Thursday, December 11, 2008

Amazon Opens Up Communication with their Sellers

Amazon, doesn't really do the whole community thing (eBay doesn't either, anymore) they are pretty much all business, but over the last year I've noticed a more concerted effort to communicate with their sellers. The change is happening gradually but it is happening:
  • Click-to-call Support for merchants. I've used this several times in the last few months and though the level of support depends on who gets your call (Most of there support team really goes the extra mile) over all the support has been excellent.
  • Holiday Shopping Tips in Seller Central.
  • Holiday Webinar (look for more of those in 2009)
  • The new Seller Support blog. Check out the latest blog post from Cathi C. and add this blog to your RSS reader.
This gradual change shows their commitment to growing and cultivating their 3P business and so far, though the steps are not huge, they are at least going in the right direction. I would look for more of this type of communication in 2009.

Update: Hot off the presses is this great new tutorial on Optimising the Customer Experience, from the Amazon Merchant Services team

Just my 15%

23 comments:

2009 or Bust! said...

And if eBay is trying to be Amazon, they are doing a horrible job. Where is the shopping cart and order flow that does not confuse customers!

This year, with all the nonsense we have expanded all channels -- from venues to CPC and wow, do we feel better.

We have been a stellar eBay seller, sales in the 7 figures, 99.9999+ FB, DSRs at 4.9+ and still we are always made to feel we are on the shortest of leashes. What is crazy is how we have been treated lately. I am not talking about hurt feelings over Diamond Sellers, etc. They are not even in out category – yet.

I am talking about real issues that affect how we run our business. VeRO out of control and T&S that answers in copy/paste mode. PowerSeller reps whose days are numbered (welcome the new Sellers Strategies Teams!) who get back to us in 3 days with a form response that does not even address issues at hand.

It is sort of the Wal Mat mentality – Yes, we are union-busting law-breakers, but hey, sue us if you want. If we lose, we pay. If you have 5 – 7 years we will see you in courts.

But eBay can’t have the best of both worlds – the folksy, you can find it here in our hip community vibe while making shifty back-room deals and providing second-class service.

Our eBay traffic is down, our eBay sales remarkably good. New to Amazon and learning, but happy. Loving Google and Yahoo ads. I email Yahoo re an ad issue and had an answer in 30 minutes.

Please eBay, figure this out or get some people in that get “it”. This is not an MBA class, this is real world business. Pretend you actually need sellers to make eBay work.

Be accountable to the lower traffic and unhappy noise and make some changes and please figure out how to put a shopping cart on this site. If you only owned Pay Pal it might be easier…oh wait!

Cliff Aliperti said...

The Click to Call really is excellent. I had the one really bad experience, but after that the follow-ups via e-mail were persistent and accomplished what I needed.

I haven't been a fan of their email support, though I haven't needed it in a few months so I can be hopeful they've improved this area too.

My lesson, I guess, is it's usually worth the call.

Thanks, Cliff

nadine said...

@2009 or Bust! I hear ya. It's continually mind-boggling to me how badly eBay treats its long-standing customers, not just the little ones, but the sizeable ones at well, all without the least appearance of awareness.

But hey, I got a seller's survey today. Did you get one? They asked me if I would recommend selling on eBay to a friend, if communication with eBay was easy, and did I sell anywhere else.

I think you can guess the answers. They got an earful, hope somebody listens after the data is aggregated and spreadsheeted and powerpointed for the bosses. These are questions they should have asked two and three years ago.

I wonder, is it only now dawning on the pointy-haired boss that he has alienated the paying customers during the very period he should have concentrated on making them happy and comfortable, so they wouldn't want to bother trying out new options?

Anonymous said...

From Auctiva:

We know it has become increasingly difficult to make money on eBay. Creating your own online store with Auctiva Commerce is the answer.

I thought Auctiva built business around ebay. Is that signs of the times ?

Anonymous said...

Auctiva is smart. They're capitalizing on a goldmine if they can do it right. A lot of sellers list using Auctiva. That video on You Tube makes the process look really user friendly. I just hope their idea pans out and pans out big.

2009 or Bust! said...

If I had a dollar for every eBay customer who could not figure out how to pay for an auction via Pay Pal or thought that they had paid when they did not, I would take the $$$ and buy me some Google Ads!

Where's the cart? Where's the checkout system? Insane!

I am just happy our eBay billing cycle ends on the 15th and not the 30th -- I am sure that right before and after Christmas we are going to get slammed by negatives from customers who thought they paid and never did. Right now we are going to get our 20% "discount."

By the way, our sales are way up - through multi-channel selling. eBay traffic way down, but sales about even. Need to analyze data after the Holidays to see where it all fell, but just wanted to be honest about our eBay sales too. Our eBay fees have been lowest ever based on sales amounts.

Randy Smythe said...

2009 or Bust,

I want to get positive stories about eBay. eBay should be a viable alternative for online sellers.

Thankfully you are benefiting now. Others are not but it could be their product no longer works in that marketplace.

