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Mon June 2 2014 20:23:12

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

By: Brian Cohen

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Having a buyer return an item is a bother to online sellers and can be costly as well. In a patent filing with the US Patent and Trademark Office, eBay acknowledged that how to handle buyers who frequently return items was a major concern for ecommerce sellers.

On April 24th the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published eBay's patent application 20140114803, "Returns Frequency Index" - which could also be called, "Bad Buyer Invisible Listing Feature." The application was filed back in October 2012 but was just announced via the USPTO filing. The patent abstract explains that it is "A system and method of determining whether to make an item listing visible to a user…"

Following is an extract from the patent application which gives background and context for the filing:
    
"One of the biggest concerns for c-commerce (sic) sellers is how to handle buyers that frequently return items. When a buyer returns an item, the process can be quite involved. The seller typically has to arrange to have the item returned, often in packaging, restock the returned item, and return the money to the buyer. These tasks consume valuable seller resources. Additionally, when it comes to certain e-commerce sites, such as eBay, the seller not only loses the sale revenue that has to be returned to the buyer, but the seller is also typically responsible for the cost of the return label that is used by the buyer to return the item. Therefore, the seller has to pay for the buyer's decision to return the item.

"A problem arises in how to expose e-commerce sellers to potential buyers that are less likely to return items. There are a lot of people who are chronic returners. These chronic returners shop, try something they like, and, even if they do not have any problem with the item, they still return it because they have a habit of buying something and then returning it as soon as possible. This chronic returning creates a problem for sellers, particularly small sellers that do not have the resources of big retailers."

The same month that the patent application was filed, eBay launched a feature called "Report a Buyer" whereby sellers could report eBay policy violations by buyers. For the first nine months that this feature was in place (October 2012 to June 2013) eBay reported that buyer account suspensions increased by 900%.

It's disappointing eBay hasn't a provided a public update after the one year anniversary (or maintain this statistic on a quarterly basis).
  
Since May 2008, eBay removed the ability for sellers to leave negative or neutral feedback for buyers. While this doesn't outright prevent a seller from leaving a "backhanded compliment" for a buyer, it took away one of the most effective means for sellers to control abusive buyers from participating in their listings. Since then it has been more important than ever for eBay to manage bad buyers.

While sellers do have the ability to blacklist buyers from participating in their listings, there is a maximum of 5,000 bans which effectively neuters third party blacklisting services.

Sellers will probably be flummoxed to learn that eBay has been sitting on this Bad Buyer Invisible Listing patent application since October 2012. If it is already "baked in the cake," why not flip the switch? What's even more shocking is that eBay may be considering charging a fee to sellers to block bad buyers who are compulsively returning items to sellers.

It's eBay's responsibility to ensure a safe and secure environment for its users. If eBay were to charge a fee for buyer "trust" it would be sending a mixed message about its stewardship.

While the patent application doesn't necessarily indicate that the "Bad Buyer Invisible Listing Feature" is imminent, sellers could use this "Returns Frequency Index" filing as leverage to petition eBay to roll out the feature. What's the point of filing a patent application with USPTO unless the idea is under consideration?

Following is an extract from the Detail Description of the filing:

"The present disclosure provides a way for sellers to protect themselves from buyers that frequently return items. A returns frequency index can be calculated for a buyer. This returns frequency index is an indication of the risk that the buyer will return an item. This returns frequency index can be calculated using data from the buyer's transaction history, such as the total number of items returned by the buyer, the total value of the items returned by the buyer, the total number of items purchased by the buyer, and the total value of items purchased by the buyer. A seller can restrict the visibility of his or her item listing to buyers who have a certain returns frequency index, thereby preventing buyers who do not meet the seller's standard for the returns frequency index from viewing the seller's item listing. This visibility restriction based on the returns frequency index provides the seller with increased protection from the item being purchased by a buyer who is likely to return the item. This program of item listing visibility can be offered to sellers as an option, and in some cases for a nominal fee."

Would you like the ability to hide listings from bad buyers? Let us know your thoughts below.

About the Author
Brian Cohen has been an active member of the eBay community since May 1998, and he currently trades under the member name Bidofthis.com. His first AuctionBytes article was published in May 2002. Brian's reporting on Bitcoin in 2013 has been referenced in numerous publications including The Register, Tech Week Europe, TechCrunch and PC World. Brian can be contacted through his website at BidofThis.com where he always has a "little Bid of This and little Bid of That."

