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Fri Sept 29 2006 01:11:17

AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD

By: Ina Steiner

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AuctionBytes is running an interview with former eBay PowerSeller GlacierBayDVD owner Randy Smythe. Part One is online now (link), more to follow next week.

Thanks to Randy for sharing his story. It's an important lesson in eBay history.

Comments (22) | Permalink

Readers Comments

AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD   AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD

by: Richard Chemel

Fri Sep 29 13:55:48 2006

Very insightful interview. Can't wait for Part 2. It appears that some variables we as sellers cannot control, and those, as Randy pointed out are eBay fees.

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This user has validated their user name. by:

Fri Sep 29 21:15:49 2006

great interview.  confirms my previous comments/beleif that pulling the plug on was problematic for ebay core ...

AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD   AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD

by: Beth Cherkowsky

Mon Oct 2 06:20:20 2006

A lesson for all of us who sell on ebay.  DIVERSIFY! not product necessarily, although that wouldn't hurt but also Diversify our market access.

Hmmmmmmm!  Gotta go work on this.  Thanks, this is really a HEADS UP article.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous

Tue Oct 3 12:00:01 2006

Great interview!  FYI - thought you might be interested to learn that eBay has LOCKED a thread on the Stores board with posts from Randy re: his take on eBay's strategy.  Some posters have indicated that this is the FIRST TIME they have ever seen a thread locked that was NOT originally started by eBay Pinks.  Interesting, no?  Here's the link to the thread -

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by: Harriet

Tue Oct 3 13:18:49 2006

I really enjoyed this article.  Isn't it true that hindsight is 20/20?  Thank you for the insights into your eBay business.  I did want to say that the phrase ''use eBay as a customer acquisition tool'' jumped out at me.  I wondered if someone could flesh that comment out.  

I agree it's a good idea.  I hope to always sell on eBay, because when I do a Google or Yahoo search for the products that I sell, eBay results liberally pepper the top 20 results.  I think as time goes on, and Google/yahoo users see eBay feature so heavily in results, more of them will think of eBay as that global marketplace and go there naturally.

So how do I use this to my advantage as I diversify sales platforms?

Thx, Harriet

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This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous

Tue Oct 3 14:48:57 2006

Update:  And just as mysteriously, eBay has now unlocked the thread, but removed all of Randy's posts.  Yet another instance of eBay's putting themselves in a very bad light.  

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by: Rudy

Wed Oct 4 09:31:18 2006

Part 3 was just what the doctor ordered...thanks Randy for saying what needed to be said.  The sellers (especially the store sellers) have no voice whatsoever and it's gone on WAY too long.  A corporation cannot create this much discontent (hatred is a better word) and not experience some kind of backlash...they've had it coming for way too long.
I can personally confirm alot of what Randy said.  The listing removals, the account shut downs...these things have a terrible effect on your day to day business.  You wake up with stacks of items to ship and suddenly you have this nonsense to deal with.

The way you fight these idiots is with the truth.  

Until ebay hires some people that actually know how to sell so they have that perspective when making stupid decisions like increasing fees by 150% right before the holidays...these problems and discontent will persist.

Wake up's not about the quarterly's about the future of the company, and trust me, you aren't going to get there without us.

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Wed Oct 4 10:04:11 2006

This was very interesting information. The seller was one I always admired & its sad to see one go down. I agree with so much of what he wrote ...(always careful) to say it was only his opinion. I truly think ebay has gone too far in many ways. I appreciate what he wrote about the R rated movie auctions being shut down. EBAY won't give anything but very vague information when you have an auction closed. Its wrong, they need clear cut guidelines. Big sellers need clear cut lines. I have a feeling when Glacier had those auctions shut down he lost 1000s in dollars and ebay couldnt careless. Ebay doesnt just shut down the offending auctions but they close you down entirely as punishment.

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by: Jeff

Wed Oct 4 11:14:37 2006

Very insightful article by Randy.Hopefully stockholders and analysts will take note of the fact that here is a seller that once had over 4 million dollars in sales on EBAY and is suddenly no longer there because of EBAY's Executive Management Decisions.He doesn't blame EBAY but it is obvious that EBAY's decisions had a major part in his demise.The beginning of declining sell thrus and  prices realized was the introduction of item specifics and watch lists.

