Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Let the Games Begin! The Feedback Wars

I was looking around the eBay message boards, to see what sellers were saying about eBay's announced changes and it seems clear to me that the Feedback changes are the most talked about.

I've held off writing about Feedback before because I'm sure I will get lots of comments calling me an idiot, but let me give you a little perspective. When I sold on eBay, for a short period in the summer of 2005, I had passed JayandMarie in Feedback. I believe it was 250,000 or something in that neighborhood (I'm sure Jay would know). I reached that level with a 99% FB rating (this was years before DSRs) I mention that to point out that I know a little bit about Feedback on eBay. GlacierBayDVD has been closed since Jan of 2006 and it is still in the top 20 all-time in feedback on eBay.

So when eBay announced that sellers will no longer be allowed to leave negative or neutral feedback for buyers, I smiled. I knew exactly what was going to happen -- sellers would revolt and would find ways to get around the system if possible.

Feedback is so ingrained in the eBay ecosystem that the announced changes in feedback are more worrisome for many sellers than fee changes themselves.

Okay, so here goes -- I welcome opposing points of view. I like the changes eBay has made to Feedback. Here's why:
  • 100% feedback is not real feedback. If buyers are afraid to leave negative feedback for fear of retribution then you are not getting accurate feedback. This is why buyers began using neutrals to express their dis-satisfaction for a transaction. If you take away the fear of retribution you will allow for actual, valuable feedback.
  • At GlacierBayDVD we always gave positive FB as soon as the customer had paid. In 5 years I maybe gave 100 negatives to buyers (in over 500,000 transactions)
  • Sellers are concerned that if they can't retaliate, they will get more negs and they will soon see their accounts suspended. This is a valid concern and eBay needs to evaluate their suspension rules to take this into consideration becasue feedback ratings will drop across the board.
  • Sure, this will finally end the reign of the 100% FB sellers but they will still rate higher than the bad sellers and isn't that what feedback was meant to do, provide transparency and increase confidence that the transaction would be completed to your satisfaction.
  • Look at the ratings for DSRs, the vast majority of buyers rate 4 or better and they are anonymous and can't be retaliated against. The same thing will happen with feedback once the fear of retaliation goes away.
  • Sure there are going to be crackpots, unreasonable buyers or those who try and extort concessions to avoid a negative. Let me tell you from experience. The number is very small and it won't affect you like you think. We had a customer service policy at GlacierBay that if a buyer threatened negative feedback in exchange for some concession on our part, we told them go ahead and leave the neg. Many of them did, but we survived just fine. We just added their id to our BBL (Blocked Bidder List) and moved on.

My suggestion to sellers, is to concentrate on adjusting your business to the new fee structure, Best Match and Finding 2.0 and let Feedback take care of itself. eBay will need to adjust their algorithm to account for a decrease in feedback across the board because the numbers will drop for everybody.

I may not respond to each comment left on this topic, but I do welcome your comments even if you think I'm full of it.

Just my 5 cents!


Anonymous said...

Great points on the feedback initiatives, eBay has really missed the boat here. They justify these changes with a slide demonstrating that retaliatory feedback has increased by 8x in the past two years. The implication is made that all else is equal. This is simply not true.

The dramatic increase in retaliatory feedback coincides exactly with the introduction of mutual feedback withdrawal. Before this policy, it was rarely worth a large seller’s time to respond to a negative feedback with another negative feedback. In the past, we would only leave negatives for the most egregious of buyers. With the introduction of the MFW policy, eBay practically demanded that seller’s reply to all negatives with like kind.

The introduction of restrictions on “sub-par sellers” last summer further accelerated the problem. We now feel forced to leave a negative for every one we get. While in every case a negative could have been avoided by the buyer with better communication, better understanding, more realistic expectations, etc, there are few cases in which we would have felt compelled to respond with a negative without the possibility of feedback withdrawal. Elimination of the policy would probably reduce the number of negatives we leave by 95%, but it would still encourage a buyer to consider repercussions of her actions, something that is lost in the new system.

I suspect that other sellers would see a similar decrease in the numbers of negatives they leave if MFW was repealed. A simple negative feedback left search shows the tremendous correlation between MFW withdrawn and negative feedback left. Just take a look at some of the leading MFW sellers like white_elephant_media (1382 withdrawn) or thevideobarn (1351 withdrawn).

