Minding my own business
Two things happened to me yesterday. The first was a survey from eBay asking what I think about my account manager. Maria is possibly the nicest of all the very nice people I’ve met at eBay: she’s also super-efficient, and I’m lucky to have her as my AM. So far, so good. But the last question of the survey was perhaps the most telling: after asking me if having an AM made me more likely to keep trading on eBay, they gave me a big text input box, and asked me how they could improve our business relationship. The 1000 characters I got to respond wasn’t nearly enough.
The second thing was that I got two neutral feedbacks. Normally, I’d shrug them off: it’s Christmas, after all, buyers are stressed and needy, the post is unreliable, tempers are frayed and time to sort problems is non-existant. But these two neutrals came on an account which doesn’t have very much feedback: it’s one I use for testing new lines and new listing styles, and it gets used pretty erratically. And two buyers is a high percentage of its feedback. Thank goodness those two buyers chose to leave neutrals not negs, because two negs would have got me an account suspension: all my eBay accounts gone, at Xmas, because of one non-paying bidder and one person who didn’t like the colour of her beads.
And I realised what I ought to have said to eBay in the survey.
Earlier this week, Saul Hansell wrote in the New York Times about eBay sellers’ problems. He quoted Scot Wingo saying â€œeBay’s relations with sellers over the last few years have deteriorated and are, at best, poor right now,â€ which is undoubtedly true, but then went on to characterise this as being all about fees. Quite honestly, fees are the least of our problems: at least we know what fees are going to be.
The worst things that businesses have to deal with are the unpredictable things, and over the last year or so, eBay have introduced more and more unpredictability. Though it’s been under the guise of protecting buyers, what they have also achieved is to alienate sellers. Seller Non-Performance, Detailed Seller Ratings, putting adverts for our suppliers in search results, and now removing us from search results based on feedback: the real problem for eBay sellers is that constant, nagging feeling that says “we can take it all away from you in a second if we want to, by arbitrary rules that we won’t ever properly explain, and you’ll have no right of appeal”. Because it’s that fear, that very reasonable fear for our livelihoods, that sends sellers away from eBay. We can plan for fee changes, but we can’t plan for total loss of our eBay income. It’s that that makes us look to our websites, to Amazon and to any other online outlet we can find – because in those places, we’re in control. We’re treated like adults running businesses, rather than naughty children who are going to have their toys taken away from them any time that Mommy chooses.
eBay will say – and they’ll be right – that the majority of sellers have nothing to worry about from measures designed to clean up the site. The problem is that although that might be what eBay *mean*, it’s not what sellers are hearing. The new policy against excessive P&P charges is being implemented on eBay UK this week: in a thread discussing this, Louise from beauty-buy-mail says what many are thinking: “I am having a serious re-think over Christmas. I have been on ebay for a long time and things have gone too far.”
eBay’s response to this, tacitly or occasionally explicitly, has been to say that for every seller who leaves the site, there are another five waiting to take over from them. This might be true, but it’s exceedingly sort-sighted. What’s better for the buyer experience: the established, knowledgeable, stable business seller who’s trading for the long-term and is prepared to allow buyers their legal rights, or the Dellboy fly-by-night who’s on eBay for a few weeks’ trading before he falls foul of some policy or other and is thrown off?
Going back to my feedback, of course it’s entirely possible that if I’d had two negs on one account, only that account would have been suspended, rather than the ones I actually make money on. I don’t know, because eBay still haven’t told me. Rumours of the SNP policy began almost a year ago, yet we still have had no official announcement that it exists. When would any other business partner change their policies, affecting your relationship, and not make sure you knew about it? Imagine if your bank, your courier, or one of your suppliers, made announcements of major changes on a chat board – you’d think it was laughable. And yet that’s exactly what eBay did.
eBay need a change in attitude towards their sellers, and I’m hoping that those survey questions indicate its beginning. Because eBay need to start treating their sellers like proper business partners. Instead of “disadvantaging” some sellers in search results, they need to do things properly: if sellers are undesirable, then throw them off the site. Third party ads in search just take the piss: have a little respect for us, please. And give us information: tell us what your policies are and how they’re going to work *before* you implement them, not months later – and give us the information to comply with them properly.