When Liz Flugel first came to me with her story of a seller who was allegedly ripping off many eBay buyers (see previous story), I was disturbed. How is it that eBay would allow this person to keep trading on its site? To summarize, here are the answers I received from eBay:
- Retaliatory feedback does not constitute a violation.
- Complaints about fraud, VeRO violations or listing guidelines may be included in a user's account history.
- A dispute between a buyer and seller about the color, shape or size of an item may not merit inclusion in the account history.
- eBay Customer support reps may exercise a good deal of discretion when considering a possible suspension. The factors that may be considered, in addition to the severity of the grievance, is a member's trading history, feedback profile and length of membership.
- Transgressions that merit automatic suspension are: shill bidding, fraud, reaching a negative 4 feedback rating or receiving a third non-paying bidder complaint.
- eBay uses a proprietary software program that greatly reduce the number of suspended users attempting to re-register.
Several things occurred to me as I tried to understand retaliatory feedback AND out-of-control sellers. The first point is that we all must step up to the plate and use the feedback system the way it was intended. You must leave negative feedback if someone has ripped you off!
The second thing that I wondered about is the training and guidance that eBay gives its customer service representatives. I imagine that eBay gets many, many complaints - some serious, some frivolous. I wondered whether these reps were giving consistent service to members. After being in business for six years, surely eBay could study the complaints, classify them, and draw up written guidelines to help their customer service representatives? In studying eBay's response to my questions, it does not appear that this is the case. Nor does it appear that there is a system to try to catch serial offenders and ban them from the site.
eBay does not take responsibility for the transactions between buyer and seller. But it should take more responsibility for the system it has set up to measure members' performance: its feedback system. And it should have a system to identify serial offenders. One rogue member can do a lot of damage and scare away members - ultimately hurting eBay itself.
Next week, Liz Flugel will follow up her story with her opinion on what eBay could have done better in her case. In the meantime, feel free to get a discussion going in the forums. Perhaps we can come up with some helpful concrete ideas on what can be done to make online auction sites a safe place to do business!