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Readers Comments

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

This user has validated their user name. by: iheartjacksparrow

Tue Jun 3 11:12:49 2014

Ric and Pace are totally correct: eBay has turned into a B-movie gangster saga where you pay up or bad things will happen to your business.

As for this last sentence: "This program of item listing visibility can be offered to sellers as an option, and in some cases for a nominal fee." What it really means is, you will be opted in without your consent, and 100% of all sellers will be charged for this service.  

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

by: JustTheFacts This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jun 3 11:19:08 2014

Steevo is correct.  Wal-Mart and many other stores DO track your returns and DO limit them.

ebay actually admits in their patent requests that returns are costly, yet they FORCE sellers to keep extending the amount of time for returns and even PROMOTES returns.

They are literally CREATING the problem thy are claiming to the patent office to be trying to fix with their patent.

But do not expect the patent office to care about the SCHEME/SCAM, they too just RUBBER STAMP the patents for Big business.

@peace306..If the things these big "venues" do were done by any average business the AGS in every state, the justice department, you name it would be all over them like flies on cow dung.  But big corporations get to THUMB THEIR NOSES at the laws and so the do.

Then during election time and thee AGS, justice department etc want PR they go after the LITTLE GUYS for infractions and make sure to make a BIG display in the media over it, while the big boys bask in their frauds and deceptions with not a care in the world of being held accountable.  

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

by: Gina This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jun 3 12:42:32 2014

in the end, it's all meaningless because buyers can close old accounts on ebay and open new accounts any time they wish, with a clean slate....and keep on scamming sellers!
I followed one such customer of mine...he's had 3 additional accounts since the one which he used to slam me!
Such customers will find a way around any rule or regulation....ebay always gives THEM an escape route, while WE sellers are left with the garbage that such 'buyers' leave behind!

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

by: rhawk This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jun 3 12:53:46 2014

What a bunch of dumbasses.  Yes, ebay is a bunch of dumbasses.

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen
Web Site

Tue Jun 3 13:06:21 2014

@JustTheFacts,

"ebay actually admits in their patent requests that returns are costly, yet they FORCE sellers to keep extending the amount of time for returns and even PROMOTES returns.

"They are literally CREATING the problem they are claiming to the patent office to be trying to fix with their patent."

Good summary. At this stage it is only an application for a patent, and it will be interesting to see if such a non-original idea will be granted a patent for this situation. Regardless, the application of such a system—by eBay—is indeed little more than extortion, and if the mere peasants ever tried it on they would undoubtedly very quickly find themselves before a court. This is simply one more demonstration of “gubberment” having been well and truly bought, and paid for, by such unscrupulous big business ...

Then, at least eBay is an equal-opportunity fraudster: they will—literally—defraud both sellers and buyers at every possible opportunity; and, still, Johnny Ho is unable to stem the inflow of water threatening to sink the rusting old scow (NASDAQ: EBAY $50.55) …

eBay Inc, where the incompetent mingle with the malevolent and the criminal, and the plain stupid ... http://bit.ly/11F2eas

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Tue Jun 3 14:11:44 2014

Ebafia is an organized crime syndicate that could easily be prosecuted under the RICO laws.

The best way to handle bad buyers is to suspend them. Charging sellers to make their listings invisible is blackmail and extortion.

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

by: Will This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jun 3 14:47:13 2014

Rhawk: "What a bunch of dumbasses.  Yes, ebay is a bunch of dumbasses."

Lol thumbs up

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

by: Will This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jun 3 14:49:29 2014

This patent must be a ruse. They already have the tech in place by way of hiding listings if sellers meet/not meet certain criteria.

Apply the same coding to buyers.

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

This user has validated their user name. by: Puck

Tue Jun 3 16:25:30 2014

eBay creates the merchandise return Frankensteins, encourages & facilitates their rampages through loose as a goose return policies, and is thinking bout charging sellers to protect them from their own creation.

Dr. Frankenstein monetizes his own monster./wink

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

by: Bidonmine This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jun 3 16:47:59 2014

Does Ebay think that sellers can't think?  

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

by: Cloud This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jun 3 18:06:11 2014

So now we know why eBay has been encouraging bad buyer behavior...so they can charge sellers to protect themselves from them!

OMG Now I really do feel like a paranoid idiot, because a part of me doesn't doubt they really did plan this all along.  

Let the conspiracy theories continue.  

