Another day, another letter from a seller who reports a problem trying to answer questions from buyers. Sellers aren't complaining about the policy itself - they already know they aren't supposed to take transactions off eBay. The problem is how eBay is enforcing the policy as it sics its bots on users in a frenzy of paranoia.
We have been writing about the problem since the spring (including this post
) after eBay announced new policies designed to crackdown on off-eBay sales in what it described as "Updates to communications, allowable links, image catalog, and listing best practices to improve site performance for a stronger eBay marketplace."
eBay's system is incorrectly flagging innocent communications sent between buyers and sellers. It calls to mind the old adage: "garbage in, garbage out." No matter how sophisticated your Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technology, humans have to define how they operate. In the case of the bots that monitor user communications, something has gone terribly wrong.
The latest case brought to our attention occurred when a shopper asked a reader about his shipping costs. The seller responded, "all shipping prices are listed calculated by eBay, make sure you are signed in."
That does not violate eBay policy, and the response is helpful to the buyer and professional. But the bots flagged it, causing eBay to threaten "account suspension or other penalties" and telling the seller he might have to pay a final value fee. (That part of the policy regarding fees *is* controversial, since eBay proposes to charge commission fees when there's no evidence a transaction was consummated.)
Here's the message the seller received when he tried to answer the buyer's question about shipping costs:
"If you're a seller do not include contact info to buy or sell outside eBay. Messages are reviewed and you may be charged a final value fee. To keep everyone safe on eBay, please don't send messages that include contact info. Repeated attempts could lead to an account suspension or other penalties. Learn more about our member-to-member contact policy."
We couldn't even make it through writing this post before receiving another letter about the policy enforcement: "We recently had a warning letter for giving our contact details to a guy who had bought a pick-up-only item from us. Seen a lot of complaints about this," a reader told us. He was forwarding an email eBay UK sent about a new three-part video series it produced on the topic.
And yet another letter has come in from a reader who sells sports cards who made an interesting observation: "It turns out that the bots cannot tell the difference between the card numbers or serial numbers of the cards from personal contact information." He said many sellers of sports cards have seen a dramatic decrease in sales as a result - especially those using Seller Hub.
We've had time to watch Part 1 of eBay UK's videos - it's heavy on how unfair it is to *sellers* when a transaction takes place off of eBay. The video didn't mention that eBay loses fees from off-site transactions, but it's long been a reality for the company. What has eBay so convinced now that it needs to crackdown on the practice?
eBay is also threatening shoppers
- not a great buyer experience. We came across this tweet
from a buyer who *did* provide his email address to a seller, though presumably with no malicious intent.
With ecommerce blossoming on Facebook, eBay's anti-social paranoia seems particularly ill-timed.