eBay’s level-playing field was one of the features that marked it aside from the competition and set it on course for phenomenal success. The level-playing field promised equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome and the same fees and rules for all. If there were benefits or incentives, they were transparent and obtainable on merit. All sellers were created equal and could aspire to and achieve greatness through only hard work, customer satisfaction and playing fair.
Unlike today, big businesses didn’t have a hotline to eBay HQ. The creation of ‘diamond’ PowerSellers (where big sellers or retailers new to eBay can negotiate terms with eBay execs) put a great big rut in the increasingly unlevel playing field but eBay was firm that standards wouldn’t be compromised.
To quote eBay’s Dinesh Lathi last week: “In terms of the Diamond Tier of PowerSeller, we are willing to negotiate special pricing with any seller who can meet the very high customer service and volume requirements we demand of these sellers.”
Enter Smartbargains. A big American retailer and, according to Randy Smythe and Tamebay, one of eBay’s newest ‘Diamonds’. Their Feedback is shabby and they don’t seem to be selling much either. Justifiably, there have been highly critical voices from established sellers. After all, Smartbargains are presumably getting preferential ‘diamond’ fees whilst falling short of standards other sellers are held to.
When I worked for eBay, as eBay UK’s Community Manager, I was often asked how I coped with the seemingly endless chorus of complaints from members on the discussion boards. I’d usually point out that much of the chat and discussion wasn’t negative at all, and actually there was a lot of positive comment and amazing member-to-member help going on out there. Secondly, I’d add that much of it was justified and, even if it wasn’t, every member had bought the right to whinge as much as they liked because they paid our wages. And then finally, I’d suggest that the clamour was a good thing: “They complain because they care. When they stop caring, that’s when we’re screwed.”
So as eBay follows this course with diamond powersellers, they should beware. An amazingly passionate, knowledgable and hard-working group of people are watching and scrutinising. When a ‘diamond’ slips, it’ll be big news. So, it might be time to tighten up the entry criteria of these essentially endorsed sellers.