I worked at eBay for 6 1/2 years. I came to work there knowing next to nothing about eBay, but after just 4 weeks of training, I was thrown into Live Chat almost immediately, and out of necessity, I learned about eBay very, very quickly.
I had been at eBay just over 3 years when I became a Top Seller Account Manager (TSAM). I was assigned to personally manage and assist 218 of the top 1% of eBay sellers, all of whom were generating at least $25,000 a month in sales on eBay.
I spent my last 3 years at eBay as a TSAM, and was able to help my already-profitable sellers make even more money, as well as improve everything from their listings, search exposure, and policy compliance, to their marketing efforts both on and off eBay, their overall business strategories, and their expansion plans for their businesses.
When I left eBay in October 2008, I realized that everything I had learned working eBay could be really valuable, not just to the Top Sellers who were already doted upon by their TSAMs, but to anyone and everyone who wants to be successful on eBay. After all, there were a lot of things I had learned over the years that most sellers never find out.
Now that I'm no longer beholden to eBay's well-known mystery and secrecy, I'm more than happy to share a few of the interesting tidbits I acquired over the years. Not all of them will move mountains for you - some of them are simply amusing. But hey, we all need some entertainment from time to time, don't we?
1) eBay Account Managers are glorified firefighters - Ideally, eBay Account Managers are supposed to focus on analyzing their sellers' businesses and helping them grow and scale them. But obviously, it's impossible to help a seller improve their eBay sales if they're suspended. And most of my sellers were often in danger of being suspended. So I spent the bulk of my time putting out fires, trying to help my sellers avoid getting suspended. You would think that high-volume eBay sellers would be too savvy to get trapped by minor issues like eBay violations, but in actuality, eBay policies are the bane of their existence.
From keyword spamming to links violations, VeRO trademark infringement, shill bidding and even fraud on occasion, I felt like a schoolteacher, slapping my sellers' wrists all day long, bending over backwards trying to prevent them from being suspended. Many of my sellers complied with policies on the basis of how much it would cost them in sales to comply with a particular policy. If it was too much, they would freely break the policy until it was no longer cost-effective to do so, i.e. until they were threatened with suspension for multiple violations.
And then there were that handful of upper-echelon sellers, the ones that were so big it seemed no one could touch them. I remember walking through one of the departments in Trust and Safety and seeing the following sign posted on everyone's desks (name slightly changed to protect the guilty): "NO TOUCHY JOHN CHANG". You can imagine what that meant....
The easiest and best way to avoid receiving violations is to become intimately familiar with eBay's policies. There are several Trust and Safety tutorials you can take regarding some of the most important policies on the site, and you should spend some time reviewing the eBay Security Center at least once a week to keep updated on the latest policy changes.
2) Segmentation - How eBay Cracked Down on Sellers - In about 2005-06, eBay conducted a huge study to try and figure out why almost half of their buyers had left the site. To no one's surprise, buyers spoke up and revealed how sick they were of getting ripped off, getting sent the wrong item or a poorly-counterfeited one, and after all of that, getting retaliatory negative feedback for their trouble. One of the surveys eBay conducted found that over half of all eBay sellers (52%, to be exact) admitted to leaving retaliatory negative feedback for buyers on a regular basis, while only 6% of buyers did so.
As a result, eBay decided they needed to act quickly and severely, and oh boy, did they ever. They proudly introduced "segmentation", in which sellers would be grouped into different groups, or segments, based primarily on their feedback scores, disputes, and DSRs (Detailed Seller Ratings), in proportion to their overall transactions, to see who the worst offenders were and get rid of them while putting the fear of God into all the others.
Well, the main problem with this "ingenious" plan was that it left little wiggle room for common sense or understanding. Some sellers were so large that they remained safe from suspension, even though they had dozens of negative feedback comments, low DSRs and buyer disputes on their accounts all the time.
Yet other sellers were getting taken down for having just 2-3 negative feedback comments within a 6-month period, due to their overall sales numbers being smaller than other sellers.
During that time, I dreaded coming into work and finding out which of my sellers had been placed into Segments C or D, the "worst offenders" among sellers, since that meant I would have to call them and warn them how close they were to being suspended.
Although I have reason to believe that eBay's segmentation program has loosened up somewhat in the past 2 years, it is still extremely important to avoid negative feedback, low DSRs, and buyer disputes at all costs. Be kind, generous, and honest with your buyers, and go the extra mile to satisfy them. Be flexible, negotiable, and responsive, and make your policies equally so, and you should never have a problem with segmentation.
