Friday, March 07, 2008

Sellers and eBay in a Bad Marriage - Where's Dr. Phil?

I'm a divorced dad, so I have some personal experience with what happens to a marriage that is failing. In my case, I tried to make the marriage work until we had a “Come to Jesus” moment when she said she didn't want to. I wasn't going to stay in a marriage that didn't work. Many of my friends, going through the same thing, have not left for various reasons (kids, financial, fear, etc.)

Why do I bring up divorce in an ecommerce blog? Because, marital problems are exactly like what is happening between eBay management and eBay's sellers. They are in the middle of a bad marriage and looking at their options.

I'll try not to take the analogy too far, but somebody in the field of Psychology should do an in-depth research piece on this situation; the relationship between eBay and its seller community. The parallels to a bad marriage are as clear as a bell.

For many sellers, eBay was their first love, but they have taken so much crap, for so long they've lost any hope that the relationship can be saved.
  • eBay brings in a counselor (Corporate Blogger) to improve communication and sellers just scoff at the idea.
  • A great many eBay sellers stay on eBay because they have no other option, much like staying in a bad marriage because the fear of the unknown is greater than the pain of the marriage.
  • A great number of sellers have families that depend on their eBay income, so they can't just walk away.
  • Many eBay sellers have had affairs with other marketplaces (sorry I couldn't resist)
  • The communication between sellers in non-existent and eBay management is oblivious to the pain sellers are feeling.

So what is the result? Sellers basically have heard "eBay Speak" for so long that they no longer believe anything that eBay says and are not likely to ever again.

In my marriage, when the problems started to become evident, my wife and I would have these deep discussions about every 3 months. I would say, "I'll change" (because of course it was all my fault :)) we would get through the pain of the moment and then three months later it would happen again. Soon I was calling these little get togethers "The Quarterlies". BTW, not a very good idea if you want to have peace in the household. I got tired of the complaints; she got tired of the lack of progress. We separated, got back together and then decided this wasn't going to work.

The relationship between eBay sellers and eBay management is very similar. When things were going great back in "the day", everyone was happy, but soon sellers began feeling neglected or talked down to. eBay management publicly state that sellers are important and they care about their businesses, yet their actions say something completely different and behind the scenes (around the water cooler) they say "all they ever do is complain, nothing I/we do is ever good enough for them."

Sellers on the other hand, look for fulfillment elsewhere, trying different marketplaces in the hopes that they can make one work, so they can leave eBay all together. They go on the discussion boards and bitch with their friends. They get advice from friends, who say, "why don't you just leave". They hold out hope that they can still save the relationship, yet they won't believe anything that eBay says.

So, eBay hires a "Corporate Blogger" (No, Dr. Phil) who says all the right things:

"RBH: My words go straight up onto the blog, unedited. It's got to be transparent.

There's got to be an authenticity to it, an honesty to it, otherwise there's no point in doing it in the first place. I'm going to open up my e-mail to questions from folks. People can comment, too, and comments are going to be open. You're going to get the good, the bad, and the ugly."

Yet he has no experience selling on eBay, so immediately his views mean nothing. eBay needs a marriage counselor that both sides can agree on. Someone who can tell sellers when they are out of line and someone who can hold management accountable, but you know that will never happen because this is business not a marriage.

eBay management would do themselves a big favor, if they looked in the mirror and said "this is much more than a business". They have to understand that eBay is everything to many of its sellers. Unfortunately, I fear that the damage has been done and nothing that eBay management can say will improve the situation.

You may think this analogy is a stretch, but if you look at the situation honestly you can see there is a lot of truth to what I'm saying.

eBay is much more than a business!

Just my 12%


Anonymous said...

The fees were high and numerous, but now I suppose I'll end up paying ALIMONY instead!

Randy Smythe said...

Anonymous, :))

Yeah, that is actually where the analogy fails. At least in a divorce they split the family property and somebody gets paid.

EGNATZ1 said...

The sad thing about this Randy is hiring the right person would have done wonders to create communication between we the sellers and Ebay.
However the guy they hired has already lost all credibility. In the interview he gave he said he contacted numerous outside blogs about what was really on the minds of Ebay members . Yet we find you weren't contacted Ina wasn't contacted Tamebay wasn't contacted on and on.
Then a coporate spinmeister says on Inas blog that he mispoke and had only talked to people internally. Yea you are going to hear a lot from people in the company about what is wrong with the company.

They needed to hire someone like you who has been there as far as selling and sees the problems and pitfalls that sellers face every day.
Also someone that can tell when a new policy or change will have the opposite effect they desire .

Just as everyone has told them about best match for months we now see its having the exact effect we all predicted lower sell through site wide and lower auction prices which I am seeing personally.

Tony P. said...

Hey Randy, your analogy isn't a stretch, because it is *personal* and not just a business. Emotions do come into play.

On the boards, many peeps will talk that "all business and no emotion" line. Once in a while I get enough of it and ask them to take a little journey with me.

We go to your B&M business and you sit down on the curb outside. I go inside and torch the place. As you sit there crying about all your hard work for the past 10-15? years, watching your business burn down in front of you, I tell you how it is ONLY a business.

I ask if you have insurance - you answer yes - I tell you that everything is OK then. That's when you get emotional all over my arse!

Sorry, got a bit OT. What some peeps say about the seller/ebay relationship is how it is akin to a battered wife situation. This analogy allows for a bigger degree of heart-ripping torment than your analogy.

