Disclaimer: This blog is going up as the session is in progress. There may be some updating (and cleaning up) to this post once the session in over:
I am sitting in the session on the feedback session, which is conducted by Brian Burke. The air is electric with tension and a little bit of hostility toward eBay for changes to the system. eBay's team of six representatives are geared up to defend themselves, as they did at the conference with bloggers yesterday. Nevertheless, fireworks are erupting.
After the summary of changes, those in attendance were asked to line up to ask questions. There are now at least a dozen people lined up, many with arms folded impatiently.
During the talk, it was stated that eBay removed the mutual feedback withdrawal (MFW) feature because "We felt it wasn't providing a sufficient difference between a seller who provides service right the first time and one who fixes problems." He says, that's an important distinction.
"Wrong," said several in the audience. People here dislike the changes. eBay, which said several times in the presentation that the changes were instituted for buyers to be able to leave negative or neutral feedback more easily so they won't leave the marketplace, is facing a hostile audience.
(Questions and answers are summarized, this is not a transcript!)
First questioner: You didn't respond to my emails, she said to Burke. eBay has done nothing to end feedback manipulation. eBay ended the listing of digital goods on the site a couple of months ago? What are you going to do, she asks.
Burke: eBay wants to reduce shill feedback through listing of digital goods.
Second questioner: The point is your system is broken. Your ebay community is smart. Your buyer community is smart. They aren't going to pay $14.99 that is not a quality item.
Burke: We can't have digital goods back in the format they were in two months ago. It's a decision that was made. it was the right decision for the marketplace.
Second questioner (cont.): I don't work for you. I work for me.
Third questioner (asks to room): How many of you have been affected by neutral feedback, "the new negative"? (Majority of hands raised.) You were saying ony 10 percent, but I don't know anyone who hasn't been affected in some shape or form.
Feedback extortion with the new feedbacksystem. What seems to be happening, they get our email address, they say, give us back our money, give us back our shipping. If you don't we are going to leave negative feedback
--Applause from the audience--
eBay's Burke responds: One, we have created a new seller reporting hub with an extortion policy where you can report the buyer. Since we don't have proof, and it is rare that we have proof.
"What's proof?" several ask at once.
eBay Representative: "What we have done is we have created the seller reporting hub, and there are two things that happen. Sellers who select the requirement that they don't want bids from buyers who have too many policy violations don't have those buyers bidding on your items. You file the complaint, even if you don't have complete proof."
"And then the buyer goes and creates another account."
"If you put them on your blocked buyer list, and they create another account to get arond your block, that is a policy violation that is suspendable. I understand the feeling that you have lost control here, but you have other types of control."
Many in the audience are saying that they are seeing the Seller Reporting Hub for the first time.
"The system will never be perfect," one eBay rep says.
"It's skewed in one direction," the seller says.
Fourth Questioner: I understand you will remove feedback from a buyer if there is a UPI dispute: what if they leave you positive feedback but give you 1s on all your DSRs? How can they comment on shipping time and shipping cost if they didn't pay?
Burke: A buyer has the ability to leave any level of DSRs they wish. Buyers who leave positive feedback rarely leave all 1s. We are not seeing a whole lot of 1s being left. It's not about one transaction. (He has said that it is the pattern of behavior that counts.)
"Yes it is!" several call out from the audience.
"If the buyer has a UPI strike against them, they can't leave feedback for that transaction."
"You think buyers are out to get you," says Burke. "The vast majority of buyers don't go on the site thinking, 'I'm going to get that seller.' Our challenge with buyers is to get them to leave feedback in the first place. We believe people are basically good."
Much chatter from the audience.
A voice from the back commands: Let conversation flow between the questioner and the respondee."
Laughter: "God has entered the room!"
Fifth Question: Larry Phillips: the Internet Merchants Association has a site LeavingFeedback.com, and our purpose is to educate buyers that based on a new structure, anything less than a 5 is a failure. All 4s, I will lose my PowerSeller status and be disadvantaged in search. The most common question I get is, why didn't eBay do this? My answer has been, I can't answer why, but I spoke to Brian Burke, and he said…
Burke: "The main reason is, most buyers who leave feedback understand positive, negative, and neutral, most understand a 5 point scale, most understand what we have done with DSRs and the five points, the reality is what we're doing with the DsRs is not about what the buyer is doing at that moment, but we are comparing sellers to each other. Every seller is rated on the exact same schedule."