Online sellers need Amazon and eBay to be viable sales venues, but they also need to focus their efforts on making their own websites viable as well.

Please let me know how you did this holiday season when you get a chance.

Thanks

Oren said...

You linked twice to the webinar

2009 or Bust! said...

Randy,once we get through the next 2 weeks I will be happy to give you a summary of how we did overall and specifically on eBay.

We really appreciate this blog as we feel there are things that are said here that need to be said and you do it well.

I have become convinced that most of the good that comes from eBay these days is despite its management, not because of it. Pay Pal is the perfect example -- the crown jewel of eBay acquisitions was actually forced upon them by the community.

With all that is going well for us on eBay right now, recent events have pushed into new channels at a frantic pace. Trust and Safety basically make it impossible for any mid-size company to count on eBay to be a core channel when their approach is so heavy handed. I mentioned earlier that we had our first VeRO complaint in our 10 years of selling. It came the day before Thanksgiving, was completely not a violation, and yet there it was - the threat of account suspension sitting next to our Titanium 4.9+ Dashboard -- I will email you the screen shot if you want.

We have employees with families, warehouse space, creditors and vendors and we have a threat to shut us down because a competitor has a false claim through VeRO.

The other BOG issue is the same question we will ask until we are blue in the face -- where is the shopping cart with color and size choices? It's 2008!

eBay is turning the Flea Market into a Flee Market.

At an eBay event a few years ago I was told by a (now former) extremely-high-up eBay exec that they full expected Pay Pal to be the more vibrant of the eBay/Pay Pal tandem in the coming years.

My suspicion is that Diamond Sellers are really being brought on more to get Pay Pal to be a primary payment processor not just on eBay, but on these Diamond Sellers' sites, on their competitors and ultimately when in a Pay Per Purchase (ala the new Pro-Store version) online ad revenue. Check out the way Pay Pal currently works with Yahoo paid search results.

My guess is eBay sees the writing on the wall re eCommerce and really are trying to get ahead of the curve, but in doing so have destroyed what made eBay work. They are using eBay to push Pay Pal and Skype, with mid and smaller sellers just metrics in the cog of the company's overall multi-tiered growth in online payment processing.

nadine said...

At an eBay event a few years ago I was told by a (now former) extremely-high-up eBay exec that they full expected Pay Pal to be the more vibrant of the eBay/Pay Pal tandem in the coming years.

@2009 or Bust!, that's what you call a self-fulfilling prophecy. But WTF did they have to muck about destroying eBay just to advertise Paypal? Why not just advertise Paypal heavily? It doesn't pay to try too hard to read sense into what eBay has been doing. Much of it just doesn't make any sense.

For instance, I don't they quite realized yet that the Seller Dashboard treats sellers like delinquent children, scolding them for infractions without giving enough information to make improvements.

I too got a VERO violation that sat on my Dashboard for three months and threatened me with suspension. But I can go you one better - the item it was for was an antique and contained no trademark of any kind! A Kafkaesque series of conversations with T&S led me to believe that my ad copy had been flagged by one of their computer programs as "being associated with fraud". Not that they were passing judgment on my listing, mind, except that they took it down and flagged my account with a violation.

2009 or Bust! said...

Nadine, I was told that a company registered with VeRO can claim an infraction on your account if a customer leaves a comment in your feedback that invokes trademark infringement.

For example, let me run a hypothetical. Let's say you make custom wallets and a happy customer leaves a feedback that says "Great Wallet - looks just like a Kenneth Cole!" -- guess what, if Kenneth Cole is registered with VeRO (again this a hypothetical, I have absolutely no idea if they are or are not) then your account can be flagged with a VeRO infraction!

Get three in three months and you are off eBay, regardless of whether your wallets are copies or not.

Here is the best part, eBay is supposedly hands-off in this process, just responding to complaints....but they work with the VeRO registrants on reviewing items???

So your account can be suspended either because a) eBay claims it has no control over the VeRO claims or b) because they agree with VeRO claims. Or Both. Or neither. Kafkaesque indeed!

In fact, under the hands-off policy eBay has actually enforced non-existent trademarks that are still under review at the USTO

Seems like a class action law suit waiting to happen to me....

Re the Dashboard, I think it says it all about how they feel about you. We have 4.9s across the board, 99.99++ positive feedback, titanium PowerSeller and we are doing a "good" job. Which is better than fair, poor or failing, I guess.

Diversify to other selling channels and buy some eBay stock when it goes down to around 5.00 and let's put Randy on the Board at eBay so he can let us all know what is really going on!

Joyful Alternative said...

What I hate most about buying at eBay is using PayPal, which so grudgingly allows me to use my own credit card. Why would I want to have PayPal suck cash directly out of my checking account? Why would I trust PayPal more than my credit card company to protect me from a bad seller (and what does PayPal know that I don't about this seller I'm about to do business with)? And why does PayPal warn me with tricky double-negative sentences that make me feel it's trying to rip me off?

PayPal creates a sleazy traveling carnival atmosphere

Anonymous said...

