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Thu Jan 18 2007 00:51:02

Big eBay News Day

By: Ina Steiner

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First, sellers will be interested to know there is a 20-cent listing day promotion on eBay on Thursday (January 18). This is a pretty big deal - eBay rarely does promos like this on the US site.  

eBay made some major announcements on Wednesday at its Ecommerce Forum held at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport in Burlingame, California. eBay is rolling out Feedback 2.0, first outside the US and Germany in late February. It will also start to calculate feedback rating percentages based on the latest 2 years of activity. And it will require new sellers to accept PayPal or credit cards before being able to list on the US and Canadian sites. (See details in the AuctionBytes Newsflash article.)

eBay is shaking things up, focusing on the buyer by improving the shopping experience and also attempting to crack down on fraud. Very good intentions, though eBay's implementation is always debatable among its very vocal users.  

eBay arranged for me to speak to Bill Cobb and Rob Chesnut by phone on Wednesday evening about the announcements and about recent policy changes, such as SMI. There are lots of things that did not make it into the AuctionBytes Newsflash newsletter that I want to cover here. (Be sure and read the news story first so you will know what I'm talking about.) Also, please excuse the informal/outline style of this post. I've tried to put my thoughts in parentheses to distinguish them from eBay's statements, which may be paraphrased.

- Did eBay have screenshots to show new Feedback system? No, can review Bill's videocast, but the feedback system may be changed as it is tested.

- I asked why buyers should be able to rate sellers on shipping time, since they can only control when they ship the item, not how long the carrier takes to deliver the item. (This has come up as an issue with third-party sellers on Amazon, which has a similar rating system.) Rob said sellers have control over when they ship. Some will ship every day, some wait 2 weeks. How long the post office takes is even for everybody. What will distinguish good sellers is how fast they get it to the post office, etc. Bill also said that he appreciates sellers who send along tracking information. (Bottom line IMO: Sellers will have to do a really good job of managing buyer expectations about shipping.)

-  Re Safe Payment Requirement policy: I wanted to know, can a seller in the U.S. accept PayPal and/or credit card - but only for US/Canadian transactions, not for shipping to other countries. The answer is no. You have to offer the method wherever you are shipping. But, sellers have control over which countries they sell to. Is this a burden for sellers, since PayPal only protects sellers who ship to confirmed addresses, which is only available in US and Canada, and to a certain degree in UK? Rob said - it's up to shippers to decide where they want to ship. Buyers who come to should have a safe way to pay.

- Bill jumped in to emphasize the buyers' point-of view: It's a balanced approach - because the .com site is the largest, we're trying to protect buyers on .com from unwittingly sending Western Union payments or money transfers - no longer allow that avenue to happen. That's where you can result in a buyer getting ripped off. Rob said it's an interesting question and they'd get feedback from sellers, but the goal is to encourage a good buyer experience and make it harder for fraudsters to come back to the site repeatedly and lure buyers into doing something that's not safe.

- Bill said he wanted to use the webcast to reiterate some of the other policies as well, including the increase of PayPal Buyer Protection and reinforce why they are doing Safeguarding Member IDs (SMI). He wanted people to see the holistic view of what eBay is doing.

- In discussing SMI, I asked why not get rid of Second Chance Offers (SCO) to reduce scammers use of fake SCOs. Rob said it wouldn't solve the problem, saying most buyers don't realize there is an SCO feature, so bad guys would continue using the technique. They had actively considered it, but felt it wouldn't solve the problem. We were perfectly willing to get rid of the feature if it would have solved the problem. (A case of trying to put the genie back in the bottle?) The old system had a lot of openness that we all loved, but eBay has grown into a big city. That openness is vulnerable to abuse.

- Rob said eBay worked with shill hunters to develop the SMI policy to try and provide potential bidders with the information they would need to look for evidence of shill-bidding (something some users fear will accelerate with the new policy).

- I asked about the decision to use $200 as the starting point for SMIs. Rob said most scams were of a higher dollar value, $1,000 or more, and they tried to weigh the risk for the fraudster and the effort it would take them. eBay's spokesperson Brad Williams, also on the line, said they have had good results on eBay Motors with the new policy.

- eBay provides data to potential bidders on auctions over $200 where bidders' identities are masked - it shows data such as the number of different items bid on matched with the number of different sellers.  I asked  why not make it "unique" sellers. In other words, six different sellers is not the same as six "unique" sellers, since eBay members can have multiple IDs. Rob said they had consider the complexity of the information they provide so the users could still make sense of it. But he said the eBay system does that in the background, look at unique sellers. He said they have a shill hunt team.