He say's well take it for what it's worth because he went broke.Guess what,EBAY has broke thousands of sellers by their hasty decisions this year.EBAY isn't broke,EBAY management is.EBAY management has no clue as to what is good for the marketplace-the sellers do.And EBAY continually promotes what doesn't work,and eliminates what does.Current EBAY management actually has the belief that turmoil and unrest will make EBAY a better place.All it is doing is alienating 1000's of sellers and potential buyers away from EBAY.Never to return again.

I attend live auctions on a regular basis and have never seen so much negativity towards EBAY.Both from sellers and buyers.Many of the sellers that EBAY has eliminated this year are not buying off EBAY.Their continued poor treatment of sellers has drastically hurt the marketplace.

And I have to agree with him wholeheartedly on EBAY's Trust & Safety.I too had 100's of listings cancelled for having the word cash in them.I contacted a lawyer who looked over EBAY's user policies.I was basically told that it doesn't make any difference what you list.With their manipulation in wording they can literally cancel any listing at any time.What he had more of a problem with was EBAY's frequent use of they are only a venue.Someone is going to contest that fact someday and what scares me more on EBAY is the lawsuits that are going to arise from EBAY's executive decisions.EBAY needs a complete housecleaning of EBAY management and I would think EBAY would die for a person like Randy to work for them.Imagine that,someone that has been highly successfull on EBAY as a seller to revitalize the marketplace.It would be a WIN-WIN for EBAY,Sellers and Buyers unlike Mr.Cobb's so called win-win that store sellers were promised.

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by: Michael

Wed Oct 4 12:01:26 2006

The interview with Randy Smyth was excellent in many ways. I can wholeheartedly agree with most everything he said.

My wife and I work full-time with our online store.  It is our sole source of income and has been for much of the past 2 years.  The bulk of our sales, so far, come from eBay.  We have an online store (a couple, actually) and are slowly working into other markets in an effort to get away from relying on eBay.  eBay is an excellent marketing tool, but it has become a very poor retail tool.  As Randy so aptly noted, fees are just too high, sales are too low, prices are too low, competition to scammers and fakes is too great, and eBay arbitrarily changes the rules whenever they see a need that would benefit their stock price.

My wife and I have been members buying and selling on eBay since 1999 and have been absolutely appalled by the changes and increased fees that have been happening over the years.  One of our user names gained Platinum PowerSeller status last year, but eBay shows an absolute disregard for people who are obviously trying to run an honest business and who base their financial well-being on, essentially, eBay treating them fairly and working together with them for mutual benefit.  Step outside the lines one iota - even by accident - and you're treated like a criminal and suspended without any sort of consideration...or even a phone call!

Case in point:

We have a new store through which we sell safety and security products (pepper sprays, stun guns, alarm systems, etc.).  eBay has NUMEROUS regulations on this issue, BUT THEY DON'T PUBLISH THEM!  Why?  Because they feel this would make them liable.

Anyway, long story short, we were suspended for selling an item eBay decided wasn't allowed...a stun gun they believed was ''disguised'' to look like a flashlight.  This is a questionable conclusion, but all that aside, nowhere is this policy listed...and there are, at any given time, more than 100 similar items actively selling on eBay.  So you basically only find out these are not allowed by eBay coming along and closing them and telling you they aren't allowed (even though this isn't written anywhere).  And they hold these against you, as they always keep a running total of items they've removed on your record.  Once you reach the maximum allowed removals, they suspend you.

In our case, we were supposed to have received a phone call BEFORE the suspension to work out the details, given our PowerSeller status.  But due to a snafu on eBay's part, this never happened.  They pulled the items we weren't even aware couldn't be listed and then suspended us, simply saying we had violated such and such policy.  Upon reading these with a fine-tooth comb, no answers were apparent.  After finally getting to speak to our eBay PowerSeller representative, he went back and forth with Trust & Safety and finally came back with an answer...he admitted eBay PURPOSELY doesn't list these guidelines so they aren't held liable.  BUT they hold us liable for rules we don't even know exist!

Don't get me wrong, we understand the need for rules and eBay's cover-your-butt policies.  HOWEVER, why hold people responsible for things they don't even know are wrong?  This is one of the most despicable and asinine policies I have ever heard of in my life.  Obviously, anyone attaining Platinum PowerSeller status is not a fly-by-night newbie, but someone actually earning a living from their eBay store/sales.

