Why eBay’s 4% Below Standard Fines are Harsh and Fair

By Chris Dawson March 29, 2018 - 1:40 pm

Sitting here at Tamebay HQ it’s easy for sellers to point the finger and me and say I haven’t a clue what I’m talking about when I say that only Below Standard Sellers will complain about eBay‘s 4% final value fee fines. You may have a point, so I’d like to set out my stall from when I was a full time seller.

Those who know me from old may remember I used to sell second hand computer accessories and did so for a decade. You may not have been aware that I also had an account selling second hand jeans.

As a trader in the computer categories I took great pride in my feedback. I did get the occasional negative over the years (all totally undeserved of course!) but way back when sellers could leave negatives for buyers I always did so for non-paying bidders.

The interesting thing is I never got a retaliatory negative back from a buyer I left one for. Even dead beat buyers are reasonable people and I’d have invoiced them, sent payment reminders, sent messages and crucially I always made a point of actually phoning them and speaking to them in person asking them to pay. I’d then leave a regretful sounding negative along the lines of “Spoke to the buyer and they still didn’t pay” and I guess they knew I had them bang to rights.

The net result was my account was always in good health, never dropped to ‘Above Standard’, let alone ‘Below Standard’. I was a PowerSeller, Top Rated and even with the odd negative either 100% feedback (less than 1 negative in 1000 feedbacks) or occasionally 99.9% feedback.

On my account that sold jeans it was a different story however. Second hand jeans are slightly tricky to sell as jeans shrink in the wash and the label size was largely fictional compared to the actual size by the time I acquired them and sold them. I had too many unhappy customers, I lost my Top Rated status, I dipped below standard. My eBay account was in trouble.

At the time I took a very prosaic attitude to the issues. I simply stopped selling on that account and disposed of my stock of jeans and went back to selling computer accessories on my original account. I could see the writing on the wall and I knew there was little I could do with that particular product line to rescue the situation.

Around nine months after I stopped selling jeans I received a lovely email from eBay congratulating me on becoming a Top Rated Seller. Having sold nothing and not even logged into the account, the old feedback had dropped out of the look back period and the account was once again in good health.

It’s fair to say that sellers who fall into Below Standard aren’t all bad sellers. I know this as I gave exactly the same customer service, shipping with the same couriers and despatching at the same speed from the same warehouse, for two completely different product sets. One worked and one didn’t.

If your account falls below standard, or hopefully if you’ve got your eye on the ball and your ratings are on a downward trajectory, you need to consider what you can do about it. There’s no point getting emotional and blaming eBay – it may be the service you offer, you may be over promising and under delivering, or it may simply be that the products you are selling attract a certain clientèle with expectations that you can’t meet. Whichever it is, you need to decide what to do about it.

eBay are being pretty harsh to impose 4% surcharge on top of dumping products to the bottom of search results and loss of other selling privileges. However, having experienced both an account with great feedback and an account which dipped below the level that eBay requires I had to take a long hard look at what I was doing.

Service was fine, but the product in truth simply wasn’t what customers expected. It doesn’t matter how much I thought I was doing a good job, the only person I could lay the blame at was myself. Fortunately for me it was a side line and I could simply stop selling the problematic products. Other sellers might equally have to examine the service they offer, how fast they despatch, the courier transit time, whether items are tracked and if they can economically offer a service buyers are willing to pay for.

I find it hard to say that eBay sanctions for under performing sellers aren’t fair to those who supply a great product and service. They want engaged buyers who come back time and time again as do eBay and don’t want sellers (like I was) giving a less than desirable buying experience.

eBay surcharges (fines if you will) for under performing sellers may be harsh, but for those that give good service or those honest enough to recognise that they’re giving buyer experiences on a habitual basis which are below standard, it’s hard to say that they’re not fair.

