From the Editor
By Ina Steiner
Selling on eBay is getting more challenging, and I expect it to continue to get even harder through the end of the year for two reasons. First, eBay continues to try and clean up its site through Trust & Safety initiatives, and second, eBay is changing how listings appear in search results and is replacing its search technology.
Sellers are reeling this week from eBay's crackdown on "non-performing" sellers, with eBay doling out 14-day and permanent suspensions. eBay says it is ridding the site of the bottom two percent of sellers who make up a large percentage of bad buying experiences* (http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/seller-non-performance.html). But as usual, eBay's implementation is coming under fire. Compounding the issue is the company's customer-service performance (read Letters from Readers in this issue and the comments in this AuctionBytes Blog post: http://tinyurl.com/yoxrsq).
A major problem is that eBay may misidentify some "good" sellers as "bad" because of the problem of "bad buyers." Sellers must contend with deadbeats leaving them negative feedback and new users who don't necessarily understand or care about the consequences of their bidding and rating activities. Sellers must also deal with competitors who may target them by reporting them to eBay and even bidding on items and leaving negative feedback ratings. And if sellers can't present their side of the story to someone at eBay who has the authority to investigate and rectify those situations, then those sellers are left with the threat of suspension and potential loss of revenue.
I'm left wondering why, if it's such a good idea to rid the site of these sellers, eBay hasn't done it all along? And why eBay doesn't do the same with inactive User IDs? It's nice to tout 230+ million registered users, but if an ID has been idle for several years, and the contact information is invalid, what's the point of hanging on to them? Abandoned User IDs can pose a security risk to eBay's site, especially if the original owner has used a security-vulnerable password. It's tempting to wonder if eBay cares more about fraud and the buying experience on its site now that its growth rate is slowing.
An unintended consequence of eBay's crackdown: expect more sellers to hold off on leaving feedback until buyers leave them feedback first, despite that a good portion of eBay users feel sellers should leave feedback as soon as they receive payment from the buyer.
Some have noted the irony that in eBay's zeal to make sure that its sellers are practicing good customer service, its own customer service is being characterized as lacking. And eBay has taken away buyer protection for transactions unless buyers pay with PayPal - eBay itself won't protect buyers for many of the transactions on its own site, while demanding 100-percent buyer satisfaction from its sellers.
In the meantime, eBay has launched a site to help consumers in Vietnam buy and sell on eBay's existing international sites, despite having previously acknowledged that the worst violations on eBay come from members who register in one country, then sell on an eBay site in another country. The non-English-speaking buyer from Asia, while representing an opportunity to sellers, also represents yet another challenge.
In writing about his take on the crackdown (which he calls "eBay Seller Smackdown"), eBay seller Frank Ross says, "This underscores the idea that one should not rely completely on eBay. eBay sellers should have a plan a do business off eBay as well as on eBay" (http://commonsenseecommerce.com/blog/2007/06/27/ebay-seller-smackdown).
Randy Smythe has been observing eBay for years, first as one of its top PowerSellers, now as a failed businessman who learned some hard lessons about selling exclusively on eBay. Randy has attended 5 of the 6 eBay Live conferences since the first held in 2002, including the latest one held last month in Boston. He wrote an interesting blog post recently observing that the questions sellers ask eBay each year really haven't changed. The post makes for an interesting read (http://rksmythe.blogspot.com/2007/06/ebay-live-lets-walk-down-memory-lane.html).
The other area that should concern all sellers is eBay's plans to change the search technology on its site. eBay users can go to the "Playground," which accesses the real eBay site but uses new technology, so you can search, bid and buy and then let eBay know what you think of the new searching experience (http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abn/y07/m06/i26/s02).
The new search technology (eBay calls search "finding") uses a similar technology to that found on eBay Express. All sellers should immediately begin using Item Specifics (product attributes) when listing items, if they haven't been already, because it's vital to gaining visibility for listings.
eBay also announced during eBay Live that it would start favoring sellers with good feedback ratings in search results starting with Best Match results (http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abn/y07/m06/i15/s01).
Try searching for your products on the Playground and compare it to the regular eBay.com search results. Tell eBay what you think of it now, rather than waiting until it's already rolled out site-wide.
And please tell us what you discover. There are several ways to leave feedback:
- Leave a message on the AuctionBytes Hotline (Toll-Free 877-222-0856)
- Post a message in the AuctionBytes forums
- Send an email that I'll include in "Letters from Readers"
- Post a comment on the AuctionBytes Blog (http://blog.auctionbytes.com); there's an entry on the new Playground search technology, and another on the seller crackdown
The summer is a good time to prepare for the upcoming holiday shopping season by getting organized, finding inventory and working on your own website and marketing efforts. Now is the time to get ready, because selling online - particularly on eBay - isn't getting easier.
Thanks for reading.
Update 7/2/07: eBay spokesperson Nichola Sharpe said on Monday that eBay is taking action against the bottom 1% of sellers who generate 35% of Bad Buyer experiences.
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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