EcommerceBytes-NewsFlash, Number 817 - July 30, 2004     2 of 3

Online Auction Seller Objects to eBay Advice

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One eBay user is outraged that eBay is pushing its own software while criticizing third-party vendors who are approved to use eBay's API program.

When she had trouble listing two auctions using an auction-management service, she emailed eBay customer support.

The answer she received back was startling, she said. "Instead of explaining to me what I had done wrong in the listing and could fix, they claimed that the problem was with the vendor's software. They suggested that if I did not want to have future problems I should no longer use that service but instead use eBay's listing service."

eBay spokesperson Hani Durzy said, "We don't discourage use of third party tools, we encourage use of whatever tools work best. That's why we made available the solutions directory, which is organized by type of tool." Durzy said there are more than 8,000 developers who have access to API. eBay tools are not put ahead of other tools in the directory, he said, adding "Twenty percent of all listing come from third-party API-developer tools on eBay.Com (the U.S. site). I think that speaks volumes."

The letter sent by eBay's customer service in this case read in part:

When eBay changes a particular feature, it will sometimes affect third party software that interfaces with eBay. So members that directly use the site see the benefits, while third party sites find this to be a problem if their software suddenly doesn't work with eBay. It usually takes a little while for the third party site to modify their program, but usually the company will quickly update their software so they are again compatible with eBay.

I do understand that you have come to rely on this useful tool to help you use eBay. Hopefully, they will update their program quickly so you can use it again. You may also want to look into eBay's listing tools to see if they could work for you.

The user who received this email from eBay's customer support said, "Not only is eBay's listing service considerably more time consuming but also much more expensive. And I thought monopolies were illegal in this country?"

eBay is the largest global consumer auction marketplace and owns the number one online-payment service used on its marketplace in addition to offering its own auction-management tools that compete against other services. Many third party developers are reluctant to talk on the record about any complaints they have with eBay.

Off the record, some vendors report that eBay's customer service does at times blame third-party vendors for known eBay bugs. One vendor said it was a "somewhat frequent occurrence."

eBay's Durzy said, "It is not part of a larger campaign to get people off of the third party tools and onto eBay tools. Tools are a means to an end. The use of our tools are not a major source of revenue for us, Listing Fees and Final Value Fees are the vast majority of our revenues. We want people to be as efficient as possible, using whatever tool."

The specific example may be due to a lack of knowledge on the part of the customer support representative, or as Durzy said, a sincere effort to help the customer that could have been worded better.

But as long as eBay continues to compete with its own developers, who pay eBay fees to access the API, it's likely questions will arise as to whether eBay competes fairly, given its ownership of the market.

With PayPal forking over $9 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in part for alleged bad customer service, and facing another class-action lawsuit over billing glitches and resulting problems with customer service, it appears this is one more instance where eBay's communication both with customers and with its own employees needs attention.

About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to

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