  • james
    1 year ago

    great article, completely agree.

    i see so many people saying “TRS is a doddle to achieve”, well yes, we have accounts that sell RM sized low-price items, which come with little or no expectations from customers, that barely ever see a negative.

    we also have stores which sell furniture, flat pack items, and big ticket stuff, which people seem to expect miracles of, even if what they expect is the exact opposite of what we’ve written in the description, thats somehow our fault.
    “this item isnt fit for purpose because the colour doesnt match my curtains”
    “i’m not paying to post this back, its heavy, it’ll cost a fortune, just refund me and i’ll bin it”
    “this is all wobbly and its your fault! no i didnt follow the instructions, they’re for idiots! oh and while i’m here there are all these screws left over i didnt need.”

    now we could up the prices to cover the extra costs incurred by morons, but that just means the decent people, who can read a description, and understand basic terms of sale, work a screwdriver, end up paying way over the odds to subsidise the illiterate and hard of thinking.

    we are still top rated on our furniture stores, but it’s anything but easy when dealing with unrealistic expectations, contempt for our terms, and fraudsters backed by ebay as soon as they complain.

  • A technical point, but an important one for below standard sellers.
    Calling it a 4% surcharge trivialises it.

    Suppose the category fees are 8%. The 4% is actually a 50% surcharge – 50% on top of the normal FVF fees. If eBay reduce the final value fees in a category, from 8% to 4%, they invariably describe this as a half price offer – not a 4% reduction.

    In categories with a fee cap, the surcharge will be much higher than 50% for expensive items, because the 4% is payable on the full selling price, plus postage, and is not capped.

  • Toby
    1 year ago

    I have to agree with James above…. quite often it is the buyers who are at fault not the sellers. I’m sick to detah of buyers who think the way to resolve any kind of issue is to simply leave negative feedback…
    Item lost in the post…. just leave feedback, its obvious the seller never sent it.
    Item broken on arrival… just bin it and call the seller names, no need to offer a chance to replace etc.
    Changed mind and decided just to ignore all seller requests for payment or contact… just leave neg for a hounding seller.
    In my 10 years plus of trading on ebay i havce only ever had one occassion where i havent been able to come to some kind of agreement with a buyer when something has gone….. but the amount of negs with no contact what so ever is a different story. Lets be honest saying a strandard item is crap and useless when there have been over 4000 sales of it with no issues whatsoever, is hardly fair without engaging the seller.
    So yes on one hand i like the fact it will punish the generally poor sellers, but i pity the good sellers who are plagued with bad buyers. Why the hell can’t it be policy to have to communicate with the seller before you can leave negative feedback? Surely the more issues that get resolved to the buyers satisfaction has to be a good thing?

    • 1 year ago

      “Why the hell can’t it be policy to have to communicate with the seller before you can leave negative feedback? Surely the more issues that get resolved to the buyers satisfaction has to be a good thing?”

      It really is a shame that some of the great ideas posted on Tamebay by sellers could not be implemented by eBay.

      Take the above by Toby, when you read it the idea makes perfect sense, even to the point that should the buyer still leave an unfounded negative, eBay could be asked to review the messages, not possible if no contact has been made or attempted.

    • northumbrian
      1 year ago

      as a buyer spending my money is the only condition I require to leave a negative comment
      I would not be pleased if I had to negotiate before leaving negative if I wished
      as a seller we bugger about with barmy buyers enough, we dont need any extra dollops of loony buyers trying to be clever

    • northumbrian
      1 year ago

      are you aware ? that every negative is unfounded if your a seller,
      if your a buyer every negative is totally justified

    • 1 year ago


      “as a buyer spending my money is the only condition I require to leave a negative comment
      I would not be pleased if I had to negotiate before leaving negative if I wished”

      Fortunately I have not had too many idiots like you, my first action should I have a problem is to contact the seller and most of my customers do the same, although there is always the one idiot.

      A buyer opened two INR cases last night, although I am suspicious of their sudden buying spree, with many sellers, after only being a member for one month.

      They purchased one item, paid extra for 1st class and then a week later purchased another also having that sent 1st class, yet claim they never received the first item. Why would they buy another item having mot received the first?

      I sent them a message saying the items had been delivered and they did respond saying the items may be with a neighbour.