To fully appreciate my frustration, realize this: at the time of our suspension, our store & auctions had only been running for about two months, we had just received over $5000 worth of inventory with another $2500 on the way (and at least that much already sitting on the shelves).  eBay sends us an email saying we're suspended for a MINIMUM of 14 days before we can even protest the issue.  Meanwhile, our income goes to zero.  Product is just sitting there.  What’s worse, however, was that our business was ENTIRELY we had no access to customers, inventory counts, accounting records (quarterly estimated taxes were due in 1 week with no way to download our sales history)...can you begin to see our frustration?

Here’s an analogy to put this into more understandable terms: Imagine, if you will, pulling up to your brick and mortar sales office and finding that the landlord had barred the doors and windows, locking in all your computers, inventory, records, etc., and then gone off to vacation in Australia for the next two weeks without any warning or way to reach him.  Don’t you think that under such circumstances you’d have an excellent lawsuit awaiting the landlord’s return?  So why is eBay so different, that they can’t give even the slightest shred of consideration to their sellers and that they can do this without penalty?

To finish the story, our account rep. was the only helpful person and he managed to get us back up and running within 9 days.  But it hurt eBay more than it did us in the long run due to the fact that we spent the 9 days building an off-eBay site.  When our suspension was lifted, we launched everything from our new store and now make roughly 1/3 of our sales from our storefront...all those fees that went to eBay now go to us...and we have only begun to advertise and make use of other sources of sales outside eBay.  In time, they will lose us...along with the tens of thousands of dollars per year we’ve generated in fees for them.

I could go on and on with my gripes against eBay, but suffice it to say that they have succeeded in taking a market where people were actually proud of being a part of it and now most moderate to large sellers want only to get away from eBay.  Where people sold willingly on eBay, they now sell grudgingly.  This is not a good place for eBay to be, but my opinion is that they don't honestly care.  Their auction site is their cash cow for driving their expansion and diversification into other areas.  Like Philip Morris and cigarette sales, they understand that auctions will eventually become a thing of the past.  So they don't really care what any of us think, they just want our money to drive their other endeavors.

I say to hell with eBay.

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by: Rudy

Wed Oct 4 13:32:58 2006

This is in response to Michael, the post above mine.

I'm not going to get into the ethicality of selling stun guns to the masses (I don't think you should be allowed!) but I feel your pain.  
The question is- what do we do?

Do we all go off in a million different directions?  NO!

Do we go off to another corporation like Yahoo or Google?  NO!!!

What we need to do is pool our resources and energy and cooperatively own our own venue!

For $50 a month or less we could own and maintain our own site and have money left over for programmers, advertising, lawyers etc.

Please consider this idea as I will be making a big splash about it in the coming months.  Any active seller capable of making at least 100 listings a month will be invited.  

If we all move to one place...someplace stable...someplace where WE make the rules...the buyers are sure to follow.  Think about it.

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by: Sandy

Wed Oct 4 13:55:30 2006

Thanks Ina for running such an interesting interview and thanks Randy for speaking out. It always greatly disappoints me when I see a seller that I know is a good seller, go NARU. Wether they are a large or small seller. It's interesting to know why it happened so that I can learn from it.

I hope that eBay listens to Randy and makes some changes. Most sellers think that the large Platinum sellers get special treatment from eBay and that they have a sliding fee scale and such. But from Randy's interview that doesn't seem to be the case, but maybe it should and it should start at a lower level like silver or gold and extend up to the Platinum sellers.

I guess the main point I've learned is not to put all of your eggs in the eBay basket.

AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD   AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD

by: Rudy

Wed Oct 4 14:14:34 2006

I think in Randy's case his failure had more to do with his business model than ebay itself.  In business you should always outgrow your pants and then buy a new seems to me he was trying to grow too fast...actually trying to push sales...I don't think that is ever a good idea.  My opinion, of course.

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by: Franci

Wed Oct 4 14:29:21 2006

Thanks Ina.  Excellent interviews.  Is there a link to GlacierBay's blog?  

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by: James

Thu Oct 5 20:58:34 2006

Fantastic series of articles! Thanks Ina for having the courage to publish it.

Whilst I can see that Randy made plenty of mistakes along the way, eBay’s behavior and attitude contributed materially to GlacierBay’s demise.

I could write a book on what’s wrong with eBay, but I will just outline my main observations.

