For about a month I’ve been scribbling a post about eBay feedback and the recent changes. But it was getting long and convoluted and rather like one of my university history essays. How to make it digestable? Then I remembered one history essay I wrote about the League of Nations…. and Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. So, here are my own Fourteen Points on eBay feedback…
1) Feedback is the backbone, the soul, the beating heart of eBay. It was a stroke of genius and ahead of its time when introduced in 1996. Probably the biggest repository of UGC in the world, it has been mimicked but never bettered and without it eBay would never have prospered.
2) Feedback has always been flawed. For instance, retaliatory negative feedback (from buyers and sellers) was always a problem hampering honesty. The immortality of negatives left a decade ago from members long since suspended was unfair. The rigid refusal to recognise repeat feedback from regular buyers and sellers was irksome. But, on balance, it has served, eBay, the community and shareholders very well.
3) Feedback has hitherto served buyers less well than it has served sellers. But sellers cared more and shouted louder. Buyers who felt let down, didn’t always speak up with justly deserved negative feedback. Those buyers just walked silently away from eBay, grumbling, never to return again.
4) Some sellers, not a majority, not even a sizeable minority, would use the threat of a negative feedback to force a buyer to accept poor service. Some buyers would do the same to bully sellers.
5) Some sellers would retaliate with negative feedback and use the Mutual Withdrawal system to distort their reputations. Habitual or regular poor service or bad experiences were not reflected in otherwise glowing feedback profiles
6) Most serious and honest sellers (the majority!) don’t care that they can’t leave negative feedback. Indeed most have never left negative feedback for a buyer and if they have it was seldom done. For most, negative feedback left for buyers by other sellers isn’t of interest or use and screening buyers in this way is a costly waste of time.
7) Feedback with its quirks, foibles and subtleties was useful but to the uninitiated it may as well have been in Sanskrit, with some profiles requiring the patience and dedication of the brains of Bletchley Park to decipher meaningfully.
8) The first wave of Feedback 2.0, where granularity on the accuracy of descriptions, quality of communication and the speed and cost of despatch and shipping was welcomed by buyers but sellers had little invested in those little orange stars because all that mattered was keeping a good overall percentage rate of positives.
9) eBay actually only has three levers to influence buyer loyalty because the majority of the buyer experience is determined by sellers. Those levers are 1) coupons, vouchers and offers, 2) The quality of the platform, specifically the search experience and checkout and 3) seller quality. Previously, eBay has weeded out only the very worst sellers.
10) The new system will mean that buyers leave more negative feedback. This is a good thing: lots of sellers, frankly, deserve it. On the flipside, eBay need to ensure that honest sellers don’t have their reputations unfairly tainted by unreasonable buyers. The Seller Non Performance criteria are needlessly draconian and understandably making sellers uneasy and giving undue influence to individual buyers.
11) Linking Detailed Seller Ratings (DSRs) to the things that sellers most care about (visibility in search and selling fees) is a stroke of genius. It’s a carrot and stick approach: slip down too low and you’ll be buried at the end of search and browse results but excel and get a whack off your fees.
12) It’s pure eBay to let the buyers decide and a very bold experiment in consumer power. The success of your eBay selling is determined by your buyers and sellers have a vested interest in keeping as many of their customers as possible as happy as possible.
13) The best sellers will prosper from these changes. The ‘extra mile’ that has long been the hallmark of the cream of the crop will get the recognition they deserve. Good sellers have nothing to fear: if those DSRs are sliding, they can put in a course correction and reap the rewards. Only truly terrible and the obstinate will be damned for more than 30 days. That said, when eBay is a major source of income, 30 days of no sales could destroy your business.
14) eBay’s changes to feedback (specifically judging Seller Non-Performance on feedback left by buyers without a meaningful right to appeal) are risky: many sellers feel alienated, angry and unloved. The general themes are correct: it is right to concentrate on the buyer experience, feedback did need improvement, some sellers need to improve. But, as ever, the devil is in the detail. It remains to be seen whether this may be the last straw for many excellent sellers that eBay should want to retain.