Randy Smythe said...

I really appreciate your comments. The MFW was in place when I was selling but noy until my last year I beleive. If you look at my FB page for glacierbaydvd We had a total of 3 Mutual FB withdrawels.

I think that eBay made this decision strictly from Surveys of Buyers without discussing it with sellers (that may not be exactly true, but...) I think what you will see with FB from here on out is high 80's and low 90's ratings which is very similar to Amazon.

In the world we live in a 90 is still an A it should also be an A in FB. If eBay doesn't account for this change then there will be problems.


Randy - As I posted on the Powerseller Board I can support the changes, but I believe they need to be balanced by preventing Non-Paying Bidders from leaving feedback and an improved response to bad buyer behavior. Having said that, I believe only allowing sellers to leave positive feedback for buyers is a bit amusing. It's not unlike a school superintendent telling his teachers that henceforth they can only give their students A's. You and I both know it would make more sense to just eliminate buyer feedback entirely since it really will now be totally meaningless. Why are they keeping buyer feedback? Could it be those buyers love to get feedback (as long as it's the good kind?)

P.S. Congratulations on your blogging successes. I saw you were quoted quite extensively in an article about the eBay changes on Yahoo News yesterday.

durgidog said...

Amen Randy, I couldn't agree more with everything you've said about the new feedback system. You and Gary Hendrickson of The Auction Rebel are the lone sane voices I've heard in a sea of negativity on the web about this issue. I can't for the life of me understand why sellers with such disdain and distrust of their own customers bother to sell on eBay.

As a buyer on eBay, I'm thrilled that I'll finally be able to more accurately judge a seller's customer service based on an HONEST feedback system, before I buy. As a seller, I'm happy to give up my 100% feedback, with the knowledge that my excellent customer service will keep my ratings well above those who don't care about customer satisfaction.

Roo said...

I disagree about the general attitude against 100% feedback.

Resolution of an issue resulting in removal of a negative feedback is not a dishonest act. Or something to be ashamed of. Or a sign of obsessive compulsive behavior. At least not all the time.

Like has been pointed out, the removal of feedbacks is a transparent metric. And, that can be factored into judgment of a seller by anyone. The fact that eBay rounds it up out only to 1 decimal place resulting in one number looking different is only a minor non-level playing field issue.

I do consider it a perception reward affecting buyers for the work it takes to achieve the rating. It has a positive effect financially, but is also a moral booster for those who have worked to achieve it - whether the person who has to negotiate with the buyer, or the person who is packing the box.

We have 100% feedback with over a 40,000 rating. It has been earned day after day, week after week for a period over 8 years by our TEAM. We think it accurately reflects our efforts to provide the best quality customer service, without being spineless, corrupt, or unethical.

But, also do not underestimate the time that those who use feedback extortion as a drag on the limited customer service resources of an eBay seller looking to grow their business. Prior to adopting a feedback only upon receiving feedback policy, we instantly gained back 10-15 hours per month in the silliest wasted hours spent in our career. Feedback extortion evaporated, and simple return policies could be deployed that expose those attempting weak discount extortion.

Sure, in the old world where you were shooting for a 98% PS rating which was worth very little, I can see the logic in the philosophy of taking shots on the chin vs. the expense of actually providing 100% complete customer service. I don't disagree with the practice for others that choose that.

But, it is not such a big deal to resolve most issues anyways - most of the time the issue is easily resolved with a repair, replacement, or refund. Simple and quick resolutions that just needed an email or phone call.

We just got one yesterday. The guy does not believe our description was accurate on a $9.89 transaction for cat collar magnets. He thought the cat door was included.

Should I not write or call him to see what would have resolved his issue?

He never told us about it before leaving negative feedback, and asking him for resolution and removing the feedback has been and is a smart logical business practice for certain businesses in certain categories.

In over 80,000 transactions on eBay, there are only 12 people around the world who absolutely refused to engage us in reasonable resolution. I have one more who I have not yet engaged, so we will see his reaction. I consider 3/4 of them to be ones we drew the line and took on the chin. We just have different lines.