1. eBay have become ever more greedy and arrogant over recent years. They act solely in their own economic interest. If you want to understand their behavior in any given situation, just think logically about how each decision they make affects the skim they make off each transaction and off the market as a whole. They are not interested in the “user experience” except insofar that if the experience results in lower profits for eBay vs. sellers, then things must be “rebalanced” in eBay’s favor.

2. There is an inherent and fundamental philosophical contradiction between selling goods at auction and selling at fixed price. eBay want to skim money off of both types of transaction as far as possible but managing that contradiction has tied them in knots. The flip flop behavior we have seen this year is a clear symptom of attempting to manage paradox and failing miserably.

3. eBay Trust and Safety is a joke. It’s a fig leaf  used to protect their public image. They could care less about real T&S. They need to protect the public image of their golden goose and T&S fills that role. T&S behaves randomly and arbitrarily, making up rules as they go along. They severely punish honest sellers for infractions of unwritten rules, causing real pain and hardship. I have personally asked PowerSeller support on a number of occasions to tell me what the keyword spamming rules are so I can obey them. They refused to tell me what their rules were and actually gave me different versions at different times. To this day, I have no idea.

This behavior totally contravenes the principles of natural justice and fairness. They refuse to publish these rules e.g. which items are banned, how many keywords in an auction title constitute keyword spamming, what actually constitutes excessive S&H etc. If you are deemed by them be guilty, they perform the roles of judge, jury and executioner and carry out sentence. There is no right of appeal, nor adequate recourse under the law. T&S is carried out by a bunch of low-paid “button-clickers” who apply rules using a random “flavor of the month” algorithm (this month we will crack down on excessive S&H, next month we will have a crusade on VeRO violation etc). eBay is trying to police capitalism using T&S, which is a physical and logical impossibility.

This is another clear symptom of eBay’ overweening arrogance. They only get away with this behavior because of their market strength – the feeling they have that they can behave like an absolute dictatorship because their subjects (the sellers) have no place else to go – they either like it or lump it.

4. The feedback system has become a joke. It’s been thoroughly undermined by all kinds of manipulative behavior e.g. 1 cent e-book scams, feedback farming and mutual withdrawal games. It doesn’t allow sellers to distinguish themselves from each other in any meaningful way and buyers have realized this and are voting with their wallets.

5. eBay’s fee structure is directly related to their market share in each territory. The more dominant they are in a territory, the greedier they become and the higher their take rate becomes. Only in markets where they face real competition do they lower prices to more reasonable levels. Their fees will not fall nor will their arrogance reduce until they face some decent competition – that is our only hope for the future.

AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD   AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD

This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous

Sat Oct 7 23:39:19 2006

Very rock and roll story.  Thank you Ina.

AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD   AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD

This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous

Sat Oct 7 23:47:01 2006

I think we all know how sterile eBay can be in regards to sensitivity.  But lets not forget that very big players are free to join in.  Is Steve was making huge dollars on eBay, certainly his suppliers and others were aware of a huge niche.  It's interesting to note that Amazon will not allow new sellers in certain categories.  Ebay is not made up of suzies selling things from their attic.  DJ's *do* get payola and Steve was likely against some 'heavy hitters' who may have paid bribes to ebay that led to the r rating removal flack etc.  Sure you don't believe me.  I am going to read some info about pretexting at HP now.

AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD   AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD

This user has validated their user name. by: Anonymous

Sat Oct 7 23:48:20 2006

Way to go Ina.

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by: Michael Sisler

Tue Oct 10 04:33:17 2006

I really enjoyed the interview and totally could relate to the expierience related to the rapidly changing .  I look forward to Randy's blog as I have also been keeping a business blog as well on myspace that is linked by RSS to my store's homepage.  It is very nice to finally hear ebay sellers speaking out.

AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD   AuctionBytes Interview with GlacierBayDVD

by: Sharon

Wed Oct 11 20:01:33 2006

Well, I don't know what to do now. I lost my job due to corp. greed. Forty of us were fired at one time and more followed because of the shareholders lawsuits.  I wanted to start selling slow on eBay with my little mom's overgown "stuff" in her house and then specialize in a product once I got into it. The fees always bothered me though but I thought I could live with them.  I don't want to get into a product and have the rug knocked out of me from eBay because of their rules that I'm sure to break because I won't know their real limits. What's a person to do? Thank you for this article.  I just lost over 100.00 on a eBay item because they took it down just after I bought and paid for it on PayPal. That's too long of a story to go into but thank you for this article.  I've learned to keep learning before I leap. If I leap.

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