Phillips: "I need to disagree with you on the value of a 4. Prior to this new setup, someone would have to walk on water to rate a 5. According to you, if my description is accurate, I will lose my PowerSeller status, I will be disadvantaged in search."
(Strong applause from audience.)
Phillips: "You need to change the words to make them more indicative of what the numbers mean."
Burke: We are doing an analysis of the entire feedback flow. So it is not just the words, but what DSRs are asking. The entire flow is something we are looking at.
Sixth Question: Neutral is not positive, neutral is not negative; why not eliminate neutrals altogether?
"Altogether!" Audience cries. (Someone yells, "Look it up in the dictionary.")
Burke: Let me do a poll. Neutral feedback doesn't impact your score. It impacts your percentage. And it shows up on the feedback profile page as gray. How many of you would prefer we completely remove neutrals altogether?
(Perhaps two thirds of room raises hands.)
"I think buyers will make this decision for us over the coming months."
"Where is the seller? " someone calls out.
"We're the ones paying you."
Griff: We had to make these changes because, without buyers, there will be no eBay in two years.
"Bullshit!" someone says.
"No bullshit," he responds; "absolutely true. The rate of decline in the growth of buyers…it was ripe for buyers going other places, and if the momentum starts, eBay is over."
Burke: "We are thinking about creating an interstitial page in which before leaving negative feedback the buyer gets a message with all the seller's phone numbers, mail, Skype, AIM, and says, 'Hey before you take this step, contact the seller.'"
(This meets with applause from the audience--)
Alex, a PowerSeller from Chicago comments: "The system you have set up makes me go through more work to file a UPI. Why didn't you talk to sellers beforehand when you were coming up with this system? We have to work together. And we will be more successful if you do."
Next questioner: "I have a few solutions for you. First, on feedback extortion: A seller should always be able to leave a negative if there is a UPI strike, and if they never respond, I should be able to leave a negative. Second, there should be another buyer requirement: I think if the buyer leaves negative feedback for multiple sellers in a 90 day period, I don't want to do business with them. "
The next questioner identifies herself as someone who works at the window for the U.S. Postal Service, and also as an eBay seller:
"Thank you to everybody, I am a window clerk at the post office."
"I am here on behalf of the president of my union, and I was sent here to report on eBay convention. We have some really big mailers, the companies who send out supermarket coupons and credit card mailers, and I am here to tell you that they want to abolish universal mail delivery. They are petitioning the post office to cut mail delivery in small areas to one day a week or three days a week. The only reason they want to do it is so the big mailers who mail out tons of material--I can't say the J word--"
"Junk?" says Brian Burke.
"They want to do this to get further discounts. They are already getting discounts beyond what it costs us to process their mail. As a seller, I wanted to get feedback from you about this to send to my president. I am also hearing of problems with delivery in certain areas."
This very interesting and alarming tidbit is shelved; those in attendance are asked to talk to the postal service employee after the session. I am left to wonder: Is there a danger that the USPS will be hit with restrictions that limit the number of days in which they can ship parcels sent by everyday people like you and me? If they can only ship 3 - 4 days a week, everyone's eBay shipments will be delayed.
The next questioner also has a shipping related point: "With feedback, and shipping, if you're going to have something, the seller cannot be dinged for late mail delivery. You need to do something so that is taken into consideration."
Last questioner asks: "Buyers agree to a cost when they make a purchase Then they come back afterwards and say, "I wish the price was lower." I get really high DSRs on most categories. I suggest, I have a 5.0 on descript, 4.9 on shipping and handling. Why don't you average the DSRs?"
Burke says he heard this from other sessions and it is under consideration.
Greg Holden, who lives in Chicago, is an online business consultant and the author of eight books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's Web site and blog (http://www.gregholden.com).