Bedford Ramblings
Steve Mills

eBay Chatter - Experts abound, or do they?

Posted Tuesday, May 20, 2008, at 1:39 PM
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  • While I do consider myself an ebay expert, I seldom personally offer any advice, nor would I encourage anyone to start selling on ebay and plan to retire on their income, or even quit their job. They may earn enough to pay their fees though. I have done ebay exclusivly as employment since Feb. 2000. I am thinking about going back to a regular job.

    Ebay is a tough marketplace. Unless you have an unlimited supply of "good items", a contract with someone who does, or have the ability to dig one out of a box of 100 other pieces of junk, then you will have a hard time.

    I am assuming that you offer trainings on how to list? Why? If someone cant figure it out at this point, do they really need an account? I mean, these are not the days of hosting your own pictures after scanning them (in real picture form) into the PC. You wonder about the person who paid the huge fee, then also apparently came to see you for help also? I dont want to buy anything from this fella unless I can see it, do you?

    You also note ebay scores? I currently have 75, but that is not all I have. I have had many accounts and still have several open. One for every year to be exact. The one I happen to be using this year was opened in March. The first account I opened was in 1998, so you really cant use the numbers as a measure.

    I was also going to respond to your other post, but will just do it here instead. I hope you do not mind me venting.

    The latest changes are rotten. The changes forthcoming will be worse, for me anyway. If you want ebay to be a huge Sears E-Catalog then you should like the changes, but if you like ebay as it was started and for what made it successful, then the changes are a bad sign for you too. Their goal is to encourage large ticket new items and discourage used/antique low-mid priced items. They say that is not the intention, but if you look closely, that will be the effect. This is total disconnect from the market in my opinion. There are a certain group who are looking for convienance, but many more who are looking for a bargain or a hard to find item.

    I do not blame them or hold ill feelings. They have to try to continue increasing profits. There is really only one way, earn more fees. They have a lot of junk that never sells, so they do not want more of the same. (I personally do not know why someone would relist a $5.00 many times even though it never sells, but it happens a lot. (Maybe it is the gentleman you referred to.)Anyway to the corperate heads, a cut of $400.00 is a bigger, better fish that a cut of $5.00.

    I also do not think the new feedback system will be very succesful. Within a year there will be very few regular sellers who are at the top end of the ratings. Oh well, Just one more of a long list of decisions I wouldnt have made.

    There are options though. This year I started listing many items on Amazon and I am looking hard at Craigs list. There will be more options opening Im sure. As long as ebay evolves, so does everything else....

    -- Posted by memyselfi on Wed, May 21, 2008, at 5:41 AM
  • Since you gave such a detailed response, I would like to respond in the basic order you wrote. Thanks for such well thought out and even tempered comments. Blogs often tend to get very emotional. Not that they shouldn't, but anonymity often changes the tone considerably.

    I as well have several eBay accounts. One is inactive, one is for another commercial company and one is for a new direction of sales we are pursuing. I had considered having one for the discussion boards as well, since they can get heated, but decided against it for the same reason I question the "Platinum Powerseller's" validity. They may have it, but I could not find any real proof of experience.

    As an instructor, I like to show that I have had time and still do time "in the trenches. I had an instructor in college who taught business classes, but was never actually in a business of his own. He lacked the knowledge that comes from doing, as you know well. While eBay can be fun and rewarding, it IS work and any business one starts is going to have its' challenges.

    Why do I help people learn eBay? I have many reasons, but I will try to limit them to address your comments. Even though this is a technological age, there are still many people who are not computer experts and therefore are not comfortable with what they can do, and how to work with internet marketing. I would compare it to someone wanting to start a mail order business. You can't just decide you want to be a cataloger and mail things out. There are MANY things you could learn to make the business easier and more successful.

    But you are focusing on those who want to make it a full time career and you are right, to start a full time business, you need to have a number of questions answered before you jump in. This fellow I mentioned who paid ten grand for a program did not even know WHAT he was going to sell. He had just been sold on the idea of internet sales making BIG BUCKS and did not think it through. It will be a life lesson, but I am not sure it will be a good one.

    However, most of my students are coming to find out what it is all about and to see if it would be something they want to attempt. You did not mention if you have any stand-alone web sites, but if you do, you know what a daunting task that can be without knowledge. eBay allows us to "get our feet wet" and grow, if that is what we decide. Many are content to pocket $400, to $1,000 or more in extra monthly income and not make a full-time effort. Yes, without knowledge and planning, one could end up just covering expenses, but that can be avoided.

