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EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 63 - February 03, 2002 - ISSN 1528-6703     4 of 7

Editorial: Can eBay Do More to Stop Serial Offenders? Part 2

By Ina Steiner

February 03, 2002

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Many of us have felt the sting of an online transaction gone awry. Honest mistakes happen, and can usually be worked out between buyer and seller. Users that register with the intent to defraud other eBay members are much more difficult to deal with, and can leave a swath of destruction in their paths. Unfortunately, users that have been hurt by this type of miscreant are left to clean up the mess that has been left behind. eBay has implemented policies to remove users after they’ve wreaked a certain amount of havoc, but are they enough? Here are some things that eBay could do to make their site a safe trading environment.

ONE: Improve Feedback

  • Feedback is the only tool that allows users to judge whether or not a user is reliable enough to do business with. Feedback should be made more comprehensive and include a record of ALL transactions. This would allow users to make sound judgments about their transaction partner. A user’s history of leaving feedback should be accessible from the feedback report. If a member has 20 transactions as Buyer with NO FEEDBACK left, it could be a warning sign (perhaps sellers were afraid to leave negs in fear of retaliatory feedback).
  • The Final Value of the item should be prominently displayed on the overall feedback page next to the transaction number. Potential bidders could scan through and see if the member was trying to "buy" cheap positive feedback. For example, if the first 10 feedback points are positives left on $1 items, and the next transaction is a negative (or, there are no feedback points left on $100 transactions), it may indicate a problem on the horizon. Yes, you can go back and check each transaction individually, but after a certain amount of time, they are not accessible anymore. A shrewd scammer will wait until these “cheap” transactions cannot be view anymore.
  • The ability to review negative and neutral feedback without wading through pages of feedback. (Yahoo Auctions has such a system - check out their rain clouds.) There are also third party tools available to extract this information, but it should be made available through the feedback page.
  • eBay should send automatic reminders to members who are involved in transactions but do not leave feedback.

By implementing these suggestions, eBay would give shoppers more information so they could make their own decisions about trusting a seller. If users are expected to be self-policing, they need better tools to help themselves.

TWO: Seek out Serial Offenders

While eBay will suspend a non-paying bidder after 3 complaints have been filed, there is no comparable policy for non-delivering sellers (sellers who don't ship what they promised). Additionally, buyers must wait 30 days before even filing a complaint - even one involving fraud.

THREE: Improve Basic Policies

Policy: If a member earns a negative 4 feedback rating, eBay will suspend them.

Problem: At first glance, this seems reasonable. You register with eBay, you get four negatives boom you’re out of there. But if a user gets 4 negatives and 2 positives, that is a net -2. Even worse, a user can accumulate 100 positives feedback points and would have to rack up a whopping 104 negatives before eBay would suspend them!

Suggestion: Tie negative feedback to a percentage of transactions over a period of time.


Policy: Retaliatory feedback does not constitute a violation.

Problem: Our readers have sent me emails telling me they don't leave negative feedbacks because they don't want retaliatory feedback; this makes the feedback system worse than useless.

Suggestion: Retaliatory feedback complaints should be noted in members' accounts; chronic offenders should be warned. In addition, when someone is NARU'd, the negative retaliatory feedback they left for other members should be removed or at least turned to neutral.


Policy: 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.

Problem: Imagine the frustration members feel when getting different answers from different eBay reps.

Solution: eBay should study the complaints, classify them, and draw up written guidelines. eBay could hire an outside firm specializing in customer service to handle this for them.


Here are some additional suggestions I've received from readers on ways to improve the system:

  • Allow members to edit the feedback they've left (variations include putting a limit of 30 days on this feature)
  • Farm out the entire feedback process to a third-party company
  • Allow members more flexibility in rating, i.e., rate on various criteria

I asked Reyne Haines, who owns online service VirtualFeedback.com, what she thought about feedback. "There are so many aspects of a transaction, you really should not be expected to rate them as a whole. When you receive a request from a restaurant asking for your feedback, they don't just ask "How was your meal" and expect you to say Good, Bad, Ok."

Reyne uses the sale of a Tiffany vase as an example. The buyer doesn't receive the vase for two months (after sending several reminder emails to the seller), but it eventually arrives in perfect condition, wrapped great and it's all that the buyer had hoped for. Will the buyer leave negative feedback? Under eBay's current system, probably not.

"But what if you could rate multiple aspects of the transaction instead?" Reyne asked. "This is how Virtual Feedback comes in. I can rate a) the product b) the packing c) the email correspondence d) the shipping. Now, I might rate A B and C a 10, but leave D as a 5." The seller would still have a good feedback rating, but would have an idea on areas she should improve upon in the future.

Reyne told me that the biggest users of VirtualFeedback are Sellers who are trying to consolidate their auction feedback (eBay, Yahoo, etc.), and who may also be using the system for their own Storefront or Web site.

I was also curious about the policy of Yahoo Auctions with regard to retaliatory feedback. A spokesperson for Yahoo told me that, "if a buyer contacts us & lets us know they received neg. retaliatory feedback, and if the seller is indeed fraudulent and we removed them from the site, we will remove the retaliatory feedback. Also, on the seller side...if a seller has received a neg. retaliatory from a "deadbeat seller" and files a non-paying bidder complaint, we will remove the neg. feedback."

So, should eBay change its system? Ultimately it is in their best interest to protect its members; shoppers, new ones in particular, will think twice before buying on eBay if they have gotten ripped off.

Want to leave a comment or see what others say about this issue? Check out the thread on the AuctionBytes forum: http://www.auctionbytes.com/forum/phpBB/viewtopic.php?topic=209&forum=3&0

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 ina@ecommercebytes.com.

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