We know that in a competitive market, differentiation is key. It is difficult to tell a 99.6 from a 99.7, but a 100 stands out in a 1-decimal plate environment. Make no mistake it has historically been a part of our success.

That being said, we are now 4.9, 4.8, 4.8, 4.6 DSRs now. Quite average on eBay, and not even qualifying for the 15% fee discount. We went from A+ students to C students. Overnight. Tell me how that is supposed to feel, seriously.

The whole playing field that MATTERS just changed completely. And, after 12-month numbers roll out, we may or may not keep our 100% rating.

And, that will be sad for both business and emotional reasons. We don't plan to let it go easily.

I hope that perspective can be respected.


christopher said...

I am glad to have found your post. Overall, I am happy about the changes. We have worked very hard to maintain our 100% rating.

We have had 3 out of 3 negs withdrawn in 3 years. If someone will contact us, we always work it out so that the customer is satisfied. All 3 negs were left before contacting us. With that being said, we still don't qualify for 15%.

We ship same day for orders before 3pm, but our items are large and we ship internationally, so even our powerseller rep said that we will probably not be able to get our DSR rating for shipping up. Our ratings are 4.9, 4.9, 4.9, and 4.6 with over 5000 total. I know that is much in in comparison to some of you.

The reason I am glad, is because we compete against sellers that dropship from the same supplier and that are happy to make $5 on a $100 item or $10 on $200. We can sell at a higher price because of our feedback rating, plus we are the only ones that ship internationally. Now we will get a 5% discount, that our larger competition does not qualify for and should be higher in the best match search results. Also, we will save on listing fees. They do add up quick when you list many items in the $100-$300 range.

I agree with billstuff, if we can only leave positive, why not just eliminate the extra time of even leaving feedback.

I know this will hurt us some, and we will probably not be 100% any longer, but I do think it will hurt our competition more than us.

If anyone wants to see a good example of why they should have the new system, here is the web address for a page that someone made about one of our competitors:
and they still have 98%, so why would the buyers think twice about buying from them. I know, because I have access to the suppliers inventory database, that they list and sell items that are out of stock and have been for a long time, but they make the buyer leave positive before they will give their refund.

Anyway, I think my comment is getting too long, so that's all I will say.

Randy Smythe said...

Andy, I respect the 100% FB seller. My friends at MovieMagicUsa and GrapevineHill have 100% FB and different views about FB than I do.

On the new eBay 100% will be a real difficult thing to attain so will actually be more valuable than before. But, as Christopher said, His competition will be hit just as hard or harder.

Anonymous said...

Well, reason 1 of 2 for still hanging in with eBay may have been eliminated: the previous investment in our hard-won feedback record since 1998. I suppose that will start getting dinged when the nitwit faction gets loosed.

There's still the #2 which is the ever-shortening list of items that have potential for getting more than one opening bid. But, maybe we can forget that too if we start getting "disadvantaged" and our items buried.

We do our best, but they seem determined to drive us off...

Dan said...

I feel sorry for the longtime 100% feedback sellers, like Grapevine or Moviemagicusa.

It is obviously a point of pride for them to have that number; I can only see them expending WAY too much valuable payroll time and labor in a struggle to maintain it with the new feedback rules...

I, myself, have 9 years on ebay, currently at 99.9% with over 25,0000 positive and only 16, I know how much labor it takes up to deal with the cranks and idiot buyers out there!

I think alot of us high feedback sellers will have to come to new terms with keeping up our standards of ethical and fair customer service-and accepting that we will have to create new limits for dealing with high-maintanence buyers...otherwise, I'm going to put in tons more worktime every week-thus, earning even less overall money for my time.

Dan said...

Oop, sorry, in my previous posting, I accidentally put an extra zero in there! I have 25,000 positive and 16 negative!

Randy Smythe said...

Dan, I couldn't have said it better myself. It certainly is a sad day for all of you wonderful high FB sellers.

In the new environment you will still be the highest FB sellers just not perfect or close to it.

When High Maintenance buyers realize they can't extort additional favors with the threat of a Neg they will hopefully stop. I'm not holding my breath.

Anonymous, your comment "We do our best, but they seem determined to drive us off" is the crux of the matter. Sellers just want a venue to sell their items without having to jump through hoops contantly. When the effort expended is greater than the value received it is time to re-evaluate.

Pippi said...

