EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor Greg Holden is live-blogging eBay's Town Hall meeting on the topic of Tuesday's Seller Release announcement. As in past events, sellers call in to ask questions.
Note: This is not a transcript, please note that many questions and answers are summarized/paraphrased. Apologies in advance for misspellings of people's names - we're happy to correct if notified.
Griff: This discussion will be limited to changes to top-rated seller program; added seller protections; global returns; business policies features; updates to shipping, free pictures, and new picture requirements; changes to category listings. Doesn't sound terribly "limited" because so many changes are happening, does it?
Panelists: Michael Jones; Adam Carson, Guru; Kristina Klausen of seller standards team; Gary Vollmer; Louis Olsen and others around open mike.
Michael Jones: as we all know, consumer expectations are on the rise. These changes will help our top rated sellers compete and win. Our goals are to help them increase sales and improve overall selling efficiency.
[Rhetorical question: will changing all your photos improve your efficiency? Just askin'! - G.H.]
Laura in Ky: The 90% tracking requirement in order to retain my GRS status. People like me who sell vintage cards and reproduction items...there are 1.9 million postcards for sale on eBay, all shipped typically first-class mail without delivery confirmation of any type.
If I am forced to switch to delivery con with tracking, will increase my shipping costs 200%. I truly don't understand why categories like this that have been historically first-class mail--i have never had a single first-class item go missing--i don't understand why there cant be a weight cap, say under 3 oz. we can put in an envelope and put a stamp on it. Our customers aren't willing to pay for delivery confirmation.
Response: we're making these changes to help sellers compete and attract buyers and convert sales. We've heard from our buyers; they want to know their item is shipped. It's really become the e-commerce standard to have tracking. This is why we have included this in the top-rated seller experience.
Laura: It doesn't take into account low cost items like stamps. A majority of the items I sell are $3 greeting cards. I'm going to reach a point where, if you enforce this, I will no longer be able to sell on eBay and I will close my store.
Response: It sounds like you are delivering a great experience for your buyers. We recognize this policy is not going to be possible for all sellers. Hopefully the discount you get against the increased cost of tracking, you can weigh the difference and see if it's worth it for you.
Laura: there is no way I can make it work with my current business model. I'm going to lose sales as a result of it. If I roll it into my price I won't have a margin. You're forcing people like me into a corner.
Griff: I don't want to invalidate your point. What I would say though. From past changes I would say you're making assumptions about buyers and see how it works.
Laura: I'll give it until May 1 and see how it works. I've been an eBay seller since 1998...you're going to push a lot of us over the cliff with this.
eBay: We're sympathetic to Laura's concerns. There are some categories where it is going to be more difficult to implement this than others.
We're moving ahead with the program because we heard from sellers that this was the way they thought we should go.
Jones: We planned ahead for this. If it doesn't work, we'll revisit it. But we are convinced that for the majority of sellers, we can make it work.
Next seller (Clark): I sell stamps; I have a perfect record now. I pack everything in a #6 envelope, I use postage. I have had no losses in past years. If I raise prices to cover tracking I'll no longer be competitive. A lot of sellers will exit stage left and move to a place like Bidstart.
Looks to me like anything under $100 I'll move off the site. My insurance does not require tracking until the item reaches $200. I cannot continue to be competitive because it's not equal to the rest of the stamp market. Read Frank Norrris's book The Octopus about the Southern Pacific Railroad.
eBay: Oy vey! ...You're not alone. You made the right statement when you said this levels the playing field. We know this will cause some sellers to have to raise their prices to compete. We know this levels it in a way that causes sellers to adapt but to make it work.
Guru: We are leveling the playing field. What we are also doing on the back end, this is not an isolated policy we are enforcing, we will use this in multiple ways (tracking data). We will see how much time it takes a seller from Washington send it to say Washington D.C. and will give specific delivery estimates and that includes conversion for the seller in Washington. If you adopt practices like this you are helping us and helping you get more sales.
[comment: isn't that great: you're helping eBay! - G.H.]
Next seller (Camille): My question is about the 14-day return time. I sell live mealworms--feeder insects. I can't really offer a 14-day return policy on a live product. I can't see me benefiting from this policy. I don't have a problem shipping within a day, but the problem is the weather.
If the temperatures are above 90 degrees or below 20, I sometimes have to wait to ship. I usually put up to a five-day handling time on my listings. That's my situation. I am top rated in both of my stores, never got a negative feedback. I don't see how this will work for me.
eBay: What is a mealworm?
