Battered eBay (EBAY) is getting an earful from sellers outraged about new feedback and product-search policies. For example, there was the episode below at the recent eBay Live seller conference, in which a seller/heckler shut a presentation down. (The audio’s hard to hear, but the video will give you a feel for the state of eBay-seller relations these days.)
Meanwhile, we spoke to the seller/protester in the video. Here’s what he had to say:
- He sells $300,000 a month of stuff on eBay
- eBay’s changes almost put him out of business overnight–until he figured out how to game the system (instructions below)
- eBay’s changes will put thousands of sellers out of business
- eBay has taken a formerly democratic system and made it a police state
- If there was any viable auction alternative to eBay, sellers would leave en masse. As it is, many sellers are throwing in the towel, setting up their own sites, and buying Google and Yahoo keywords.
- The eBay Live 2008 conference was a ghost-town: In previous years, it has been standing room only. This year, caverous conference rooms, banquet halls, and concerts were practically empty
- A Chris Isaak concert capped off the eBay Live event. The room was so empty, the seller said, that he had a table for 10 right at the front all to himself. “It was like having Chris Isaak play in my living room.”
The eBay Changes That Have Outraged Sellers
eBay sellers are angry about two changes:
- Feedback. eBay eliminated the ability for sellers to give feedback on buyers. The seller we spoke to felt that this feedback had kept the buyers honest–for example, allowing the sellers to respond if the buyers trashed them for selling a “refurbished” product instead of a new product when the product had been clearly described as “refurbished.” With the new system, sellers have to suffer in silence. eBay also began treating “neutral” feedback on sellers as “negative” feedback, on the theory that buyers are “scared” to give negative ratings. The seller believes that “neutral” ratings are common and that this unfairly punishes quality sellers.
- Search rankings based on seller feedback rankings. eBay previously listed search results by time remaining in each auction. Now, says the seller, they rank based on the seller feedback rankings (top-rated sellers highest and so on). The seller believes that this buries 99% of eBay listings and therefore shuts down sales for sellers who aren’t the top-rated sellers in each category. The seller predicts that this change will put thousands of good-but-not-perfect sellers out of business.
eBay’s response to the latter criticism is that it doesn’t care if bad sellers go out of business. It wants to provide a better experience for buyers, not sellers, and if this means the weaker sellers crater, then so be it.
This is a noble plan in theory: Amazon has built its reputation on serving buyers, and for far too long eBay has paid too little attention to the buying experience. In current practice, however, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Why? Because, according to the outraged seller, eBay doesn’t just list the best-rated sellers at the top of the product search results. It also lists the newest sellers at the top (because they have perfect ratings). Specifically, it lists sellers who are so new that they don’t have any feedback yet.
Which leads us to how our angry seller learned how to the system.
How To Game eBay’s New System
After watching his listings disappear from eBay’s search results because he didn’t have perfect ratings, our seller discovered something. If he created a new user ID, his listings would appear at the top of the search results. So now he creates new seller IDs until each gets a less-than-perfect seller rating, at which point he retires them.
How much of a difference does this make? The seller says the products with new (perfectly-rated) IDs sell at a $10-$50 profit. The products sold with his own feedback rating, meanwhile, lost $10-$20 per sale.
Sounds like it’s time for eBay to revisit some of these recent changes…