eBay Feedback Finally Evolving

I’ve been on eBay since 1999, and I’ve watched it grow and change from a marketplace of mostly individual sellers dealing with individual buyers, to a huge online industry of professional sellers moving 1000’s of items a month. I’ve seen prices get higher, items get worse in quality, counterfeit items abound, and worst of all, shipping charges go through the roof as sellers abused buyers trust by padding their auctions with grossly inflated shipping and handling charges. It’s not uncommon to pay 300 to 400% more in shipping than the actual cost.

The problem with eBay’s feedback system is that it’s completely binary – the experience is either completely positive, or completely negative according to eBay. The reality is the buying and selling experience is more nuanced than that – so over time I’ve found myself doing things like leaving positive feedback with neutral to negative comments. eBay’s binary system has created a sort of “cold war” where buyers are afraid to leave negative feedback for fear of damaging their own feedback rating – and when an average buyer (less than 100 feedback) is dealing with a power seller (more than 5000 feedback) a single negative feedback rating has much more impact on the “little guy”. I’ve seen power sellers with 30 negative feedback ratings in 30 days, yet they still have 99% positive feedback rating because they’re doing 500 transactions a month.

The new eBay system won’t address the issue of buyers being afraid of leaving negative feedback, but if this new system allows for a more nuanced approach where a buyer can indicate that a seller shipped a good product, but charged too much for shipping or took forever to ship, this new system will be a significant step in the right direction.

clipped from www2.ebay.com

Hi… I’m Brian Burke, Director for Global Feedback Policy. As eBay continues to grow, it is important that we continue to evolve the Feedback system to ensure it remains a credible measure of trust. For almost two years, eBay has been working on a new project to enhance our current reputation system. Feedback 2.0, which Bill Cobb announced at the eCommerce forum last January, adds a new dimension to eBay’s premier online reputation system, allowing buyers to better rate and evaluate sellers on important aspects of a transaction.

Detailed Seller Ratings – In addition to the current positive, negative or neutral comment, buyers rate their sellers on specific transaction aspects — Item Description, Communication, Shipping time and Shipping & Handling Charges. Scores are based on a conventional 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being the lowest and 5 the being the highest rating. The average score for each rating is displayed on the seller’s Feedback Profile page.

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  • I don’t understand why they can’t solve the problem simply by insisting the seller leaves feedback first. Once the item has left the seller’s hands they should need nothing more to do with the buyer and should leave feedback on whether it was a good or bad experience. Then, if the buyer’s been ripped off, they won’t need to worry about leaving negative feedback about the seller and avoiding the catch 22 situation of the seller taking revenge – at which point eBay simply removes *both* bits of feedback.

    Despite having a couple of bad experiences on eBay I’ve never left bad feedback because sellers always wait for me to leave feedback first, making it impossible to say anything bad. This is particularly difficult if dealing with power sellers, because they use automated software that only leaves you feedback once they see it come from you.

    It’s a tiny change, but I think it would probably solve the problem instantly. It works for Amazon, why not eBay?

  • You raise some good points David. I think the reason why not all sellers leave feedback first is that they keep their feedback as a potential defensive weapon to use against the buyer if things go south. I used to leave feedback right away for buyers, but then I got burned by some jerk in New York who paid quick, so I left positive feedback, but when he got the packages one of the boxes was dented and he left negative feedback about the product being “damaged”. Turns out he was running a storefront shop and was trying to sell the products as being brand new.

    Since that experience (and he left two negatives on my account) I’ve been more cautious about buyers – I usually hold back on leaving feedback until the transaction is completed and I know that the buyer is happy. I know many sellers work the same way.

    Ultimately I think this more nuanced approach will be better for eBay and all the people that use it. I think what will happen in particular is that we’ll see sellers who charge outrageous shipping costs get forced into charging more reasonable amounts, because their feedback rating will start to reflect that although the products they’re selling are fine, the padded shipping charges are not. I wouldn’t be surprised if eBay introduced feedback filters where you could sort by a feedback profile pattern, weeding out low-feedback shippers for instance.

    As a side note, in the spirit of being a good eBayer, I’ve just given positive feedback to two people who haven’t yet recieved my products or given me positive feedback. Let’s hope they’re not the negative feedback leavin’ types.

    – Jason

  • vandermon

    Hi, I’ve been trading on eBay in the UK since 2000 and have found that since the introduction of the new feedback system my buyers have just stopped leaving feedback altogether, only one comment from my last 20 items, that is well below the previous average. My feeling is that it is now too elaborate for the average buyer to be bothered with.

    PS. As a seller I always leave feedback as soon as payment is received as I agree that all buyers have to do is pay, but at the moment I am leaving considerably more feedback than I’m receiving……

  • Hmm – very interesting that the feedback level has dropped. I wonder if it’s a matter of people not knowing what to do with the new system and over time they’ll start to use it more. Have you tried emailing them to ask for feedback?

  • windmilltrading.com

    Jason:

    you state “shipping charges go through the roof as sellers abused buyers trust by padding their auctions with grossly inflated shipping and handling charges. It’s not uncommon to pay 300 to 400% more in shipping than the actual cost.”

    It seems that like most buyers you don’t get what I think is the finer point here. It’s not so much that sellers are making a profit on shipping, but more that in order to lower the substantial eBay fees, sellers move part of the item price in the S&H charge. eBay charges a fee on the final item price, but not on the S&H charge so that’s where some (mostly professional) sellers put part of the item price. As eBay continues to raise their fees, you’ll see more and more sellers do this. (eBay’s next fee hike will in January ’08). Of course, eBay continually raising their fees, (and not having anything to show for it to the sellers) is also pushing more and more sellers out of the eBay market place because it simply becomes more lucrative to sell direct. I actually just launched a website last week, selling direct, complately bypassing eBay.

    Just my $0.02,
    Richard Kuipers 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing the information Richard – it’s interesting to get the perspective of a professional seller. That certainly does explain a lot – I’ve often wondered why the S&H fees were so high on many items…I assumed it was just sellers looking to make extra profit off an item that might not sell for very much.

    From my perspective though, you’re playing a shell game – instead of putting the eBay fees into the price of the item (which, yes, increases the ebay fees) sellers are using lower priced items to lure people in them jamming them with the S&H fee after the purchase has been made. Can you imagine going into a retail store and buying a product with a sticker price of $10 then at the counter when they put it in a bag for you they charge you a $5 packing fee to cover the rent they pay to have their store in the building? No one would stand for it.

    Yes, most sellers list the shipping charges, but I’ve seen a lot of “eBay blindness” with people I know who don’t look at the price of the shipping because they assume that sellers are going to be fair with the S&H fees. If sellers want to recoup the eBay fees, they should be putting it into the price – it’s simply the cost of doing business. Putting it into the S&H fees is deceptive. eBay is providing a service, and as a seller you have to pay for that service.

    I’m not a professional eBay seller, so maybe I can’t fully appreciate where you’re coming from, but that’s why I prefer to buy items from individuals like me – people who have something they want to sell and are looking to make a fair profit. No more, no less. Quite honestly, many of the professional stores have given me the worst products for the highest prices – everything seems made in a shoddy factory in China and it’s just junk. I was looking for a used video card today, and I found one fellow selling one for about $20, while the professional ebay sellers were all selling the same card for around $130. I imagine the auction will go up to $50, and that’s it….professional eBay sellers seem to have their pricing FAR out of whack from what I’ve seen. Sure, not all will, but more and more the past year I’ve seen eBay turning into a very expensive place to buy things from.