Camille: It is a feeder insect for reptiles and bluebirds and protein-eating animals.
eBay: first of all congratulations on your high ratings. We recognize that some of the changes will not work for all sellers and all inventory. I see you have some special situations that can affect live worms. If there are situations where some sellers are unable to meet the requirements of the new program, you will ...
Sellers can choose not to offer the returns and without affecting their top rated seller status.
Camille: I am talking about the 20 percent discount, which helps me stay afloat. I don't see why I should be punished for something I am trying to get out there alive.
eBay: even if you offer a return policy, the vast majority of buyers do not return items. As long as you offer a money back guarantee with a reasonable restocking fee you will meet those standards. I encourage you to try this out. You might find the rate of returns is small enough to offset...
eBay: One thing you could consider is to use the USPS labeling system we have provided. you can schedule a pickup by the postman. If there is a weather problem you can avoid the trip and have the mailman do the hard work for you.
Camille: I do that for my customers, I require that they pick it up at their post office when it's hot out.
eBay: We'd like to follow this; please keep in touch with you so we can see how this works out for you. We're not trying to wiggle out of this.
Next seller (Catherine): I have another question about uploading tracking. I'm pretty obsessive about shipping and taking care of my customers. I have a problem with transparency on uploading tracking. I have shipped every day within one single business day. yet, my preview is showing that some got missed. I'm not going to say eBay is wrong, but two a day runs to the post office means I can get out on time. What's up with that? When you say I have 94% upload, will I be able to see [the ones that didn't ship in one day]?
eBay (Kristina): We'll take this on and take a look with it and make sure the product is working as intended.
eBay: although the preview you see in the dashboard, you will be able to see on an item by item basis what you are shipping so you can be more effective.
Next seller (Karen): I'm wondering if the information about the buyers printing and clicking their own return shipping label, is that the final version of the policy?
eBay: I suspect you would like to see another option?
Karen: Here is my concern: buyer prints own return label, no communication with seller; seller sees the item, and you refund the final value fee. What you have is an unhappy buyer, and no communication with the seller. The seller has no idea that this happened. Since when did communication become unimportant on eBay.
Guru: hose are valid concerns. Think about where the retail standard of returns is going. If you buy something on Wal-mrt.com
Karen: is eBay trying to become like Wal-mart?
eBay: The customer expectation...what do you sell
Karen: I sell luxury items.
eBay: If the customers buys luxury items from you instead of a brick and mortar store their expectations are common.
Karen: They would like to get a confirmation from the store before the return.
eBay: We do provide for you to get an RMA. The buyers goes in, files for a return, sees the sellers is supposed to be offering an RMA number.
Karen: The policy I'm seeing on eBay right now does not say anything about an RMA number.
eBay: If this system doesn't work for you, when the tool becomes available in June you will be able to opt out of it.
Karen: It sounds like eBay is taking away communication [between buyer and seller] If something is wrong, I want to know it. I want to make it right.
Email question #1 from Duncan: Some related questions about the one day handling and how it could affect seller ratings. Does the one day handling requirement begin when the payment clears?
eBay: The clock begins ticking when the payment clears.
Griff: You want to check the payment status to see when the payment clears so you can get in within the
Email question #2 from Duncan:When the store is on vacation does the one day handling begin when you get back from vacation?
eBay: We encourage sellers to use vacation mode. The vacation does not affect the handling mode. It prevents a buyer from making a purchase during that time. If you are away
Email question #3 from Duncan: What is the one day time day or time--one day from the purchase date?
eBay: Saturday is not a business day.
eBay: A business day does not include weekends or U.S. holidays. Based on the business day after the payment clears, the seller has through midnight the next business day, if they are committed to one day handling time. Say the payment comes in on Tuesday; they have through midnight on Wed to send it out. If payment comes in on Saturday they have until Monday midnight to upload the tracking information.
eBay: If an item is purchase on Friday, and paid for, you have until midnight Monday to upload the tracking.
eBay: In all cases we encourage sellers to upload as quickly as possible and to ship as quickly as possible.
Adam: I want to use the opportunity to mention that we are introducing a same-day handling option.
Griff: And this is not tied to any requirements.
Next seller (Leah): The majority of my items are under two dollars. I put them in a #10 envelope and send them on their way. It does not make sense to raise shipping beyond what the item actually costs. A buyer isn't going to pay $5,$6 for party favors when now they are only paying $2.70. They only have to scan the item when it is delivered (not when you drop it off).
eBay: I want to make sure you and all of our listeners know that in all cases tracking and delivery confirmation will meet the new standard. You will not be penalized for that. While we want to have as many scans as possible on record, you will still meet the new standard.