    The next level of student for the advanced classes are those who decided to step it up a few notches or are already merchants wanting to grow another avenue of sales. They have a much better vision of what they want to sell, but need more help in marketing and internet sales. Why do they attend class? Many are like me, who can read all day long but still need human interaction to help focus the ideas and strategies. Some want to network with other sellers.

    Regarding the feedback and other changes, I would agree with some of your observations but feel that eBay, as with any business is evolving, so with many of the changes I have taken a "sit back and wait" position. I do not like being restricted in giving feedback and I saw value in having buyer feedback because it gave an indication of who you are dealing with. BUT, as with many things, it was abused and eBay has to find a way to make it better. I also have some issues with the Detailed Seller Ratings (DSR) but eBay is already showing signs of adjusting the program.

    We as a marketplace have many ideas and I wish eBay were easier to converse with in order to get those ideas across, but I have never had to deal with the hundreds of million members that eBay has, so I probably understand very little about what it takes to accomplish this.

    Yes, some of the changes favor the Power Sellers, but in everyday business the same applies. If I go to Lowes and offer to buy skids of merchandise, I get a better price. When I concentrate my flights with a certain airline, I get perks that others do not get and even the security people give perks to frequent flyers with a streamlined security check.

    The national and even world marketplaces are hit with price increases and the internet marketplace is no different. eBay raised prices but then gave discounts to volume sellers. As one who would be classified as a small seller, I felt the increase, but it is nowhere near the expenses we had as a brick and mortar merchant. My expenses in that marketplace were often 70-80 percent. With eBay those ratios are reversed. By the way, we are power sellers, but on the low end and that comes and goes with our listing activity.

    There ARE options and we sample them ourselves. We will start supplying a list of them in class, as well as posting them on our website. I discuss them in class, as well as using eBay to bring traffic to a freestanding website, but eBay is still far and above the most powerful trading platform for many of us. Even the web designers and providers I know admit that eBay gets exposure that would take them months to get and constant work to maintain, so for the small seller, it is a powerful tool as well as a selling platform.

    There is much more that can be discussed on why I enjoy and thrive on teaching, but I would be getting WAY off the subject. If you would like to continue the discussion, we could converse by e-mail, or if you are local, we might actually sit down and chat. I would love to hear of your business endeavors and learn from your experiences. I truly appreciate your comments.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Wed, May 21, 2008, at 9:50 AM
  • I came back this morning to clarify some of yesterdays comment, and was supprised to see a reply. I did not expect one to be honest. I could e-mail you, but do not see a link on the site. I could post my mail here, but all I have are connected to an account and most of those I may check every few months. I will just ramble on here this morning if thats okay.

    I mainly registered to comment about the other ebay post, but got to this one first. I re-read your original one here and do understand now what you are doing. I vaguely remember several years ago ebay starting a program. Teach Others In Your Area or something like that. I assume you do that and are concerned about the people selling questionable programs on their own. Thats good. I guess there are still some people that are intimidated by the internet. I also noticed you mentioned work several times. It is work and it is harder than many jobs. I am glad you put that out there, but a lot of times people hear only the parts they want to hear. No teacher can be blamed for that.

    As far as stand alones sites, I do not. The year before I quit working outside, I started one though. It was back in the days of HTML and really basic web shells and eventually ebay dominated my time and it was so labor intensive to keep building it that I just had to let it go. To get a 1 page listing up took several hours. When I stopped, I had about 70 dead links from the home page that I never got around to finishing. I am guessing it is a lot easier now though.

    Anyway, I wanted to clarify about yesterday. You will find a high percentage of sellers who do not like the changes, but have a hard time explaining exactly why. I have heard "Its not fair" or "its not right" or something along those lines. I think what they mean to say is that ebay is about choices and responsability, or that is what it was about at one time, but that has been chiseled away slowly.

    When ebay really started to develop, they initiated the feedback system. It was very simple overall. Buyer Beware. That was their motto and it was displayed throughout the site. It sounds ominous, but it worked. Not always, but as a rule.

    The seller has never been given choices. Only the choice to list or not. The buyer always has the choice to bid on what from whom. It is the sellers responsabilty to sell to the highest bidder and the bidders responsability to pay. Easy enough? Well it was at one time.

    There were always bad sellers, but their items generally sold for much less. It was a risk to buy from a bad seller, so many buyers chose not to. Market forces were at work even in the early days.

    Bad buyers have always been around too. Not nearly as many though, and it was somewhat more personal as payment was slow in coming and there were usually several messages sent in the waiting period. It is much harder to be vengeful or try to cheat an actual person than to mis-treat an annomamous user name.

    Then changes started coming like paypal and their buyer resouluton program. While it sounded like a good idea, it changed the focus of buyer responsabilty to buyer satisfaction. I am all for buyer satisfaction, but to what level? Buyers are all different and have different levels of expectation. Some will not be satisfied with anything, and if they have the highest expectations for everything they buy on ebay, they will be dissapionted regularly. Even I am dissapointed as a buyer at times. When paypal started forcing refunds without seller approval, I saw what was coming. A group of whining, complaining buyers that expect to be treated with kid gloves. I mean we are all grown ups and this is not (or was not)Wal-Mart after all. Not all, or even most buyers, but a growing percentage.

    Now with the latest changes, we cannot even see these individuals coming AND they can affect our ability to sell effectivly.

    There is no longer any buyer responsabilty and to compound that there are still no choices for sellers. Buyers will be satisfied regardless of their ability to reason or be reasonable.

    I would feel better about the changes if sellers could block buyers that have left a certain percentage of negative feedback or could choose not to honor a bid from a troublesome buyer. However the way the system is set up, a seller must sell to the highest bidder. A seller has a hard time even canceling a bid from someone in the last minutes of an auction. especially if they have many items listed.

    Let me tell you a story that is ongoing with me right now. As I said, I currently have 75 feedbacks 100% with an average DSR of 4.8 on this account. I am not a bad seller. Over a month ago I sold an item and noticed the buyer had private feedback. That is not always bad, but when I checked, he had a rating of 98.2. I have sold to worse, but his was about 500 feedbacks and no DSR. That told me I had a hard case to deal with. He has a long pattern of being a difficult buyer. I took the extra time to send him 2 messages saying how much I appriciated the business, and informing him I shipped the next day. I checked the item 2 times before I shipped it to be 100% sure there were no problems, and after several weeks, thought everything would be okay. On the 20th I recieved a Not as described complaint from paypal. That will be refunded along with shipping and my fees out the window. Not to mention my time. I am quite sure I will also recieve a negative (or neutral, it doesnt matter anymore) feedback. If a seller had caused so much trouble under the new system, they would have problems, but the buyer will likely continue to take advantage of the system (probably with more frequency now) and will have 100% feedback next year. Sellers wont even see it coming and at least be able to try to be proactive. This person never replied once to me after the sale, or even let me know there was a problem. I doubt there really was a problem other than this person is an immature individual.

    This is the future of ebay unless some changes are made in a different direction. Buyers need to be made more responsable or sellers need more chioces, or ebay needs to remove the trouble making buyers and sellers. It is sad that a few bad apples can ruin a good thing for everyone.

    Also to reply about how more capital always has an advantage, yes it does, but ebay used to provide a level playing field. Losing that is more frustrating to me than the other changes. Look at this town for example, or any other. When you buy anything here, is it usually from big capital? Is that free trade or monopolist protectionest trade? Oh well dont get me started on that....Sorry so long & I hope the comment was rational to you and effective in expressing my thoughts.

    -- Posted by memyselfi on Thu, May 22, 2008, at 6:26 AM
  • I truly enjoy this conversation. It is both rational and even tempered, so it is a pleasure discussing the points.

    I trust that eBay will come up with a more effective method to help sellers know who they are selling to. In between, we are going to have some :iffy: or downright unfair exchanges. I too liked to see when I had an argumentative buyer and while I do not have many blocked, I have blocked a few.

    Just as we have a choice to block buyers with Unpaid Items disputes, your idea of blocking buyers who leave a high percentage of negatives is a good one. Or at least a red flag that says "seller beware".

    For those of you who are watching this discussion, you have probably seen the type of buyer we are talking about in retail stores. Nothing satisfied them. Our daughter is working in a clothing store right now and she usually has at least one story a week regarding that type.

    The retail store usually tries to accommodate the customer as best they but if can everything fails, they may get bath-mouthed to a few of the customer's friends. More than likely they know that their friend is a tough customer and discount it, but on eBay the WORLD knows and they do not have a chance to learn about who left the negative.

    When I am a buyer on eBay and I see some negatives in my sellers feedback, I check it out, BUT I also USED TO check out the feedback in the buyers box as well. If I saw a person who seems to "argue with a rock", I give the seller the benefit of the doubt.

    As of this past Monday, that check and balance system will fade away. Sellers can not leave negatives or neutrals for buyers and after a while their record will be cleared, so you will not get a hint of trouble.

    eBay had to decide which was worse, sellers abusing the system by holding the buyer's feedback hostage until they were given a positive or sellers possibly abusing the new system. Time will tell, but I expect changes that will balance this out again.

    The withdrawal of certain types of auctions or sales (subscriptions, virtual books, etc) by eBay is also a result of a very few sellers who figured out how to manipulate the system on these items.

    What happens? Someone has now supposedly figured out how to beat the system again. Here is this morning's headline from a news source: Entrepreneur Discovers How to Overcome the Ebay Ban of Ebooks While Making More Money Than Ever

    Great! Any guess what will happen? Tighter controls and we all will pay the price.

    Anyway, basically I agree with most of the things you said memysefli, I understand the sting of having the level playing field altered. Although in actuality, eBay might have made a mistake in offering it that way to start. I can understand their reason for starting the way they did and for making the change.

    My e-mail is Steve@bedfordtradingpost.com if you have anything you want to discuss out of public view. I like the open conversation, but sometimes......

    -- Posted by stevemills on Thu, May 22, 2008, at 9:23 AM
  • Good morning, I will e-mail you this weekend sometime, but there are a couple of issues in your post I wanted to comment on. The first is more to clarify the history of ebay's eveloution, but the second will seem more arguementative and confrontational in nature and one I feel strongly about. I hope I can make you agree with me on that point.

    The first is that ebay had no choice about how it started. There was no corperate support. A national retailer would not have thought about touching it. Ebay was made by the little guy. Just a few years ago, ebay was selling banner ads ON ebay and they were pretty cheap. It has only been in the past few years that big business has shown an interest at all, and have since taken over. I do not blame anyone who may have sold out. I would have long ago, Big money retirement is very appealing to us all, and what was sold anyway? Just a domain name, not much different than any other. The key to that domain is that the little guys (buyers and sellers) made it. Without them, you have www.just_another_site.com. Now they even have sponsored links to Best Buy and Circit City and hundreds of others. They did not make a mistake by valuing the small sellers & buyers, they grew the only way they could. Just as they are trying to continue to grow.

    The second issue is a little more difficult. You mentioned feedback hostage and I have heard feedback extortion over and over and everyone I have listened to does not question it. I hear "We have got to stop these sellers from abusing the feedback system" It reminds me of the propaganda put out by our federal state and even our local governments that no one even questions. Does anyone think anymore? Now, I want you to really think about this: Does a buyer only have the responsabilty to send payment. After payment is made, do you consider the transaction over on the buyers part? I do not. I used to, but that was several years ago.

    In my opinion it is also a buyers responsabilty to 1)Contact the seller when the package arrives and let them know there are no problems, or if there are any problems, explain them (problems do happen on ebay). 2) Conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. 3) Leave appropriate feedback. If a buyer refuses to contact a seller or a seller bends over backward to appease the buyer, a very nasty feedback is unjustified in my opinion. 4) Not reverse payment in any way.

    I am sure most sellers would agree that these are buyer responsabilities, but none can be judged the day payment is sent. I do not leave feedback first any more. I have learned that a completed payment is not a completed transaction.

    I have never seen feedback extortion coming from a seller, but I have from a buyer. One example from last year paraphrased, but accurate: "I got the DVD player today. It works well, but I expected a remote control to come with it. I can buy one for $15.00. If you will send it back to me, I will leave you a positve feedback anyway." While I did not mention in the listing that it did not come with one, I didnt say it did, and the picture clearly did not have one. A somewhat legitimate problem, but when I sell a vase, should I have to say "no flowers or water included"? I could tell more stories, but there is no point. Buyers have the power to hold feedback hostage. Sellers do not. They only have (had) the power to try to use their feedback to counter it and let other sellers know what to expext.

    Let me ask you this personally, If you sold a trinket and left feedback right after payment, The buyer was one of "those" people and filed a claim, was refunded, sent back broken item, left a negative that you felt was unwarrented, would you think the buyer had still met his obligation? Would you say the transaction was overall positive? A seller had the right (and still should) to rate the transaction. An unreasonable buyer deserves a negative. Another situation, You sell another trinket and 4 weeks later get a neutral for some reason you have no knowledge of. There was no contact, no complaints and you had no idea there was even a problem. We can say the trinket was broken in the mail, whatever the case, was that a positive experience for you? Probably not. Again it is all about responsabilty. Buyers have none now.

    Yoy said you liked being able to look at buyer feedback to see some red flags? Almost all negatives left on buyer accounts were left long after payment was made. Most were in response to feedback left for the seller, but that does not de-value it in any way.

    With the exception of NPBs, virtually all negatives left by sellers are in retaliation of their received feedback. That is simply becuse when the negative is left by the buyer, the seller knows there is no hope to rectify the situation. It has pretty well come to its conclusion. There is not much point continuing. As a seller, you should be able to understand this. What that tells me is not that sellers are using their power to dominate the market, but that sellers are trying to avoid the problems and hoping to be able to provide solutions. Until a seller leaves the negative, they have hope of a good final outcome.

    Another thing to consider is that a selling agent works for the seller. That is not my opinion, but business case law. The seller goes to the agent, the agent provides the buyer. The seller is the first in the equation though. I would expect some class action suits coming in the future, but havent heard of any yet.

    Anyway, I hope I swayed you a little bit. Sorry it took so many words to try...

    -- Posted by memyselfi on Fri, May 23, 2008, at 5:36 AM
  • As in previous comments, you have some great points. I am not sure I totally agree, but I see reasonable points for your opinion.

    It deserves a better response than I have time for at the moment, so I will respond later. (in this blog)

    Thanks for the GREAT discussion.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Fri, May 23, 2008, at 8:12 AM
  • Time is short again this morning, but a promise is a promise.

    Regarding your feedback observation, the issue regarding returns or trying to extort more from the sellers has good points, but someone has to go first. If the buyer becomes unreasonable (or was from the start), there is always responding to the feedback given and/or turning it in to eBay. I know, it is not the best and certainly not the most satisfying solution, if there is such in a transaction gone bad.

    I sometimes get frustrated by buyers who do not communicate or do not understand the importance of feedback to eBay, the system and the seller. The DSR ratings are my biggest thorn. It would be nice if eBay did more to educate the buyer, who do not live and die by eBay and therefore do not take it as seriously.

    eBay throws up a pop-up comment to buyers when they are leaving a negative or neutral, but this would be a good time to go into MORE detail on what they are about to do. Good is NOT good in DSR ratings and neutrals are NOT neutral in eBay's eyes. I have had customers use the neutral because they did not know how to send me an e-mail.

    Now I include links in my listing, but trying to do all of eBay's job in education our customers in each listing is both boring and gives the customer an uneasy feeling. It is like a seller who gets progressively louder in their listing about how they do not take PayPal. Before long I get the feeling they are an angry seller and I move on to friendlier listings.

    While our rating is 100%, we do have a negative that was mutually withdrawn from some years back. It is burned in my memory quite well. A school teacher from White Plains New York bought a video tape from us. Weeks went by and tracking showed it was delivered, so it was a big surprise when a negative pops up without any communication. Dang!! She had not received it and zing!

    Now, I believe she did not receive it, but she did not care that the Post Office said they delivered it. What I think happened was that the delivery was left on her doorstep and someone stole it, but nothing would satisfy her except a full refund WITH postage. You guessed it, my feedback rating was more valuable as an Education Specialist, than it was to stand on principal and refuse the refund. It would have been nicer if we had met in the middle, butÖ.

    What I considered "seller extortion" was when they stated in their ad that they would leave positive feedback AFTER they had received the same from the buyer. Again, someone has to go first, but I see your point about being blindsided by chronic complainer as well. I too use the buyer block from time to time.

    Maybe a solution to being zapped without communication would be for eBay to require an e-mail be sent through the eBay system (so they have a record of it) BEFORE a negative can be placed, with a 7 day response period also being required. If the seller does not respond in 7 days , then they can fire away.

    Would I be upset if I experienced your scenario of a buyer gone bad? You betcha and I would go as far as I could to get it corrected and/or get them bad marks with eBay. Reporting it and pursuing it is part of my responsibility to the eBay community.

    When I saw nasty exchanges in the feedbacks, I would check even further. Since we have an opportunity to respond to the feedback, there would be a trace that I could follow to see all that was there. On the negative and neutrals we have received, we ALWAYS responded with our side of it, but kept the emotions out of it. "Just the facts ma'am" as Sergeant Joe Friday has been attributed to saying on Dragnet. (He actually may not have said that, but I digress)

    I am not sure I understand your analogy of the seller - selling agent -- buyer relationship, but I am presuming that you are comparing the eBay platform to the relationship between a real estate agent and their listing customer. I can see a connection but I am not sure that it fits quite the same with eBay.

    I see it more like a Flea Market owner who rents space to individual merchants. The Flea Market owes the merchant and buyers a safe and convenient marketplace, but the sales are strictly between the buyer and seller. I doubt that many Flea Market owners are sued because someone sold a counterfeit Beanie Baby. I would however, expect the market owner to refuse space to someone who was cheating. After they were aware of it, they should take action.

    Your turn. Have a good weekend.

    -- Posted by stevemills on Sat, May 24, 2008, at 9:14 AM
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