Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Dolphins Keep Getting Caught in the Net.

I get emails quite often lamenting the changes eBay has made to the marketplace business. eBay's Trust and Safety drags their fishing nets through the marketplace hoping to get the sharks that are causing the most trouble, but more often than not they get the dolphins too. Dolphins are those sellers that get suspended by eBay because their system automatically singles them out for skirting the rules or something more grievous, yet if a human actually looked at the sellers account they would find it was a simple mistake and now they are screwed.

Last week a seller reached out to me with his story. I have decided to post his letter to me because I know him and can vouch for him. Unfortunately his story is not unique. 

Yesterday I was a good eBay Seller.  I had sold more than 50,000 items totaling more than $2.5M over the past 4 years.  My feedback was well over 20,000.  Today I am a bad eBay Seller, according to eBay, and am currently serving Day 1 of my 7 Day suspension.  I’m sure this has happened to other eBay Sellers before, but it has never happened to me and I am compelled to describe what I am going through.
As you can imagine, I personally don’t list thousands of items on eBay; rather I have a 15 person staff that helps.  Despite specialized employees and regular training, we are human and, as Alexander Pope wrote in An Essay on Criticism, “To Err is humane;”.  One of my employees made a mistake, which is to say I made a mistake as I am responsible.  We listed an item that was reported by a rights owner as being counterfeit.  I can assure you with 100% certainty this item was not counterfeit; a fact that is completely irrelevant to eBay.  It was reported as counterfeit so it will be treated as such.  Disregarding the truth, eBay has suspended my account for 7 Days because of this mistake.  One item out of more than 5,000 items listed in the past 60 days caused all that follows.
In reality, a 7 Day suspension impacts much more than 7 days worth of business.  A 7 Day suspension really means that your account is marked as “No longer a registered user”, any communication with any other eBay member is severed and forbidden, previously sold items are removed regardless of status (paid, unpaid, pending shipment, etc.), current listings are removed and no listings are accepted for the next 7 Days.  So I am receiving scores of emails from eBay customers with pending transactions very nervous about what happens next.  In all honesty, I am also nervous about what happens next.
I have decided for the benefit of my family, my employees and my customers to attempt to work through this disruption.  My mother told me many times growing up that it is not what happens to you that matters, rather how you deal with it that is important.  I have eliminated all of my personal expenses that I can, furloughed 12 of my employees for the next week and communicated as well as I can with my existing customers of our situation.  Thankfully my family, my employees and a vast majority of my customers understand.
It is important to know that this situation started with a mistake.  Completing Pope’s quote, “To Err is humane; to Forgive, Divine.”, one asks when has eBay ever forgiven?  Yet eBay makes many admitted mistakes and we not only forgive them but are required to do so.  Pope’s essay also speaks of how criticism can sometimes cause more damage than the action being critiqued.  I believe mistakenly listing one item out of 5,000 does far less harm than putting 12 employees out of work and countless customers’ purchases in jeopardy.  This approach cannot improve the buyer’s experience on eBay.
This situation has finally convinced me that I am in a dysfunctional relationship with eBay.  Usually I am treated as a captive customer with no alternatives.  At best, my concerns are received as a nuisance and at times, my questions concerning their policies are met with outright contempt.  Yet, I still sell on their site and still pay my fees.  I refuse to be a fool and a victim any longer.  As soon as I am back on my feet, I will not sell another item on eBay.  I will not accept another payment via PayPal.  And I will tell anyone who will listen about my experience.  My relationship with eBay will end here.
One More Ex-eBay Seller
This seller's story is similar to many others over the past few years. eBay doesn't care because the numbers are not substantial. The dolphins continue to get caught in the nets and eBay just shrugs.

Update: I requested information from the seller I quoted above, on previous VeRO violations, as a few commenter's have mentioned, eBay does not suspend on the first offense. 

According to the sellers history they received 3 VeRO notices within a 6 -day period for the same item and they contacted their TSAM and were told they would not be suspended. I beleive the monthly VeRO limit is 5 notices. Of course that didn't hold true. 

Further Update: It gets even better. The original VeRO claim for a counterfeit item (they were not selling a counterfeit item) was on Oct 23rd and the other notices on the 29th were follow-ups to the first. So there was really only one VeRO claim.

Imagine what happens to sellers who do not have access to a TSAM.

Just my 15%


David said...

Counterfits is actually one of the things eBay hasn't gotten strong enough on. A friend of mine bought a Gibson Tony Iommi SG on eBay for $2,000. Turned out to be a counterfeit, my friend lost 2 grand. Part of it was my friends fault. He paid, and then the seller refunded and claimed he had "paypal problems" and demanded a money order. That should have been a red flag.

Part of the problem is that, there are a lot of stupid people buying on eBay.

99.9% of "bad buying experiences" would go away, if the buyers would simply take 5 minutes to read the ad, and check the sellers feedback.

