

Feedback, when given properly, is extremely useful.  Take for example my son who is learning to play the guitar.  I could let him watch videos on the internet where there are lots of folks who give free lessons.  But then my son would receive no feedback on what he is doing wrong.  During my son’s private guitar lesson, I sit out in the waiting area and I can hear what the instructor is saying to my son.  He often corrects my son’s posture or how he is holding the guitar or any other number of things.  Because he is receiving regular feedback, my son is learning to play the guitar properly.  There is definite improvement in my son’s performance from week to week.

One very important, but not so obvious, feedback that all ecommerce sellers receive is the feedback from shoppers who end up not buying.  I call it “silent feedback” or “nonrecorded feedback”.  When a shopper chooses to purchase an item from another seller then they are giving you feedback — something about your listing is not to their liking.  Perhaps the time you take to process and ship an item is too long or your price is too high.  By not giving you the sale, the buyer is informing you that you have unfavorable terms.

So, if a buyer is informed about a seller’s product price and shipping costs and chooses to purchase the item, what is the purpose of asking the buyer to rate after-the-fact the shipping costs or the costs “associated with getting this item”?  Wasn’t that aspect of the transaction already evaluated before the purchase was made?  

Take, for example, someone looking for Zuzu pets.  They would like to buy a Zuzu pet off the shelf for retail price but because of the scarcity of the product, the buyer will most likely have to purchase this item at a premium from an ecommerce merchant.  Would anyone really be happy with “the costs associated with getting this item” when they have to pay 2 or more times the retail costs if they want to have the item in time for the Christmas holidays?  So a buyer who chooses to pay a premium gets to provide punitive feedback to the seller when the seller engages in a free market system and charges more for an item because the demand is greater than the supply.  If the seller is charging “too much” for an item then nobody will buy.  That is feedback.  When buyers are purchasing at a particular price, even when it is greater than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, then how can the “associated costs” be unreasonable after the fact?

And, as long as eBay continues to allow buyers to leave anonymous ratings the feedback is all but useless to the seller.


User of Feedback: THE BUYER

Buyers who purchase from third party sellers on eBay, Amazon, or any other platform have a certain expectation that the seller will provide some basic level of service by virtue of the seller just “being” on the site.  Today’s online shoppers expect the platform provider to “protect them” by not allowing unknown or unscrupulous sellers to offer their goods for sale on the site.

As a result, I would make the argument that online buyers who shop on platforms such as eBay, Amazon, and don’t really consider a seller’s feedback rating prior to purchasing.  Instead, a seller’s feedback is really only evaluated after the fact if there is a problem.  When something goes wrong in a transaction, a buyer then carefully studies a seller’s feedback to determine their next course of action. 

For example, until eBay established minimium seller requirements there were sellers on eBay who had dismal feedback ratings yet continued to sell; there were no lack of buyers who wanted to purchase their merchandise at rock bottom prices.  The lure of the a deal too-good-to-be-true outweighed the large number of poor feedback ratings that other buyers had left.  And when the transaction went south, buyers screamed and yelled and demanded that eBay save them from the bad outcome of their decision.   

Many times buyers who experience a problem will look at a seller’s feedback to determine their course of action.  If a buyer believes, based on feedback, that a seller is not likely to resolve the matter satisfactorily then the buyer is more likely to just leave negative feedback and file a claim with PayPal.  On the other hand, I have had buyers call me to discuss an issue with me because in their own words “I saw that you have good feedback and I didn’t want to ruin it without giving you a chance to make things right.”

Having said of all of this about how a buyer uses feedback, I think that eBay is making a big mistake by creating so many ways for a buyer to evaluate the seller on subjective measures after the fact when the result of those feedback measures is not even used by the majority of buyers to make a purchasing decision.  A buyer evaluating whether to purchase from an eBay seller is told about the stated shipping cost and can see past buyers’ ratings which may clearly show that buyers think the shipping cost is too high yet the buyer purchases because it is a good deal or because they cannot find the item elsewhere.

On Amazon, the most trusted platform on the internet, potential buyers don’t shy away from buying from a third party seller because the seller has “poor” feedback.  The buyer knows that Amazon will take care of them even if the seller won’t.  So, that leaves the buyer free to make a purchasing decision based on relevant criteria such as product  and shipping cost, time to ship, and a seller’s return policy.  In creating its complicated and useless feedback system, eBay is trying to present to the buyer more information than they need or even care about in their decision-making process.


