Thursday, August 02, 2007

Good Sellers Caught In eBay T&S Net!

Scot Wingo's post yesterday Neutrals are now negatives in TnS policies... hit a nerve, with me, on two levels: first because Kevin Harmon of Inflatable Madness is a friend and secondly because I know the hard work and additional expense he's put in to turn this around. He isn't presently restricted but who knows how long before the hammer comes down.

What really gets me, is the idea that neutrals are now included in the calculation. I'm sure eBay looked at the numbers the first time, going by negatives alone and realized it wouldn't affect enough sellers, so to reach their restriction quota they extended the net to include neutrals. Including neutrals is just plain wrong in my opinion. Customers leave neutrals for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with bad customer service, as Scot points out in his post.

Kevin, posted a response to Scot's post and I've asked if I could include it here:

"Hey Scot, great post and I am glad that somebody has brought this out publicly.

Indeed, we are in the crosshairs right now - in fact it feels like we are fighting for our lives. We all know that eBay lives in its own ecosystem and makes its own rules - we large sellers just have to accept that. When eBay suddenly begins evaluating their sellers on brand new criteria - criteria which even defies eBays own current feedback policies as you describe above - well, it just makes it very challenging for us.

I recently volunteered to explain why we have recently strayed from our historical excellent feedback rating and what we are doing to stop it. In the interest of understanding, here's an excerpt from a document I wrote:

"Origins of the Decline:

Inflatable Madness has been selling on eBay for over 5 years and has achieved Top 25 status as a seller. Historically, our feedback rating has been very good – as high as 99.5% and averaging 99.0% for over 4 years.

In an effort to find more profitable items that could compensate for the fall of 2006 store fee hike, we decided to begin selling used product. We began buying used DVD’s and Video Games and selling them on eBay. We also started a disc repair center to repair scratched games and movies.

There were 2 challenges that developed because of this move:

1. Used product doesn’t always work. No matter how much time and effort we put
into inspecting, testing, and repairing discs, we will still average 5% defective.

2.We were not ready to handle the customer care that was needed by people receiving
a defective item – in short, we were not prepared to become a liquidation seller vs. a new sealed seller.

These issues combined together created feedback problems which we had never experienced before, which caused the rapid fall of our feedback beginning in December of 2006.

How We Are Correcting The Problem

I want to clearly state here that Inflatable Madness is 100% dedicated to improving our buyers experiences on eBay. There is absolutely nothing that is more important to me right now than to fix the problems we have been experiencing. Due to the low margin business we are in, even a minor limitation placed on our account would put us out of business, and so we have taken many different steps to improve our customer experience:

a. We hired another full time customer service representative in June. This representative both assists with answering email and processes returns. We are also able to refund faster than before.
b. We put a new returns process in place. In every package that we ship out that contains a used DVD, Video Game, or PC Game, we place a flyer which instructs the buyer to email a special dedicated email address if their item proves defective, and we answer that particular email immediately with instructions for return.
c. We began an aggressive Mutual Feedback Withdrawal campaign, which to date has removed almost 1,000 negatives. This confirms my personal belief that we were not responding to complaints quickly enough, and were receiving negatives because of it. However, we ALWAYS refund a buyer if there is a problem. So, a month after a neg was left, the buyer had been refunded and was then satisfied with the outcome, as the Mutual Feedback Process has proven.
d. We hired more shippers. The end result here is that we can ship an order almost 24 hours faster than before, and we can deal with any inventory stock out issue in a more timely fashion.
e. We completely rewrote our inventory software and completed a 100% recount of our entire inventory – no small feat for an 8,000 sq ft warehouse with 125,000 items in it. The end result is that our inventory control is nearly 100% now and we have stopped overselling items.


I am pleased to say that our efforts are paying off. In June and July, we had the highest number of positives that we have had since Christmas and, even better, we have reduced our negative and neutral feedbacks by 50% over the previous 3 months. We still have work to do to get our feedback back to the excellent rating we have enjoyed for 80% of our time on eBay, but we are making strong progress and will continue to do our best to improve the buying experience"

Scot, we have expended tons of time, energy, and money fixing and improving our system to make us a significantly better eBay seller. I really believe that I have done everything in my power to correct this problem. All I can say now is that it would be absolutely tragic for me and my 16 employees to have all of this time and effort go to waste.

By the way, our 5 year lifetime feedback is: Positives - 297,769 Negatives - 4,921

Kevin Harmon
Inflatable Madness LLC"

I agree with Scot, that something needs to be done about sellers like Bargainland (and it appears they have been dealt with) but good sellers like Inflatable Madness and many others in a similar situation are finding that their continuing existence as a business, is now in the hands of a judge using faulty judgment. If you look back at 90 days worth of data to come up with your numbers, you need to give the sellers 90 days to make the changes needed to right the ship.


Sue said...

I don't really understand why there hasn't been more publicity about this. IMO, it's one of the stupidest things eBay have done for a long time.

The post I wrote on this a couple of weeks ago has been one of our most commented on posts ever. It seems that there are a number of sellers out there whose accounts are being restricted for no reason that they can see: sellers whom I can see have around 3% neg/neut feedback and NO outstanding Paypal issues are being restricted, and other smaller sellers are finding themselves suspended or restricted because of the actions of just one customer (for one example that was left for us, a buyer who'd tried to claim her item was lost in the post when in fact it had been successfully delivered).

Frankly, I think this new policy - well-intentioned though it undoubtedly is - undermines feedback entirely. If a buyer leaves honest feedback, they're going to get dealt with under an "agressive MFW program" and pushed into removing it. So what's the point of leaving it in the first place? So bad sellers will get away with it, just as they always have.

feather said...

I'm sorry Kevin Harmon is a friend of yours, but he should have been shut down by Ebay a long time ago! If anything, his rating would be lower if people were actually allowed to revise their feedback. Maybe I'm biased since I lost nearly $200 as a result of this man's business, but I'm certainly not the only one.

He has received an unsatifactory rating by the BBB and needs to clean up his business.