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen
Web Site

Tue Jun 3 20:53:51 2014

To know that this is the devious way in which eBay thinks, you only have to look at the way that have incrementally, and finally utterly, obscured bidding IDs to aid the unscrupulous sellers in hiding their shill bidding activities …

Then, as I have said many times, at least eBay is an equal-opportunity fraudster, they will defraud both buyers and sellers at every opportunity …

But, ultimately, all this desperate deviousness simply demonstrates that eBay is in trouble …

eBay Inc, where the incompetent mingle with the malevolent and the criminal, and the just plain stupid ... http://bit.ly/11F2eas

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jun 3 22:10:25 2014

@PHILIP COHEN---
If I remember right you are in OZ?  And your patent system I think is VERY different than ours has become.  Recently the  United States Patent Office has taken to "rubber stamping" virtually EVERYTHING that comes across the desk regardless of original thinking or application.  

For awhile the US Patent Office was seriously backlogged and almost nothing was getting thru in a timely manner;  then SOMETHING CHANGED and now EVERYTHING--esp if it "benefits" some sort of big business concern --is passed thru post haste.

There are any number of frivolous patents--many of them TO EBAY---and some on such things as:::  some part of FAX MACHINE code that will force many business' to spend THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of dollars to PAY OFF the patentee so they can=--send a fax; tech that was IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN FOR YEARS.

Drug patents that have driven the price of an inhaler with GENERIC INGREDIENTS from around $10 to OVER $200 EACH--because the PROPELLANT was changed to comply with FEDERAL LAW--this does NOT constitute a CHANGE in the EFFECTIVENESS of the medication but it DOES generate HUGE profits for drug companies off of drugs they have ALREADY reaped enourmous profits from when the drugs WERE under the original patent protection---

The list is endless and many of these are frivolous. The courts and AG's SHOULD be fighting these greedy and immoral and downright illegal company activities but some one somewhere at the Patent Office is--do I dare speak the truth?--getting some form of "compensation" to ALLOW these to be rubber stamped.

And it is NOT conspiracy theory if it is TRUE.

Create problem
Refuse to fix problem
Pretend to need a patent on a system to fix problem
Force your customers to pay to have their problem "fixed"

There.  They fixed it.


eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

by: Cassie This user has validated their user name.

Tue Jun 3 23:22:06 2014

The record keeping and indexing frequent returns existed long before at customer service desks in retail hence signing before receiving your cash - the quick way to reduce paperwork was loyalty cards receipt # tracking and store credit or debit card tracking to monitor returns.

Returns well truth- most buyers tempt a borrow program - some will treat tool sales to do a project or utilize a dress for a one time event a lot of brides purchase items for their event only to return after use. Issue majority of time these use a purchase as a library book program seldom get caught they use on one time high cost events as a credit card is not required Paypal is as no tool rental allows cash, check or debit only credit to go after damages or etc.

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Wed Jun 4 00:28:34 2014

One of the things that bothers me most about this is that while small sellers began suffering an unsustainable rate two years ago these fifth rate executive SoBs were instructing CSRs to rub salt into the wounds by telling us that a high return rate is "the cost of doing business."

They are beneath contempt, but I hope they're not above accountability for the crimes they commit against the very people who pay their bloated salaries and whose fees buy their free shares of stock.

John Donahoe and his entire C management team belong in prison.

They make John Gotti look like a piker.

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Wed Jun 4 00:30:32 2014

If 100% of sellers are opted into this non visibility program that hides their listings from chronic problem buyers, what will these bad buyers see when they log into ebay?

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

This user has validated their user name. by: Philip Cohen
Web Site

Wed Jun 4 02:45:42 2014

What will buyers see? They will see items from Johnny Ho's "preferred" sellers. After all is that not the intention of the whole exercise, to get rid of the riff-raff and service only the major brands ... http://bit.ly/11F2eas

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

by: jaydee This user has validated their user name.

Wed Jun 4 04:53:36 2014

This is similar to the ''MOB'' extorting ''Protection Money'' otherwise bad things will start to happen.

Almost criminal at best.

It's really a shame, to see how they are destroying themselves, from within,    

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

by: RCL This user has validated their user name.

Wed Jun 4 13:13:51 2014

Right--can we get an eBay patent for protecting sellers from eBay management?

eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners   eBay Files Patent for Protecting Sellers from Chronic Returners

This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Wed Jun 4 13:16:44 2014

Phil, I have to disagree with you.

If 100% of ebay sellers are opted into this program, then bad buyers should see absolutely nothing when they log in.

Devoutly to be wished for them and eventually for us.

If not, then let the Diamonds and the Communist Chinese deal with the growing number of ebay trained returners and extortionists.  

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