That is, unless you actually said the words "The Quarterlies" out loud. Then *you* got ripped. ;-)

Randy Smythe said...

Tony, yeah I didn't want to go for the battered wife syndrome, but you are so right about the emotion. It's a business to those who depend on it and their life for those that do.

BTW, I'm not very bright sometimes and I did say "The Quarterlies" out loud.

Joey said...

Your analogy is spot on.

The good news for me is I have already been sleeping around. So I went from a steady 200-300 item store to only listing a dozen or so "core" items a month and saving the store fees.

I have found other online channels to fill the void. I miss the old Ebay but things change and I have traded my Ebay "wife" for a younger sleeker and more attentive to my needs "wife".

I won't be subscribing to the feed of the Ebay corporate blogger either. By the way I am a subscriber to yours and Ina's blogs.

Randy Smythe said...


While I'm not an advocate of "sleeping around" in the marriage sense, I certainly am in this analogy.

Sounds like you made the right choice. Thanks for reading also.

Randy Smythe said...

EGNATZ1, I don't really have a problem with a corporate blogger talking about Skype, PayPal, classifieds etc. but if they want the guy to communicate with sellers, they got the wrong guy.

The need someone who has been on this side of the fence and the postion can't report to PR. You might as well name the new blog "Ebay Speak" instead of eBay Ink.

Tony P. said...

The thing that struck me was this one quote:

FSB: Did your wife have anything to say about the recent policy and fee changes?

RBH: We're mostly buyers, so it didn't really affect us.

Mr. RBH has already brought an assumption to the job and, in my opinion, it illustrates his lack of understanding from the very onset. I can easily explain what I mean with one, simple sentence; different people/sellers may have various interpretations, but that won't alter its true meaning.

Everything that occurs on the ebay site, effects everyone that uses the site.

No 'one' is immune and no one 'group' is ever isolated. To see the Buyers and Sellers as separate groups, with separate issues, is an ebay doctrine. Mr. RBH needs to step back and see the real picture, if his writings are to have any merit.

freaknoodles, by no means implying that it's always the guy's fault or that Mr. Noodles is ever wrong, said...

Great post, Randy. In the eBay marriage in crisis, you would be the sympathetic friend who listens to your complaints and understands, making you feel like you're not crazy, he is wrong, you do deserve better.

Sue Bailey said...

I don't think the analogy is a stretch at all; I think it's spot on.

Randy Smythe said...

Noodles, I've missed you. Would you have a problem if Mr. Noodles said "The Quarterlies"? Tell him hi for me and that my Angels will get his BoSox this year.

I'll have to get back on SquidU and catch up.


Randy Smythe said...

Sue, I don't think the divide between eBay and Sellers is too wide yet, but it is getting so close that I'm losing hope that it can be fixed.

Marty @ ohexpress Video & Music said...

You should get a Pulitzer for this!

Anonymous said...

Very well said Randy. The sad truth is by hiring someone like this to try to bring sellers together with management its just another slap in the face to sellers. If they had hired someone with good, solid, selling experience - someone we could talk to who could definitely relate to our problems, that would be a help...but just another ebay joke! We all to a man believe that this new fellow will be schooled by ebay and will just be another of their plastic parrots....much the same way that the town hall meetings are "genuine."

I believe ebay is hurting...many think I'm crazy for thinking that but they've gone down the wrong path and I believe its hurting far more then they'll ever admit. I know they've lost business and continue to do so. Its about to get much worse as that May deadline approaches and as more and more sellers actually experience these changes for themselves. For ebay its kind of like they puffed their chests up and and gave an ultimatum - now that they are seeing the signs of the damage its causing...what will they do? I expect they felt the clamoring of sellers would have died down by now - instead, its just as high as it was. Sellers are not only miffed by the changes but are insulted by being called "noise" and the wares they sell no better than flea market items. Donahoe will probably never realize the damage his careless words have caused. As for the changes, I have the feeling the ship will almost sink before they yell uncle and by then it may be far too late.

By the way, Randy, I'm a neighbor of yours right next door in Yorba Linda ;-)

Randy Smythe said...


Thanks for the comments. Drop me an email and we can get together for coffee sometime and commiserate about eBay

rksmythe at yahoo you know the rest.


Anonymous said...

How long did eBay make his contract? 60 days? 1 year, 5 year or 10 years? Most likely its an at-will contract which means they can terminate him anytime they feel like it....if he rips into their culture in his first article and the President of eBay implements all his ideas, that would keep my interest but otherwise, I agree with the rest of the commentary. Anytime eBay has ever messed with the natural eco-system they have blown it. Their wisest acquisition (of PayPal ) was forced because they couldn't get rid of them with Billpoint. Their recent policies are a disaster and some rookie blogger isn't going to resolve anything.

Linda said...

Hi Randy,
Love your analogy of this!
I have been in a Separation with eBay since the 9th of February after finding my soul mate {wagglepop}who cares deeply for me and will help me to build a stronger relationship than I've ever had in my Life!!!
I will finally be Divorced from eBay come May 1st and will hold a big celebration with my new found Love {wagglepop}.....
I was very scared of leaving and starting over but I will not be used or abused any longer!
Thanks for sharing this it personaly touches home as I have been through a real life divorce and survived and grew I now go through my divorce with eBay because I know I am going to be very happy with my New Love!{Wagglepop}~~~Linda