eBay's Director of Seller Protections Rich Matsuura joined me yesterday to talk about eBay's Seller Protection Program and how eBay protects sellers from bad buyers. You can listen to the podcast on the Ecommerce Industry Soundbytes podcast, a transcript of the interview follows - please feel free to post your comments below.
Ina Steiner: I've published a post on the EcommerceBytes Blog asking readers what questions they had for you, and not surprisingly, people had lots of questions. There were six pages of questions.
I'd like to get through as many points as we can fit in this interview. I wanted to start off by asking you if there are any plans to change eBay's seller protection program or to change anything about the feedback system?
Rich Matsuura: Let me tell you what we're doing right now and about some of the changes we have. One change that is coming up in the near future, and you've probably seen the announcement about this already in the last seller release, is about a claims process.
We are moving to a world where we are going to require buyers to contact sellers prior to making a claim. Now, we strongly encourage it, encourage them to do the process of the buyers giving up that claim, but because that communication can happen outside of eBay, we often have to take the buyer's word for it that they contacted the seller.
So now we're going to require the buyer to contact the seller through the member to member communication. We're going to know the contact happened. That's one of the changes that will take place.
The other one, during that same change, we will no longer be counting the open cases against a seller, only those where there was a strike against the seller. So we're making some changes coming up in buyer protection.
I'd say a lot of the changes that we're making happen on the backend. We've been doing quite a bit this year to start removing the bad buyers off of the site.
I always have a caveat before going into this piece - I know most of your listeners are sellers who have been on the platform for some time. I do want to call out that most of our transactions on the platform go really well. I think we do have a really good community of both buyers and sellers. And when we do have one or two new sellers on the platform who might be listening to this podcast, I don't want to, I don't want to turn this conversation turn into "We have a lot of bad buyers and this happens all the time."
We've been researching this; we've been looking into this; most of the buyers on the site are good. But we do know there are buyers out there who are taking advantage of the system. They're taking advantage of the fact that we do use feedback and DSRs, the inner standards program and they do know we have a buyer protection program, and they're using that against us. There are folks who are distorting feedback and they're folks who are saying, give me free shipping or I'm going to give you a negative feedback, or give me a partial refund,...
Ina Steiner: There were a lot of questions about bad buyers. Maybe we could cover some of that. One of the questions that I thought was really interesting was, what actually constitutes feedback extortion?
Rich Matsuura: Feedback extortion right now, it needs to be fairly clear, inside of the messages, between the buyer and the seller. The buyer would leave negative feedback or a low DSR unless the seller complies.
One of the things were absolutely doing is looking at our feedback policies and making sure that our feedback policies are clear. There is probably some room for improvement on some of the areas we could be looking at, this is something we're absolutely going to be looking at next year - feedback policies and where removals make sense.
But right now it does have to be a pretty clear case of the feedback or the message itself being pretty clear that "If you don't do this, I'm going to leave you a negative feedback."
Ina Steiner: It's a lot more subtle than that.
One of the questions on buyer behavior was about, why not have immediate suspension for a buyer who circumvents the blocked bidder list? Is there any way - eBay knows if a particular User ID has multiple User IDs and is circumventing the blocked bidder list, but the seller has no way to know that. Have you ever thought about doing something around that?
Rich Matsuura: We do take action against folks who are circumventing the blocked bidder list. The one thing that, and this is another area we're absolutely improving - we've made good progress in 2012 - we have made, if you go back to what we call account linking, where we know that this person is from the same account, or multiple users from the same person.
We have done quite a bit on the seller side, because sellers need to give us quite a bit of information when they're setting up their account. To be able to make those connections.
On the buyer side we have less of that information in a lot of cases. So we've been making some good progress on being able to link those accounts. We're moving further along for us to be able to take those actions when it's not just blocked bidder list but if a person has been suspended before.
Ina Steiner: Right. Let me ask you about this because sometimes the seller is in the front line and he or she is dealing with a particular buyer, and experienced sellers know that there's something going on. I just had someone recently who wrote me and said, I know that there's a buyer who has multiple accounts and they're doing this behavior, but when I call customer service,... a lot of people are just frustrated dealing with customer service.
I kind of want to take a step back and say to you: You're in charge of seller protection. But there's one thing to have policies, but when the sellers actually call in to try to resolve something or report someone or try to get some kind of satisfaction or answers, sometimes they're stymied.
Do you see, is there any way of fixing that disconnect between what you are intending for the protection of sellers versus what the seller has to deal with when dealing with customer service reps? What do you think about that?
Rich Matsuura: I think going into next year this is a big opportunity for eBay. This is something where, the first thing I want to say around our customer support group, we have been making some really good progress over this past two or three years to build up this customer support organization - to provide more phone support, and email support, and to really get out there with getting more training.
I'm in Salt Lake City today, visiting their customer support organization. It's a fantastic group of folks. They know a ton about eBay and the site. This is part of the problem that we run into.
I'm going to acknowledge another point which is, I think we can absolutely get better here, especially from a seller protection perspective. We ask our reps to know a lot. We ask the agents to know a lot of rules and nuances out of those rules, and we need to, and I'm taking this on my team's side, we need to train and better train across the board folks in customer support so you get a consistent answer and you get the right answer when it comes to seller protection.
One of the primary reasons I'm out here is just this: making sure we get the right training get out, to make sure we get the right information distributed across so there is, not just here in Salt Lake, there are a lot of reps we need to get trained on this, but making sure we're getting that consistent feedback back to our sellers.
Because I hear the feedback, and I've read through the first five and a half pages (of the EcommerceBytes Blog post), I think to the beginning of page six on your comments section, and I saw this, and I hear this when we get out in the community. We've been getting out to the different events and meetups and hearing that customer support is a frustration point. And it's been so when it comes to seller protection. It's something we're taking on, and some time next year when we're talking again, We're hearing that it's getting better, not this ____ that it was before, because we're looking to get it even better than we have in the past.
Ina Steiner: Right, and it sounds like sometimes the customer service reps, sometimes they say, they got a great customer service rep but it was just coming back to the policies themselves. So in terms of DSRs, that was a big area of concern.
One of the biggest things I think people are wondering is, why can't sellers see the DSR scores and to give it historical perspective, they were rolled out when sellers were able to give buyers negative feedback. eBay rolled this out as a way for buyers to feel comfortable leaving honest feedback. But now that there are no negative ramifications, is there any talk about bringing transparency to DSRs?
Rich Matsuura: I'd say there are still negative ramifications to exposing who leaves that negative DSR score. This goes back a few years now but one of the other primary reasons feedback or DSRs were anonymous was that it gave us a more accurate picture of, or more accurate feedback from the buyer. Buyers were apt to leave more accurate feedback when that feedback was anonymous. For us to maintain this getting accurate signal - eBay had not been able to see well into the transactions. It's well into the, these are the top four points we're hearing from buyers, they're having frustrations with areas that eBay needed to get better on -
Ina Steiner: You raise an interesting point. Now that eBay is charging final value fees on shipping costs, they do have transparency into (it). eBay knows if a seller says, the shipping cost is $5, and then eBay sees that they have charged the buyer $5, then why is the buyer then able to say, that was too much? And I'm going to ding DSR on shipping cost.
Rich Matsuura: There are two parts to this answer. On the one part, there are still areas of eBay where we have, and I'll call it - it's a term we used to use quite a bit before, and I'm glad we're not having to use it as often - but there's still areas of eBay where we have an excessive shipping problem.
You're right, we've removed a lot of the barriers around, a lot of the incentives for sellers to be charging excessive shipping. But it still exists. When buyers we're paying high shipping costs, this is one of the reasons why it hurt their trust. It actually hurt their future buying activity on the site, and that's why it became one of the four DSR scores, one of the primary DSR scores we are looking at when we are rating sellers and looking for feedback from our buyers.
Are we getting to a world where we have more information? I'd say absolutely. In a world where, if you go back a few years, we didn't have, we didn't require shipping costs to be on the list. We weren't seeing a lot of shipping cost information. We didn't even have the ability to have tracking information. There's a lot that we didn't have in the past. So as we're looking at what else can we improve on the feedback system I'd say getting more objective is something we're absolutely looking at. There's a team at eBay that's looking at what we can do to make things better there.
Feedback is, the complexity here is pretty integral and printed deep into our ecosystem so we need to make changes carefully. But we're absolutely looking at what do we need to do to make feedback more accurate, more objective, looking into quite a bit there. There's a feedback team at eBay that's looking into that.
Ina Steiner: I would say one of the things I'm hearing, and I'm not sure how widespread this is, but I hear once in a while from people who say they've gotten low DSRs because they're a small seller. I believe it's a year for them (before those scores roll off).
They sort of live under this cloud of, oh my gosh, I got a low DSR, it's affecting my discounts, my status, and most importantly, my visibility in search, and they're told, just hang in there, just wait for the year to go, and those DSRs will roll up.
I hear from those sellers once in a while that they never do have that opportunity. They're somehow so limited because they're pushed down in search results and they can't get enough sales and ultimately they just fail, they just can't get over that low rating. Are you aware of those kinds of issues, and what's your response?
Rich Matsuura: We do hear that once in a while. We hear more often though sellers, and a lot of these, you're right, they are the lower volume sellers. They have their feedback on for a year, so they're under the 400 for the three months, and we do hear quite often that a number of sellers are able to get their way back into top rated seller status, continuing to sell items by continuing to provide that good level of service to their customers.
But when we're talking about the top-rated seller program, we do work fairly closely with the top rated seller team. The philosophy on the top rated seller team is, these are the sellers who can provide this top experience inside of eBay. They do have some strict standards for what they need to meet to stay at that top rating. And for us to get an accurate signal into are they providing a good customer experience you do need a certain number of transactions to get through, which is why we'll stand there for a year, we're looking to make sure there's enough transactions there to make an accurate picture of how is this seller performing on the site. And that's why we have a longer look back period there.
We're always working with the top rated seller team to see what's the future of the top rated seller program looks like and what are these look backs. We're working with them from a policy perspective, and the philosophy there is, you need to have enough transactions for us to make an accurate picture and make sure the folks we're promoting and giving that promise back to our buyers, that they are giving a top rated experience. That's the primary reason we have that stringent standard there.
Ina Steiner: And another question I saw that was somewhat parallel: Readers are saying that buyers are only leaving seller feedback if they're dissatisfied, not all of them, but that's a growing trend, that buyers won't leave feedback unless they're unhappy.
Some of the questions were, if a buyer doesn't file and will leave feedback in a certain time frame, why not automatically give the seller five stars for the transaction because? If they were unhappy they would have given the feedback.
Rich Matsuura: That's actually a good point. The way we're calculating our standards program today versus when you go back a couple of years ago, that's pretty much what we're doing. Because we're looking at your number of low DSRs compared to your number of transactions, we're essentially calculating on the back end as though those were five star transactions. So we're making the assumption now, and this is different from when we had an average score before, when kind of back into the 4.8 days, and the 4.6 days, compared to those days now, this is exactly the way that it happened.
And the way we calculate it on the back end, I think as a seller, be happy that you don't get a feedback, because essentially when we calculate it, it's the same as five stars. That's the way we calculate today, and that's already happening.
Ina Steiner: OK. What is, to get back to the bad buyers, I don't know what percentage, it may be a very minor small percentage, but when they do exist, they have a big effect as you can see with DSRs and so on.
I want to make sure I get this question in there: What is eBay doing to identify bad buyers? And once identified, what are you doing about them?
Rich Matsuura: We've stepped up this program dramatically over the last year, and are continuing to step it up over the next year. We have a trust science team at eBay, a whole bunch of really smart guys, PhDs, and these guys create these algorithms. These guys are looking at every transaction that happens on the site. They're looking at buyers' histories. They're looking at a number of variables, something in the neighborhood of a couple hundred variables they're looking at, to identify when something is going bad, or when a buyer is being abusive - everything from, somebody is getting too many returns, or too many partial refunds.
They're also looking deep into that member to member communication. An interesting story that came up fairly recently was a buyer who was being really polite in all her member to member communications but they were essentially, it was around this musical instrument, they were writing the same text to three different sellers saying that there was something wrong and they were looking for a partial refund. And they're getting these partial refunds, and sellers were extremely apologetic, and this was a world where, they couldn't see that this was happening to more than one seller.
eBay was able to identify that, and then we suspended that person. We've been, let's go back to, the other things we identify, let's call them the picky buyers. The buyers who are leaving a lot more negative feedback than they should be leaving. We're looking at the folks and partial refunds are a big red flag for us, somebody who is getting a lot of partial refunds, which could also point to that pickiness. A lot of different types of behavior that we're looking at.
And then your question, well what do we do when we identify them? We're doing a couple of things depending on how egregious the behavior is. On one end, we're trying to rehabilitate them. We see this a lot with unpaid items. A lot of new buyers come in, they don't pay for their item, but they're very "rehabilitatable." We send them the educational information, we give them a call, and we help them.
Sometimes eBay is not the easiest place to purchase, especially for a new buyer, and we help them along. We see a lot of them rehabilitate, and we see a lot of them turn into good buyers going forward.
Then you've got the other end of the spectrum where it looks pretty egregious. Here's another example: they're looking at competitive sellers. You're a competitive seller in this category and you leave negative feedback, and you're doing this a couple of times. That's looking pretty bad for us. We will suspend those folks pretty quickly.
If we're getting reports from sellers that they're getting a brick in the box as a return, that's pretty egregious. These things that are outright fraud and these are people we don't want on the site, we're suspending them, and we're just getting rid of them altogether.
When we take these different actions, and there are areas in the middle where we can warn the buyer and we can say, we're watching you, if we even warn a buyer, we look back at all of the feedback they have left, their low DSRs, their negative and neutrals, we look at the claims they have filed, and we re-score all of those from all of the sellers they had interacted with. As soon as they get that warning, we are making the assumption that person is suspect. And it's a person whose feedback does not bring the credibility we want in the system, so we take it all out of the system.
Ina Steiner: That was going to be a follow up question. So what you're saying is, once you do identify someone who has problematic buying behavior, you do go back and remove negatives and DSRs?
Rich Matsuura: Everything. We remove all the negatives, all the low DSR scores, and the claims from all of the sellers they had previously interacted with.
Ina Steiner: Well, this message isn't really getting out there. eBay is a very quantitative company. You measure everything. Why not provide some statistics to sellers in a seller newsletter or through our publication where you say, here's our performance over time.
Because you're demanding that sellers adhere to standards and they're doing the best they can, but eBay, are you guys getting better? We have no idea. We're still seeing complaints, it's anecdotal. You guys have the numbers. Why not get your message out, look we've tried, we're now better able to identify. Isn't there any way of communicating that without sending the wrong message to buyers or looking bad?
Rich Matsuura: I don't think I'm as concerned about sending the wrong message to buyers. To a certain degree I want buyers to know we're doing this. That this behavior is not going to be tolerated.
I think you make a really good callout here, which is, and this is me talking to you here is the first of us getting the seller protection message out, that we're doing something, and there's a team that cares about our sellers. We haven't done a good job around touting our successes, because we have some successes, and we need to pull those together and make sure Ryan and folks are good with it, but there's a really good story we can share and I would love to keep on having these conversations with you and give you progress reports.
Because you're right, we don't communicate that very well. One of the things we're, and we've started this recently, is that, when we do remove that feedback from our seller's account, to start letting them know we're doing that. So we start sending out monthly emails. When we remove that feedback, sellers should be getting emails telling them that we removed the feedback.
We're also trying to show it on the seller dashboard, information about the feedback numbers removed during that month. We're trying to get more proactive with what we're sharing, but you're right, we have a long ways to go there.
Ina Steiner: I have a couple more specific questions I'm going to try to squeeze in here. Sellers have asked for more empowerment. Blocked bidder is a powerful tool for them. But they want more features added to it.
Somebody said, how about giving the ability for sellers to block buyers with more than two negatives in the last year or those who have returned more than two items in the last year, and to add the number of claims or the percentage of claims filed during a period of time, and let them block that buyer. What do you think about those kinds of suggestions.
Rich Matsuura: Glad those suggestions are coming in. This is something we have heard before. I'm not saying it's something we would take off the table. I'll tell you where I'm thinking about this now, and I would love to get more seller feedback going forward, especially as we're trying to ramp up these buyer abuse efforts that we're doing and getting rid of these buyers.
I think the world we ultimately get to is, sellers need to get to a place where they don't need to be worrying about this. It's the, eBay shouldn't be thinking about this as putting more tools in our sellers' hands to manage who buys from them and who doesn't. Not only does that introduce more complexity on the seller side in make sure this all gets set up, it introduces more complexity on the buyer side around when a buyer is being rejected from purchasing certain items and such.
But in a world where we can identify the bad buyers, in a world where we can see this abuse early on, and we can start rehabilitating or removing, and seeing these incidents and bad experiences going down, I am hoping we get to a world where sellers don't feel like they need this any more.
You know this, Ina, we can't do everything from a resource perspective on eBay. We're trying to figure out where to best put those resources. And a lot of it for me right now is making sure we're getting rid of the bad buyers on the site and changing policies with claims and such. Making sure we're getting the right pieces in place there. So this one on the list, I'm not sure where it falls on the priority.
Ina Steiner: We're running out of time and I want to thank you for chatting with us and I know you're holding a workshop this week. Do you want to talk about the workshop at all?
Rich Matsuura: We're having a seller protection workshop. We're going to go into a lot more details on what we talked about here. We're also going to be having a Q and A there. Thursday's workshop, it's unfortunately already filled up to the max so we started up another one, and I'll send you the information, but on January 9 we're going to have another one where we're going to cover the same thing.
Ina Steiner: When you say it's filled up, does that mean people can just observe it or they can't see it at all?
Rich Matsuura: The company we work with has a technical limitation on how many people can call in and listen in. We'll keep on setting those up until that demand is not there. We want to make sure we're getting folks aware of what we're doing. So we'll be taking questions at the end. We'll keep sending them to you as they come up.
Ina Steiner: given the number of comments about this on the ECommerceBytes blog, I'm not surprised that the workshop filled up. I want to thank you so much for joining us, Rich, this was really informative.