Leah: if a buyer wants to return an item, I don't ask questions. I will exchange or give a refund. We're top rated sellers for a reason. Why are we being penalized for this? You're going to force poor sellers like us off of eBay.
eBay: Sounds like you have a great return policy. We recognize these changes are going to be hard in some categories to meet. We know it's going to be tough in some places. Figure out if there are some changes you can make in your business--multi item purchase--or frankly maybe not.
Leah: It's not that they're not going to be easy, they're not going to be possible.
eBay: What is an average shipping price you pay?
Leah: right now I can put a stamp on it which is 25 cents. Right now I can buy a box of envelope for less than $1.50. If I go to package rate, I have to buy mailers. Package rate starts at one oz. for $1.64. If I have to use shipping labels, that is another cost.
Griff: We fully understand, we can't make exceptions, we know we are moving the bar up. If some sellers can't make it work, we know it is a potential risk and a challenge. We are here to help. We know every seller who sells the same items will be faced with the same decision.
Guru: As Griff pointed out before this is a policy which is for everyone. We are not handpicking a few sellers. Looks like you already do a couple of the three things we want you to do. You have a great return process. Think about sellers who don't have tracking or returns. It's a higher bar for them. You are probably at a much better position compared to the others. if you use tracking, we will give you more incentives.
Next seller (Beverly): I am also calling about the seller's dashboard n the preview. it is not working. I have five accounts that I manage. One account is perfect,but that is the smallest volume account I have. I neve get payments on a Saturday or Sunday. The other four accounts are all off, and not by one or two percent. one is at 87 percent. I ship five to six days a week. I use tracking numbers. I challenge any of you, if you have an account, look a your preview.
Griff: I have done this, and my shipping should be 100 percent, and it's not. So we'll look into it.
Beverly: I think the little person who did the programming on the preview needs a calendar. The other thing, I noticed just today what I shipped late at night or the following morning, I make sure they are marked paid, shipped, and the tracking number is there. I archive them. Today I had one that shipped out yesterday and said, "Add tracking number.' I went to Stamps and got the tracking number, I went to eBay, I opened the item up, and the tracking number was there.
eBay: Preview launched yesterday, we will stress test it, and make sure it works as it should.
Next seller (Robert): My wife lists on eBay. What I sell (stamps) goes through American Phil Assoc. or others. We do have a higher rating now. With the changes you are making it won't work now. You are forcing us off eBay.
Kristina on eBay: this is great feedback and we will look at it. We have been hearing a lot from our friends on the stamps boards. thank you for that and noted.
Charlene: Automatic five stars if there is no communication between buyer and seller. i do a lot of best offers and multiple sales. I have buyers placing a best offer and I respond. Because so many of these are international buyers I don't always get to them quickly. What actually constitutes a communication between buyer and seller that will nullify the five stars.
We do have auto 5 stars in place for people who use free shipping or fast shipping. this was a chance to continue our progression to put in DSR scores where merited. We had heard from sellers in the past when there was no communication the seller was confused and left a 1 instead of a 5, and seller thought that was unfair. So you now you get a 5 star.
Charlene: so if a buyer has to invoice that will not count as a communication?
eBay: That will not count.
Charlene: what if the buyers says thank you for your great service?
Griff: They're more likely to leave a 5 if you say, thank you, and are friendly. this was necessary for buyers who left no communication.
Charlene: there needs to be a lot more emphasis on educating buyers.
Griff: We heard from buyers and they don't want to be educated. They want to buy it, get it, and move on. Buyers don't go to a marketplace to be educated.
Charlene: my thing about educating is maybe revisit the wording on the choices for the 5 stars. A lot of buyers think 3 is just fine, there's no problem.
Griff: that's a good point.
Note from Ina: Greg Holden is signing off, you can find listen to the rest of the Town Hall Meeting on eBay. I'll make a few more notes, the meeting ends at in less than 10 minutes.
An eBay buyer Cathy called to say Buyers shouldn't be forced to buy items with tracking, which increases the price of the item.
Kristina Klausen noted that they had considered requiring sellers offer an expedited shipping offer, but decided not to.
Seller named Scott called to ask why eBay didn't offer First Class envelope with DC option, which would alleviate the anguish from callers this evening.
A retired post office manager called in and said the post office does not allow first class envelopes to have delivery confirmation (DC) unless it's in a rigid envelope or one-quarter inch thick.
Michael (MJ) Jones wraps up, end of Town Hall Meeting.