Has eBay reached its Level of Incompetence? Online seller and AuctionBytes blogger Bob examines how a new policy and its detrimental effect on sellers is evidence of the Peter Principle at work.
In 1969 Dr. Laurence J. Peter wrote a wonderful book titled, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. This is classic study of corporate bureaucracy which he dubbed "Hierarchiology" (that word, alone, makes this book a must read!).
There were several important tendencies that this book exposed. Spoiler Alert! A main one was that in a corporate atmosphere, people tended to rise to their "Level of Incompetence." This means that as someone does good work in one position they are promoted until they attain a position they are no longer qualified for. This is their Level of Incompetence, where they will usually remain.
Another important aspect that Dr. Peter explained was what happens when a person, or even a company (Cough... Cough... eBay! Ahem...) reaches their Level of Incompetence. At this point they are no longer able to effectively deal with advancing the corporation's best interest in the outside consumer world. Instead, they become focused inward. The problems are no longer competitors or the mysterious, invisible hand of the marketplace. No, the problems become one's co-workers. Or that other department not pulling its weight. Or that cheap coffee the company supplies.
Damnit! Give me a decent cup of joe and we'll create a monopoly!
I am not sure when eBay reached its own Level of Incompetence. But it has surely reached it. And it's grown downright comfortable in that spot. The proof is easy to find for, according to eBay, its problems are not caused by its own outdated programming, the revolving door too many competent employees march out through and, certainly, it couldn't be the big honchos with alphabet soup titles. Oh no!
The problem is its sellers.
eBay is increasingly targeting its sellers, assuming that every one of them is a dishonest malcontent trying to steal from them. Recently, eBay announced that if they (or, better, their incompetent bots) were to suspect someone of selling items found on eBay, off eBay, they would charge fees anyway... even if the items don't actually sell!
From the user agreement: "If you are a seller, you are liable for transaction fees arising out of all sales made using some or all eBay Services, even if sales terms are finalized or payment is made outside of eBay... you may be liable to pay a final value fee applicable to that item, even if the item doesn't sell..."
One seller was recently exposed to this when they attempted to write a buyer asking them to contact this seller if there were any problems with the sale. The seller was informed in BIG RED LETTERS that "Offers to buy or sell outside of eBay are not allowed. Please edit your message before you send it."
The seller had to reword the same, innocent message until the bots found it acceptable.
This isn't only insulting to sellers, it is a really bad strategy. I guarantee that the money eBay is putting into finding a handful of lost fees are costing more in employee time, subcontractor costs and in disgusted sellers leaving than anywhere near what it will save them.
But that kind of math doesn't matter when managers, companies, or even politicians, have reached their Level of Incompetence.
About the Columnist
Bob has been buying and selling online for almost 20 years. Some experts claim that his limited budget was the major cause of the 2001 dot-com crash. He denies the charge.