      The cases will now remain open for 30 days. If the buyer had to make contact with the seller first then they may not have needed to open a case.

    • northumbrian
      1 year ago

      yep were idiots subjecting ourselves to insults from amateurs and know nowts

  • Mark
    1 year ago

    The whole 4% fine is just that. It is blowing smoke up the backsides of the big players that can lose all the hundreds of negatives among the thousands of positives and meet the shipping times and offers that small sellers cannot. They buy at lower prices because they buy a thousand of the item that small sellers buy 40 of.

    Then they get better exposure and better discounts all amounting to a further kick in the teeth for smaller sellers.
    The whole reasoning behind ebays defects and feedback was expalined to me over a year ago as they had found any buyer having a negative experience on eBay did not come back.

    Ok i get it but here’s a thought.

    Any company no matter how large want to increase its profits.
    So on very large seller i have seen on eBay sells 16,000 plus items in a month and receives over 400 negative and 250 neutral feedbacks in the month also.

    Now according to eBays findings and preachings that means at least 4,800 buyers a year are no longer buying on eBay due to their bad experience with that seller. yet they are top rated etc.
    So if you owned a huge store and at the next board meeting you were asked how to increase profits easily. My first thoughts would be to sack the doorman that is stopping 4,800 customers a year from coming through the doors of my store. That would be a pretty good starting point. The store i talk about is just 1 of many i have found. Percentages only work in eBays favour not on the feedback game if their reasons are to be believed.

    Stop making eBay a battle against each other. Charge us the same, treat us the same, expose and promote us the same and let the buyers decide from the information shown.
    Just item description cost and shipping options just the same as in a normal shop.

  • northumbrian
    1 year ago

    no the wonder ebay buyers have a certain opinion
    some ebay sellers think their so special
    why would I as a buyer want to negotiate with some sanctimonious smart arse

    • 1 year ago

      @northumbrian – What would they be negotiating about?

      Buyers do not need to negotiate with sellers, I have very little interaction with my buyers, most just press the buy button and I send the order out.

      On occasion I get a message from a buyer asking for a discount on buying multiple items, but I do not encourage “Best offer” on my listings.

      If there is a problem, then they may get in touch with me to sort the problem out, but that is not to negotiate, just to let me know there was a problem.

      Yesterday I sent somebody the wrong product, today I am sending the right product. They do not know there is a problem yet as the item has not been delivered.

  • northumbrian
    1 year ago

    “Why the hell can’t it be policy to have to communicate with the seller before you can leave negative feedback? Surely the more issues that get resolved to the buyers satisfaction has to be a good thing?”

    whos the idiot round here ? or more to the point whois argumentative and self congratulating

    • 1 year ago

      @northumbrian What have you got against buyers & sellers resolving issues?

      Only an idiot (like you) would not want to resolve a problem, rather than just opening a case or leaving negative feedback. Surely the seller should be given a chance to resolve a problem.

      I have seen bad feedback left and the seller replying that the buyer should have contacted them. Sometimes a problem can occur outside of the sellers control.

  • northumbrian
    1 year ago

    your inexperience is quite obvious
    we will leave you to wallow in your little pool of ignorance

    • 1 year ago

      @northumbrian You make me laugh…

      If I did lack experience, which I do not, I have the ability to learn. which you clearly do not.

      Why is:
      “Why the hell can’t it be policy to have to communicate with the seller before you can leave negative feedback? Surely the more issues that get resolved to the buyers satisfaction has to be a good thing?”

      Such a bad idea?

      Surely you have the ability to put a point view across rather than your constant unintelligent ramblings.

      If a buyer experiences a problem should the seller not have a chance to put things right, its a simple question.

  • alan paterson
    1 year ago

    @ Northumbrian, although I dont always agree with Tylers posts I certainly dont think “inexperienced” is applicable.

  • alan paterson
    1 year ago

    @Tyler, although I dont always agree with Northumbrian posts but I dont think “idiot” describes him.

    He seems to be experienced and seems to have been around for a while – rumour has it he helped introduce the factories act (the 1819 one).

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