Since buyers are way too lazy to do this, now we gotta deal with the eBay nazi's getting rid of the dolphis

Anonymous said...

No David, the problem is not buyers. The problem as always is ebays cheapness and willful negligence.

Someone can offer something on ebay for $2,000 without ebay having fully vetted them. Had this scammer been required to register to sell on ebay under rules like Amazon has most likely this scam would never have happened. How often do you hear about these scams on Amazon? Never. Why is that do you think?

Anonymous said...

Randy, Why can't ebay have the manpower to just pick up the phone and call this dude before they go nuclear on him? This shows ebays cheapness and total disregard for their business "partners".

I was shocked recently registering a new ebay seller account and the verification process on my CELLPHONE was totally computerized. Never talked to anyone. After all the damage fraud has done to their brand you would think ebay would have much tighter seller verification. They just don't get it and never will.

Anonymous said...


We WERE Platinum Powerseller with 4.9 DSR across the board. Vast majority of our business was coming from

We started getting too many orders from scammers. told us not to ship items that we suspect coming from fraud buyers. We started canceling and refunding orders coming from buyer who had status as "Not a Registered User" and have been on site for less than 3 days.

Now, few of those buyers left us negative feedback. Last 60 days feedback dropped to 97.3 %. eBay decided to nuke our account too. Several buyers wanted to revise negative feedback and I could not send them invitation due to eBay sitewide glitch. I did try to explain situation to eBay. But in phone conversation with Trust and Safety, account Rep was shouting on me and laughing at our account status. It's really sorry situation to be in. Fortunately, less than 10 % of business comes from them. We have between 98 - 100 % positive feedback on other 15 venues we sell.

On positive note, We just started building our own website.


ms.pat said...

Ebay has always gone cheap when it comes to things like this. They rely on automatic functions and policies to solve the problem...which is why many good sellers get suspended for no good reason. Apparently Ebay feels there is an endless supply of sellers out there so they discard sellers without a thought. That attitude is going to creep up and kick them in the butt one day soon!

nadine said...

david, truly guarding against counterfeits requires registering sellers and understanding the marketplace well enough to police it.

eBay won't do the first because it depends on inflated numbers of users, and it farms out the second to VERO members and automated programs.

Having done its policing without any knowledge of its own, eBay hands out punishments automatically too.

I don't know why they even bother to hire T&S people. You should see them complain on, how bad it is for morale to have to parrot the company line & never be able to help anyone who calls.

Anonymous said...

Ebay does not suspend on the first vero, (verified rights owner complaint) There must be more to the story that the seller is not telling.

Concert Popsters said...

The vero program is used just as much to abuse legitimate sellers as it is used to catch bad guys.

Ebay does not even do minimum verification when someone registers as a vero owner. Because of that, aggressive sellers can register as vero owners for products and then wipe out their competition through filing vero claims. This happens quite often and ebay turns a blind eye to it.

Also, a lot of manufacturers do not like their products being sold on ebay so instead of reigning in their distributors, they just nuke all the ebay sellers of their products via vero. Ebay actually encourages this.

For ebay, these vero abuses will never be addressed. Because it is much cheaper for them to sacrifice a few sellers than defend lawsuits from major manufacturers.

Just another way ebay screws their sellers.

HummingBird said...

Why don't these stories get printed in the big mainstream media? When they write about eBay, they should mention this as one of the things eBay is willing to do its customers.

In the past year I had a counterfeit violation for a legitimate item (the VERO disagreed), a Mature Audiences violation for an item that wasn't, and one I don't want to mention because it would identify me to eBay. My policy compliance in Seller Dashboard was "Failing" (red) for 5 months. I sell over 1000 items a month so I didn't get suspended. But it sure makes me nervous, and encourages me to sell elsewhere.

Robyn - Chique*Life said...

The seller really didn't "make a mistake" at all. He properly listed an item.

There are a couple of big problems here - most immediately recognize that the failure of eBay to provide actual customer service is a major one.

But the VeRO program is a sham. I am a rights holder for a certain trademark, and once I registered (I did have to "prove" my claim) I could report anyone, any time, and claim any infraction. And eBay would allow that.

Some rights holders simply use the program to bully sellers so buyers must buy directly from them; some think they are "protecting" intellectual property by banning sale on eBay in direct violation of the First Sale Doctrine, and some have other issues.

Frequently in bigger organizations a low level employee with little or no understanding of IP law and practices is monitoring the eBay VeRO program.

Holding the rights holder accountable is part of the process too, and in this case would have completely changed the outcome. But somehow that has never seemed to register with eBay executives.

AuctionWally said...

I have never seen a company that has so many obvious answers to the problems that face it, yet refuse to acknowledge those problems.

I have two good solutions for eBay.

1) Get a few licensed auctioneers on the board.
2) Take about 10 million dollars from the advertising budget and put it into customer support & training.