If a buyer emails a seller with a thread to extort a concession in exchange for positive feedback, the seller should forward the email to eBay. I would love to see every seller that happens to do that - there's power in numbers....

Suzanne Wells said...

Randy, I totally agree. If sellers are doing what they are supposed to, providing a quality product, shipping quickly, resolving disputes in a professional manner, and honoring their policies, they really shouldn't have anything to worry about. Sellers can still file unpaid item reports, and with enough of these, deadbeat buyers will eventually be suspended.

I think our energies should be directed at creating strategies to deal with the fee changes, rather than fearing that eBay has taken our power away. Hopefully, this move will week out the sloppy sellers that shouldn't be selling on eBay, or anywhere else for that matter.

Keep on bloggin'!!!

Tony P. said...

Randy wrote: "When High Maintenance buyers realize they can't extort additional favors with the threat of a Neg they will hopefully stop. I'm not holding my breath."

I understand what you're saying, but nothing is going to stop them from trying. The general consensus is that more of that type of buyer is coming to ebay - just like more scam sellers are coming.

Even if the overall Feedback effect is balanced, the individual sellers' business can be affected quite differently.

As more scam-buyers try it (and DO it, 'cuz what do they have to lose?) many Good sellers will be disadvantaged. Yep, you know that, but you'd say it will balance-out.

Not for the small volume seller. Add to that small volume seller, high dollar items and ebay has just disadvantaged the items it claims to want.

Most low-dollar sellers rarely get a threat for a partial refund, for a $5 item. Doesn't make sense, does it? But I sell some $200 items and they are ripe for 'trying to pull a fast one'.

It won't happen that much. Yep, that's what I'm hearing, but that isn't correct. The scammers actually do want the goods, but they also want to get some money back. That is the current atmosphere at ebay and ebay has helped create it.

CHEAP - that's their motto. No help with scam sellers - it's every man for himself - that's their actions. Ebay has fostered a cesspool, by their example.

The good, the upstanding and the reputable are being preyed upon. No matter if they're sellers or buyers. Large volume sellers may make a go of it, but small sellers just can't weather this coming storm.

Randy Smythe said...

Tony, I will say this. I haven't sold on the platform for 2 years so if the number of buyers conduct business that way has increased I was unaware.

Apparently eBay knew something would happen because they increased a sellers BBL (Blocked Bidder List) to 5000 I beleive. My guess is that sellers will help other sellers out and webpages of bad buyers will spring-up on the web with the eBay ID's of scam, bad buyers.

Just as the % of bad sellers was small so is the % of bad buyers but there are certainly more buyers than sellers.

eBay will look at the metrics and make adjustments. My suggestion to sellers is that they really think hard if they want to be part of the new eBay. I wish it didn't come down to that.

tony p. said...

Randy, unfortunately, the number of buyers that do try to 'pull a fast one' has increased. That's not just my own personal experience, it is reported by every seller that I personally know.

Take a look at any of the ebay boards' threads about this No-Neg policy. You will see this particular point of contention being the main subject. Sometimes, with a recent example.

My most recent example was in Dec. for a $155 auction. It was just a request for a "small refund" - not what I would call an outright SCAM. This seems to be the norm, anymore. The buyers just want to get some of their money back.

Judging by what I have experienced, and what I've been told, this is the largest group of Bad Buyers. They simply believe they are justified in trying to get a "refund". Other than the scam/sleazy/cavalier atmosphere that ebay has created, part of the blame could be laid upon the Economy, in general.

Just for giggles, consider for a moment that what I've written is True. If so, the main point is not so much that ebay's latest action will foster even more such behavior, but more to the point, this will add to the site's bad reputation.

An honest person may hear of a buyer scamming a seller into a partial refund and that person may NEVER do such a thing, but they will have an impression of ebay, won't they?

It's all about the DETAILS.

Randy Smythe said...

Tony, this is certainly more of an issue with the smaller and medium sellers than it is the big sellers.

An eBay employee commented to me that he was surprised that the top sellers at the forum in DC weren't as upset about feedback as they were with shipping DSR's keeping them from getting any benefits (15% discount) or disadvantaging them in search.

I do believe that there is no way that eBay will repeal the feedback change no matter how much sellers complain. That is unfortunate.