3) The Excessive Shipping Dilemma - Before eBay began enforcing shipping costs, they had gotten out of control on the site. It was a normal occurrence to see an expensive cell phone listed for 1-cent Buy It Now, but with a shipping cost of $299. Not only were these listings extremely misleading and deceptive buyers, but they were considered to be violations of eBay's Fee Circumvention policy, since sellers were making all their profit from the shipping charges, which weren't subject to eBay fees.
So at first, it seemed like good news when eBay began regulating how much sellers could charge for shipping. The problem, though, is that once again, eBay tried to apply a strict, one-size-fits-all policy to a very large and diverse group of sellers, and many problems ensued.
Just as they did with segmentation, eBay set up very strict guidelines and rules for the excessive shipping policy. They researched shipping costs across USPS, UPS, FedEx, etc. to the penny, and oftentimes, if a seller charged even one cent over the allowed amount to ship a particular item, eBay would take the listing down.
One major problem, though, is that once again, the policy was applied unevenly. Smaller sellers were getting auctions removed left and right for having shipping costs that were only a few cents over the established limit for the type of item being shipped, while the policy didn't apply to multiple-quantity purchases at all. Therefore, while sellers were limited to charging no more than $10.70 to ship one cell phone, for example, they were allowed to charge $107 to ship 10 cell phones, which of course is ridiculously expensive and excessive.
Additionally, the excessive shipping policy wasn't applied to international shipping costs, so while sellers had to be careful with their U.S. shipping costs, they could charge basically whatever they wanted for international shipping.
Now to be clear, I don't know if the policy is still being enforced this way, but it was up until I left eBay in October 2008.
In short, the best way to handle shipping costs and comply with eBay's Excessive Shipping policy is to keep these costs completely separate from your profit calculations. In other words, don't try to make any money from shipping charges, and stick to eBay's requirement of only charging actual postage plus a couple of dollars for handling/packaging materials.
Not only will this keep you in full compliance with eBay's policies, but you'll benefit greatly through happier, repeat buyers, higher DSRs and much less likelihood of suffering from buyer complaints and disputes as well as negative or neutral feedback.
4) Gaming The System - One of the most disturbing issues I encountered while working at eBay was how freely some eBay sellers engaged in underhanded and unfair tactics to sustain their sales activity on the site. Instead of spending their time coming up with new, creative ways to market their products and promote their listings, many sellers made it their primary marketing tactic to try and get as many of their competitors suspended as possible. Some of them would spend countless hours scouring their rivals' listings looking for violations they could report; occasionally they would even ask us to submit these reports on their behalf.
One very large seller had a program created that would automatically report hundreds of a seller's listings every few seconds, causing him to be able to bring down the entire inventory of many of his competitors within a day or less, sometimes for something as simple as a stray keyword in an item description that didn't relate 100% to the item being sold. Once he happened upon a small violation in one of my seller's listings, and was able to get all 50,000 of the seller's listings pulled down within a few hours.
These sellers spread negativity and distrust among the entire eBay community, and nothing good ever came out of their efforts to hurt other sellers. There's one seller in particular who I will never forget, so vicious were his efforts to get his main competitor suspended. He and his competitor both sold Airstream trailers, and he contacted me at least 2-3 times a week for a period of over 2 years, writing massively long emails containing dozens of accusations, assumptions, and judgements he had made about his competitor. He also faxed in over 100 pages to us on one occasion for the same purpose.
The last straw for me came when he sent me an email claiming that he had researched his competitor online and had found out that this man was a convicted sex offender in the state of Florida. He sent me a 10-page treatise via email explaining why this man should be suspended from eBay due to him being a convicted sex offender. I mean, seriously.... Anyway, after I received this email, I told the seller that I could no longer take time out of my schedule to review his accusations about other sellers, and that I would only help him engage in positive, beneficial marketing techniques for his business.
This should be a no-brainer, but anyone who wants to engage in this type of behavior doesn't belong on eBay, in my opinion. There are enough of us who truly believe in the main ideas on which eBay was founded, that people are basically good, and that an open and honest trading environment brings out the best in people -- eBay doesn't need people who don't support those tenets.
Although in the past there have been some extremely large, high-volume sellers who have profited greatly from their unethical behavior on eBay, most of them are long gone, and I assure you with 100% certainty, based on my own firsthand knowledge and experience, that the vast majority of top sellers are honest, fair, cooperative, and responsible, and that these sellers have been even more profitable than the sellers who don't play fair.
5) Problem Buyers - Although I've encountered many eBay sellers engaging in unethical and unfair practices and behavior, I'm the first to admit that eBay has its fair share of bad buyers as well, and they should be mentioned as well.
While I agree with eBay's policy to no longer allow sellers to leave negative feedback for buyers, there are still many areas in which buyers can manipulate sellers unfairly and hurt their businesses with virtually no compunction.