User of Feedback: THE PLATFORM OWNER

I can summarize the problem with eBay’s whole feedback system, current and proposed, with one sentence: Instead of using mostly objective measurements to measure and evaluate a seller’s performance like Amazon does, eBay uses only buyer’s subjective measurements to measure and evaluate buyer satisfaction for which they then hold sellers accountable for.

Okay, I realize that was a rather long sentence.  So, I’ll explain.  Amazon does consider a buyer’s “opinion” when grading the seller but Amazon uses many other measures which are objective such as “Does the seller ship when they say they will ship?” or “How often do buyers return products?” and  “Does a seller have a history of cancelling orders?”  Amazon measures how a seller is performing based on objective measurements.  The buyer isn’t asked their opinion about returning the product — they either returned the product or they didn’t.

In contrast, eBay is measuring buyer satisfaction for which the seller can only partially affect.  Whereas eBay currently asks a buyer to rate the “Item as Described” and in the future is considering asking them to rate the “Item as Expected”, Amazon allows buyers to rate the product itself by providing product reviews.  Poor product reviews on Amazon don’t equate to poor seller performance measurements on Amazon whereas they do on eBay.  

And every eBay seller knows that “stars are contagious” so if a buyer is unhappy with any aspect of the transaction — such as PayPal took the money out of the buyer’s bank account rather than using the credit card they have on file or the eBay system is sending out dunning emails without the seller’s permission and that angers a buyer  — then the buyer rates the seller low on Communication and, because stars are contagious, is much more likely to give significantly lower ratings on the other DSR scores.  The buyer is dissatisfied with the transaction, even if it was PayPal or eBay itself that was the source of the dissatisfaction, and the seller is the one who receives the poor rating.  Even if a seller’s performance is outstanding, the buyer can be somewhat or almost completely dissatisfied with the transaction.

Amazon clearly states that they are measuring seller performance and the measurements they are using are consistent with their stated ojective.  On the other hand, I don’t think eBay has even defined what it is they are trying to measure with their feedback ratings and DSR concept.  It seems that eBay is trying to measure buyer satisfaction with the product, the payment, and the carrier as well as the eBay experience of which the seller is just one part.  And then somehow eBay is equating all of that to seller performance. 

My recommendation for eBay’s proposed changes to feedback: first eBay needs to determine exactly what it is that they are wanting to measure.  If eBay is going to measure buyer satisfaction then they need to add more measures for the buyer to rate eBay and PayPal and the carrier and then also break out specifically and only those measures relating more toward seller performance in quest to “grade” sellers.  If instead, eBay is wanting to measure seller performance then they need to develop some new measures because the ones they are using and / or are proposing don’t measure seller performance.  I would suggest that eBay take a closer look at their successful competitor’s  measurements to get a better idea of how to do it right.


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3 Responses to “The Users of Feedback: Seller, Buyer, and The Platform Owner”

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VERY well said. I’ve always thought it was crazy for a buyer to rate me on shipping costs when they knew up front what they were. If you don’t like them, you should not have bought in the first place. My shipping person is not a volunteer! $1 for a handling charge is not unreasonable and keeps a person employed. Also, for years ebay can’t figure out how to word shipping time so it’s clear that only the time to ship the product is rated, not the transit time. It’s not that hard people

Great post, Brews. I have a problem with … well, lots of things that eBay does, but I’ll limit it to their ‘Arrived on time’ DSR. That’s often beyond the seller’s control. I had a parcel go missing recently and refunded the buyer after 10 days. Parcel turned up after 3 weeks and the buyer could see by the postmark that I had posted it the same day as she purchased it .. and she was honest enough to pay me for it a second time. A better wording of the DSR might be ‘Dispatched on Time.’

It really just comes down to 2 questions:

* Would you buy from this seller again?
* Would you recommend this seller to your friends?

[…] Woche in einem Artikel dieses Problems angenommen, genau wie jetzt zum wiederholten Mal Brews von BrewsNews. Häufig hat Brews das gegenwärtige Feedback-System eBays kritisiert, vor allem im […]

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