Randy-

I'm really worried Ebay is going to kick the smaller sellers to the curb in 2009. By that I mean Bronze, Silver, maybe Gold sellers.

With the recession in full bloom, couldn't Ebay make an announcement that we'll be safe in the next year or if not than we should be looking for a new site and not be looking at Ebay for our solution to internet sales?

Also, if they do dump the smaller sellers, what would the PR look like for Ebay. By their own figures, they say over a million people use Ebay as full time employment or supplemental income. Wouldn't it just look like another uncaring corporation showing disregard for the little people who made them big?

I'm worried about the future. My sales are good and I'm in good standing with Ebay. I'm nearly at Silver but I wondering if the writing is on the wall.

What do you think? Is Ebay looking to finally free itself from that flea market image and go with just big names and bigger sellers?

I'm stressed all day and night worrying about this.

Randy Smythe said...

Anonymous,

I wish I knew. I think it is wise for all eBay sellers to look at other venues right now just in case. Part of the reason you worry about this day and night, is because it is out of your control.

Don't wait on eBay to figure out what they want to be. Take control of your business now. Stay, as long as eBay is working for you, but you might consider venturing out to eCrater, Bonanzle, Etsy or eBid depending on what type of product you sell. Amazon and Buy.com are options also if you sell new product.

Don't wait on eBay.

Good Luck!

2009 or Bust! said...

Amen, Randy.

eBay management come from Bain Capital and Bain is notorious for shipping jobs overseas, radical restructuring, lay-offs, etc. In essence, disruptive innovation.

Anything is possible. And re the Pay Pal issue, I see Buy is running Pay Pal only specials now. Hmmmm....

Randy Smythe said...

2009,

Yep. PayPal is the future of eBay, Inc. and that is certainly their strategy in regards to Diamond sellers.

Get them on eBay, get them accepting PayPal then do PayPal deals with them on their websites.

TPV (Total Payment Volume)increases and Wall Street says; "see JD turned the company around.

nadine said...

Randy & Anon,

Griff is now making noises designed to placate the smaller sellers and stop them from leaving. It may be dawning on the point-haired boss that there will be a big exodus after the holidays.

I really doubt eBay will deliberately throw off the smaller sellers. I don't think they even meant to deliberately throw off the smaller sellers when they adapted DSR/Seller non-performance standards that took no account of volume, or when they counted neutrals as negatives.

As the brewsnews seller explained to me, they were only thinking in the aggregate: lower the fb percentages a little across the board to increase buyer confidence. The effect it had on so many sellers was a surprise to them; they don't think about individual sellers.

So while I don't think they will deliberately throw off the small sellers, they may do something that has the side effect of creating an even more hostile environment for the small sellers.

Anybody have a feel for what percent of Total Payment Volume is coming from the diamonds now?

nadine said...

2009 or Bust!, consultants outsource jobs because jobs are expenses and you cut expenses that way. eBay sellers are not expenses, they are paying customers, which is what is so crazy about eBay's current (& I believe largely unintentional) policy. I think eBay really thought they could add the diamonds and keep the small sellers with their breadth of merchandise.

Randy Smythe said...

Nadine,

I'm not sure they think through any of their decisions for longer than a quarter.

The sheer number of "about faces" on changes will show that.

All sellers need to go to ecommerce rehab and get off the eBay crack now.

2009 or Bust! said...

Nadine,

My point was not that eBay is intentionally getting rid of sellers, but in the overall picture, they really don't care about the ebb and flow of the sellers.

Take a look at the layoffs they recently did in customer service. With new Top Sellers Team my guess is your average PowerSeller rep is next out the door. And really, based on the (lack of) service you get from them, what is the loss?

I just think you have to put absolutely every decision eBay has made over the last few years in the context of how it will grow their Pay Pal business.

For example, Yahoo handles the Ad Word advertising. Go to Yahoo.com and do a search and the advertisers that accept Pay Pal get a special little cart next to their results, showing that they accept Pay Pal.

Of course eBay management has made major miscalculations, but in the contract of adhesion they have with their sellers, they really don't care.

Re Griff. I can only imagine how much he is consulted when eBay makes policy. Nothing against Griff, but he is completely clueless on what is really going on. It would be like asking Ronald McDonald about McDonald's business plan.

I don't think (or hope)that eBay is going anywhere, I just think they showed their hand through their actions and you can either sit around and take it, or start diversifying.

nadine said...

Of course eBay management has made major miscalculations, but in the contract of adhesion they have with their sellers, they really don't care.

Yes, I know you're right. It's just hard to wrap my head around the fact that eBay doesn't care if they keep any of their paying customers or not. At least their Marketplace customers. Maybe they care more about their Paypal customers? This is just not normal behavior for successful businesses of any size.

As for Griff, one at least expects Ronald MacDonald to say things about MacDonald's plans that are agreeable to MacDonald's management.

2009 or Bust! said...

On cue, check out Auctionbytes for a Griff interview.

Randy Smythe said...

Yeah, that was great timing.

Unfortunately for Griff, I think most folks just don't care anymore.