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eBay presses on with feedback system changes

Auction site won't back down to strike pressure

eBay will this month roll out controversial changes to its feedback system.

eBay will roll out a host of changes to its feedback mechanism this month globally, including the controversial elimination of sellers' ability to leave negative feedback for buyers.

eBay announced the feedback changes along with modifications to other areas like its fee structure in January, prompting many sellers to complain and even organise a strike.

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However, eBay has stuck to its guns and proceeded to implement the changes, seeking opinions from buyers and sellers while refining and modifying some details.

For eBay, the overarching goal for the changes is to improve the buying experience within the marketplace and lead sellers to improve in areas such as shipping, fulfillment and communication.

One key area eBay identified as in need of improvement was its feedback process, intended to let buyers and sellers rate their interactions with each other.

With this review system in place, users could rate and find out the quality of buyers and sellers, propping up those who played by the rules and warning against inept or malicious participants.

Unfortunately, according to eBay, the feedback system in recent years became an increasingly common retaliatory tool used mostly by sellers to punish and intimidate buyers.

This in turn yielded artificially inflated positive ratings for many sellers, while discouraging buyers from leaving candid and honest feedback and from making future purchases, according to eBay.

To remedy this, sellers now will only be able to leave a positive rating for buyers. Meanwhile buyers will retain their ability to rate sellers both in general - positive, neutral or negative - and in more detailed ways. In addition, eBay is doing away with its "mutual feedback withdrawal" option, which allowed a buyer and a seller to agree to simultaneously remove the ratings they had given each other.

To counterbalance the sellers' loss of power, eBay is instituting several measures, such as removing negative and neutral ratings left by buyers who don't respond to complaints that they didn't pay for their items. Moreover, eBay will from now on - and retroactively - remove negative and neutral ratings on sellers from buyers who are suspended from the marketplace.

eBay is also giving sellers new options to proactively block certain buyers from doing business with them, such as those who have a certain number of unpaid-item and policy-violation claims. In addition, eBay is launching a new reporting hub that sellers can use to inform eBay about problematic buyers.

While eBay is to be commended for striving to improve the buying experience, the feedback changes could use further refinement and review, said Jonathan Garriss, executive director of the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance (PESA), a group of large sellers that has often been highly critical of eBay.

For starters, eBay has never been very aggressive or particularly interested in disciplining buyers who violate its policies, so the new reporting hub and the negative-feedback removal of bad buyers will have little effect unless eBay pumps up its enforcement, Garriss said. "Supposedly, eBay has always been policing buyer behaviour, but it never happened quite right," he said. "Many sellers will confirm that buyers have tended to not be held to the rules."

Garriss, also CEO of Gotham City Online, an apparel store on eBay is also concerned about what he calls a lack of transparency in the detailed ratings that buyers can leave for sellers. As it stands now, sellers get aggregate results every month for these so-called DSRs (detailed seller ratings), and don't know how individual buyers rated them.

This lack of transparency lends itself to buyer retaliation, and more so since eBay this year started tying DSRs to sellers' visibility on search engine results and to fee discounts, Garriss said. Now that sellers can only leave positive ratings for buyers, eBay should tie specific DSR evaluations to individual buyers, thus giving sellers a chance to, if necessary, defend themselves from unfair actions, he said. DSRs let buyers rate sellers specifically in four areas with a scale of one to five stars: accuracy of item description, communication, shipping time, and shipping and handling charges.

Nonetheless, Garriss said that PESA has been encouraged by eBay's willingness to listen to sellers' concerns, and by the company's pledge that the changes in feedback and other areas are open to revision.

Brian Burke, eBay's director of global feedback policy, said that there will always be sellers who are intensely opposed to the feedback changes and buyers who will try to abuse the system, but eBay is convinced that ultimately everyone will benefit.

"Most of the sellers understood why were doing what we were doing even back in January when we made the announcement," Burke said.

"There will still be sellers upset about the changes, and some buyers will try to abuse it. Hopefully, the reporting structures we've put in place and the policy changes will provide sellers with the protections they need, and we'll correct things as needed on that front," he said.

This is the global rollout schedule for the feedback changes:

  • May 12: Australia
  • May 15: UK, Ireland
  • May 19: US, Canada
  • May 20: France, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Belgium
  • May 21: Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Malaysia, Philippines
  • May 22: Germany, Austria, Switzerland

Some changes will be implemented the week of May 27 worldwide.

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