Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thoughts on eBay's Feedback System

I've been meaning to put my thoughts down about eBay's feedback system. But I have such mixed feeling about the whole system that I can't seem to get them all out at once.

A couple of articles by Washington writer Rob Pegoraro titled "On eBay, A Little Less Conversation" and "Feedback, And Pushback, On eBay's Feedback Changes" prompted me write this post. I really like the question posed at the end of the second article, and many of the comments are very thought provoking.

If you're an eBay seller, do you trust this company to police the marketplace in place of you? Would you accept such a "we'll take things from here" proposition from the management of any online community?

1. No other form of retailing has such a system. When you go to the corner seven-eleven or the nearby Wal-Mart store, you have no idea of what their feedback is. They do not have to announce to you what problems they have had with other buyers.

This is a big deal for the small online seller. And I don't think that eBay understands what a burden this is.

Can you imagine a big sign on the front of every retail establishment telling how many customers had a positive experience and how many had a negative experience?

2. The idea that sellers can not leave feedback for buyers is crazy. And I chose that word because it describes it best to me. But it also speaks to the question, how can I trust an organization that is not fundamentally fair.

Why harm sellers like this. You can see by this decision that eBay does not truly care for sellers (I suspect this is out of ignorance as opposed to being out of malice).

There are sellers who are bad and need to be removed from eBay, but this move hurts all sellers.

And this really gets to the heart of the question, "Do you trust eBay to police the market place?" When you consider the harm that this could potentially do the sellers, the answer has to be NO!

Sellers can not trust an organization that continues to hurt them.

3. The feedback system is unique and it gives eBay an interesting social network feel. But it also has too much weight in the overall eBay experience. eBay should work to put feedback in perspective.

Many of the new changes to the system do not do this. They highlight the problems with the system and make small things that are not important stand out, which causes problems for sellers.

4. It is also apparent that the new changes were done by someone who does not fully understand the buyer population. I have made this point earlier but here I want to focus on the fact that all buyers are not the same, and so a one size fits all approach does not work for them all.

Some sellers will not be hurt as much by these changes because they sell items that are in high demand, and the buyers will buy them regardless of their feedback. You have always had this situation on eBay. The changes will not change this.

As opposed to trying to regulate the interactions between buyers and sellers eBay should understand that they do not know the details of every seller and do not know what is best for all sellers either.

5. Some of the changes seem to be made with eBay's bottom line in mind. As I have mentioned before, some sellers use shipping as a cost center. eBay does not get a cut of the shipping cost. So some of the changes, i.e. Detailed Seller Ratings, seem to be made to make sellers conform to a model that works in eBay's favor as opposed to either the buyer or the seller.

And again this does not make me trust eBay more.

6. With some of these changes eBay has made the difficult job of customer service even more difficult. I don't think the decision makers at eBay understand how much time the feedback system requires. An unfair system will now take even more time and energy to make customers satisfied with what they perceive as short comings in a sellers processes.

And here is the rub on this one, eBay itself does not give very good customer service. And yet it wants to put this burden on sellers. You can seldom speak to a real person when you call and if you do get a person it is typically someone who is clueless. And yet eBay wants to allow customers to grade sellers on their communications.

I'll end this with a story about a buyer who gave us a negative because we did not email him to tell him that we had shipped his item. He got the item, it was in good condition and was exactly what he wanted, but he felt that we owed it to him to send him an email letting him know that we had shipped his item.

For this we got a negative. We were able to convince this buyer that we had not harmed him and that we would like to have the negative removed. But with the new changes this will probably be happening more often.

No comments: