eBay Tinkers with a Delicate Feedback System
By Ina Steiner
eBay's entire model is built on trust. Buyers send payments to complete strangers and trust that they will send them goods. Sellers trust that buyers will make good on their payments. The glue that keeps the house of cards in place is eBay's feedback system. Aside from a few alterations, eBay's feedback system hasn't changed much since the day Pierre Omidyar first implemented it in 1996. Feedback is extremely difficult to remove, and since it reflects a users "reputation," trading partners are careful in using it.
Beginning February 9th, eBay will be adding a new "Mutual Feedback Withdrawal" policy, which has some users wondering about the usefulness of eBay's feedback system, which is already widely criticized. The policy enables two trading partners, who have already agreed, to withdraw their feedback. Withdrawn feedback will impact the member's overall feedback score. The text of the feedback comment, however, will remain in the Member Profile, and the following note will be placed in the Member Profile: "Rating Withdrawn: Buyer and seller mutually agreed to withdraw feedback for this item." The Member Profile will also include the total number of times a member has withdrawn feedback.
Previously, the only way to get feedback removed was to use SquareTrade, a third-party service. If two trading partners us SquareTrade's dispute resolution process, for which there is a $20 fee, they can have their feedback removed. The Square Trade service is still offered and says it's useful when trading partners cannot resolve their dispute. eBay has not yet decided whether it will change the SquareTrade policy by leaving the text of the feedback comments when SquareTrade is used. Currently, it is removed.
Some eBayers are concerned that mutual feedback withdrawal will make it more difficult to accurately view a user's history, since the feedback number will disappear, but the comment will remain buried in a user's profile. Other users believe the change will make programs that extract negative and neutral feedback for viewing less effective.
Another section of eBay's policy announcement has some users confused about the implications: "In cases where one member did not participate in SquareTrade mediation, the administrative note will be "Rating withdrawn: Member who left this feedback did not respond to formal mediation request." Some members posting in forums said they believed eBay was trying to force members to use the SquareTrade service by making the public notation on their feedback records if they do not.
According to a 2003 survey by AuctionBytes, only 36% of respondents thought that eBay's feedback system was very good or excellent. (http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abu/y203/m01/abu0087/s02) But eBay has been reluctant to make even minor changes to its feedback rating system because their lawyers advise they could open themselves up to being legally responsible for all of the comments that members make in the forums.
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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