Malicious bidding is one of the most insidious ways buyers can hurt sellers, and many times, these "buyers" are actually sellers themselves, and are often direct competitors of the sellers they're harrassing. They set up separate buying accounts on eBay, solely for the purpose of buying a few items from each of their main competitors so they can then leave negative feedback, file disputes, and wreak all sorts of other havoc with their competitors.
What's scary is that, if they're careful about it and aren't blatantly obvious about who they are and what they're trying to do, they can often get away with it. Malicious bidding is extremely difficult to prove, since it's so easy to make it appear like the purchases, concerns, claims, and/or negative feedback in question are legitimate.
If you're the victim of malicious bidding, the best thing you can do is to be very aggressive about adding unwelcome bidders to your Blocked Bidder list, maintain strict buyer requirements, and be dogged about contacting eBay over and over again until something is done about the situation. At the same time, though, realize that action most likely won't be taken unless there's clear evidence of malicious intent on the part of the buyers, so collect as much evidence as you can to submit to eBay.
Along with malicious bidding, many sellers are still beset by non-paying bidders, unfair negative feedback, and buyers who make unfair demands and/or threats.
As far as non-paying bidders are concerned, the best thing to do, again, is to maintain very strict buyer requirements and to require immediate payment on ALL of your fixed-price items. And now that you can open an unpaid item dispute after only 4 days and close it after 8, it should be much easier to minimize the negative effects of non-payment.
Now it's true that non-paying bidders can still leave negative or neutral feedback in some situations, unless they fail to respond appropriately to unpaid item disputes, so I've found that it works best for me to be very assertive about trying to contact the buyer before filing an unpaid item dispute, but then cease trying to contact them in any way after filing it.
By then, I've accepted that they're probably not going to pay for the item, so at this point, the best thing for me to do is to "go silent" and hope that the dispute is opened and closed without their awareness or response to it. That way, if they leave negative or neutral feedback for me after the fact, eBay will remove it.
When buyers make unfair demands or threats, I do everything in my power to take the high road and try to resolve their concerns to their satisfaction. I bite my tongue and "kill them with kindness", no matter how mean they are to me. And if they still end up leaving negative or neutral feedback, at least I know I did everything I could to prevent it.
Once the feedback has been left, I suggest immediately requesting feedback revision, but if that doesn't work, at that point, you have to just let it go. If you don't, it can have a long-term negative impact on your reputation and even your success and profitability on eBay going forward.
Specifically, I'm referring to what happens when a seller tries to lash out at a buyer by leaving angry, insulting feedback replies and/or follow-up comments, or by writing a negative comment while selecting a positive rating, which is incidentally another violation of eBay policy and will probably result in eBay removing the feedback comment.
Most sellers I've worked with never realize how horrible it makes them look to other eBay buyers when they post a rude, angry feedback reply or follow-up comment. It won't do much if anything to hurt the buyer in question, but it could possibly do a lot to hurt your future sales. Whenever someone looks at those angry replies on your Feedback profile, the fact that you received a negative feedback comment won't be nearly as important as how childishly and angrily you responded to it.
Believe me, the best way you can minimize the negative impact of a negative feedback comment is to post a reply to it that is nothing short of saintly, something like this: "I'm so very sorry you were unhappy with this transaction. Please contact me - I want to resolve this for you!"
In closing, I want to say that I know for a fact that most eBay employees do indeed care about and genuinely want to help eBay users, both buyers and sellers. I personally know hundreds of them who work long hours doing their best to help them. Sure, they're not perfect, and neither are eBay's policies nor management, but they truly and honestly care deeply for the success and well-being of their sellers, and they do everything possible to help their sellers succeed.
When something negative happens to them on eBay, a lot of sellers are quick to not only blame eBay for it, but even worse, to quickly conclude that eBay intended to hurt them, doesn't care about them, is out to hurt all of their sellers, etc., when that couldn't be further from the truth.
If anyone has any solid evidence to the contrary, I would be more than happy to review it and comment on it, but so far, I've never seen any evidence that eBay intentionally hurts or disregards its sellers, or that eBay doesn't care for their sellers or their success.
And by solid evidence, I don't mean one or two random one-off instances where eBay has made a mistake, but solid, concrete data proving that eBay doesn't care about or has deliberately and intentionally hurt large, significant numbers of their sellers.
I no longer work at eBay, so I have no reason to be biased in their favor. I love eBay because I KNOW from my own experience that it's a great place to buy and sell, with great employees who care very deeply and work very hard on behalf of its sellers.
eBay User ID theauctionguru
eBay Powerseller and Top-Rated Seller
Former eBay Top Seller Account Manager