- On the Bidding Details page for an auction, there are stats called "30-Day Summary." I asked Rob if a high "Bid activity with this seller" percentage was a warning sign of potential shill-bidding. He said some people believe that is the case, but on the other hand, some buyers purchase regularly from the same sellers. (My bad, I forgot to ask him why it doesn't show how many times the bidder wins the item from the seller.)

- Bill said eBay does not allow shill bidding, and shill bidding is illegal. The conspiracy theorists think it's an effort to drive up ASPs, that has nothing to do with this, and we are going to be vigilant. But given the state of the Internet industry, not the eBay industry, we had to make this decision. Bill said it's been well received in Australia and the UK. $200 may not be the right level, but we have to pick an amount that is high enough. Vast majority of transactions are not going to effected by this.

- Rob: folks in eBay Motors were screaming for this.

Bill and Rob had to get back to the Ecommerce Forum shindig which has another day to go. Scot Wingo is blogging the event, and he'll be speaking on a Bear Stearns conference call on Friday, "Reading Tea Leaves from the Seller's Conference."

My source in attendance told me Meg Sloan gave an interesting presentation on Wednesday on understanding the eBay Buyer. Tomorrow, there is a general session with eBay CEO Meg Whitman; some roundtables; and "eBay in Person" featuring Bill Cobb and executives.

Comments (3) | Permalink

Readers Comments

Perminate Link for Big eBay News Day   Big eBay News Day

by: Randy Smythe

Thu Jan 18 15:56:42 2007

Really not much of interest coming out of the Seller Conference. I can't wait to ask my seller pals what their impressions were.

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by: Bart

Sun Jan 21 17:34:21 2007

As usual the powers that be at Ebay are blowing more and more smoke.  wait till the revenues drop from sellers and buyers leaving because of the id issue.  the company i work for has pulled out along with several others that sell items over the 200 range.  let it hit them in the pocket book for a bit.. it doesnt hurt our company.. we were doing fine without ebay

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by: Mike Wallace

Thu Feb 8 15:02:33 2007

Ebay has been an unaccommodating behemoth for a long time and ultimately caters to their own bottom line.  Customer service by phone is non-existent; they've always been forward about that...  Ebay corporate and the user community are victims of Ebay's "success."  They make it a living hell for sellers by pigeon-holing payments through their convenient sister, paypal.  Buyers can rip the shirt off your back via paypal,  and the onus of proof lies on the seller.  I'm especially glad that I've been able to defend paypal chargebacks successfully, but it's become more of a challenge.  If I sound bitter, it's because I was bitter and wanted to convey the feeling that you don't want to experience firsthand.  Here's the social structure you need to heed around ebay in order to succeed:  1.  Don't sell to new bidders or recent negative feedback bidders whatsoever, as they can burn you with feedback and walk away if you don't kowtow to accommodate, wait, ship elsewhere, do a cartwheel, etc.  2.  Don't bid on anything, just snipe everything you'll buy without attachment to the outcome, thus lowering the typical end price and preventing other ebayers from seeing what you're bidding on.  3.  For goodness sakes, ebay is cowering at the increasingly damaging loss of faith and proliferation of fraud getting more creative by the hour...ebay has allowed problems to fester while growing a fat bottom they've put on white knight garb and are slapping shill bidding allegations on the most innocuous sellers.  Does ebay care that envied sellers get peppered with phantom bidders that can damage precious feedback and give the illusion of shill bidding?--Not apparently.  4.  Good luck to a stellar seller with 100% feecback to actually feel good about buying items with the prospect of GETTING negative feedback on that precious ID as a retaliation or stopgap measure.  5.  Finally, although I do not recommend this due to its legality, here's the best way to deal with the ebay "system" for the honest folks:  Buy nothing with your prized seller ID.  Leave no feedback until you get some.  Block -1 or recent neg bidders.  Have lots of non-affiliated folks buy stuff for you if you can't or won't snipe auctions.  Ebay's biggest problem is evidently shill bidding...not difficult for them or anybody to find with some searching.  Shill bidding is a double-edged sword that is prohibited but does garner higher bids.  Ebay is has "teams" festering them out nowadays.  You simply can't unknowingly bid on your old army buddy's dad's boss's dead dog's jewel collar 2000 miles away because you're perceived to be an insider.  Ebay has taken the whole shill bidding dread to a new profitable level--BUY IT NOW IS OK and encouraged, it isn't shill bidding never-ever, and doesn't violate their self-created monster.  It's wonderful to look back at previous ebay pleasure and profit, but those days of splendor have slipped away.    I'm just glad that I remember to ignore anything that looks vaguely ebaypalish in my inbox.  Oops, wait, ebay still doesn't answer the phone!

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