A few years ago, it would not have been unheard of to win an eBay auction for a Little Kitty necklace for 16 cents and be charged $21 for shipping & handling. That's exactly what happened to one buyer who wrote to AuctionBytes in 2003. Excessive S&H charges were and continue to be against eBay policy, but the problem - rampant on eBay for years - continues to plague the site.
Some sellers are motivated to charge high S&H because eBay charges commission fees on the selling price only. And even sellers who did not charge excessive S&H fees were not necessarily sympathetic to buyers who failed to read the auction terms, though many others felt the pain of competing with those sellers not playing by the rules.
In 2006, eBay began enforcing its Excessive Shipping policy more aggressively. While many sellers applauded the initiative, some complained they became victims of over-reaching by eBay Trust & Safety's department in its enforcement of the policy.
Last year, eBay devised another solution to help reduce excessive S&H charges. It began allowing buyers to rate sellers anonymously for S&H costs through DSRs (Detailed Seller Ratings), which were introduced as part of eBay's Feedback 2.0 initiative.
It also changed its search in two ways. First, price sorts were changed to "price & shipping" sorts. And secondly, eBay's reformulated Best Match algorithm began factoring in price and shipping, though it does not provide details on how much weight is given to S&H costs.
In January, it introduced a program called Seller Standards in which sellers were rewarded (both financially and in search rankings) for high DSRs and penalized for low DSRs, with an emphasis on shipping DSRs. It introduced a pop-up warning during the listing process and is requiring sellers specify shipping in all but a few categories.
But apparently, all that is not enough, at least not in Germany, where eBay has introduced maximum S&H costs in 34 categories that include accessories in computer and consumer electronics, jewelry and other categories. Sellers will be unable to enter costs higher than allowed in the S&H field.
How did eBay Germany select the categories in which to impose maximum S&H costs? In translated text from the Germany policy page, it states, "the above categories, the buyer satisfaction as measured by the detailed seller ratings for shipping and packing costs very low."
The policy takes effect on June 15, and sellers in the US are speculating about whether the changes will be introduced on the dot com site.
eBay's problem has always been in judging whether S&H costs for a particular listing really is excessive. Doing so across entire categories doesn't really make a lot of sense. Sellers with higher quality items that may weigh more will be disadvantaged, for example.
How this will play out in Germany, and whether the new policy will migrate across eBay's international sites, will be interesting to watch.