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eBay: A solution to feedback system woes (Sellers receiving undeserved negative feedbacks)

eBay uses a complex and troublesome transaction rating system

eBay uses a complex and troublesome transaction rating system

Throughout the years, eBay and its users have struggled with the feedback system. To give the eBay staff credit, managing the “social” aspects of the millions of transactions of such a gigantic marketplace is quite a feat, and they have slowly but surely made progress.

In my mind, the system is not perfect yet however. Mostly I look at the situation from a seller’s point of view. I have been an avid eBay Seller user for years and it is a great way to cheaply get your product/service exposed to lots of eager customers. However, I also purchase many things on eBay and it is very much a two-faced “social” community–buyers and sellers.

The largest problem facing sellers at the moment is receiving negative or neutral feedbacks in situations where it could be easily avoided with communication. When you consider that even 3-4 bad feedbacks out of 100 can lead to an account suspension and at the very least will drastically lower the rank of your items in buyer’s searches (leading to far fewer sales), you can understand how big of a problem this is. This has happened to me personally. In one month I had 3 buyers leave negative feedbacks for problems that could have been easily resolved if they had contacted me first (this after 6 months of selling the same items, providing the same level of customer service, and receiving no negative feedbacks–it was just very bad luck). My account was suspended for a full month and even 6 months later it is drastically affecting my search standings.

Consider if you were running a business supported largely by eBay customers and this happened–it could cause your business to fail instantly!

An example of the current user feedback page

An example of the current user feedback page

PROBLEMS

There are definitely problems with the system, but I believe there are easy solutions to make the eBay marketplace better for both buyers and sellers:

  • Email and communication problems. Many eBay users, especially new users, either do not check their email/messages, or have the wrong email address listed. When they don’t get an email back to whatever email address they now use, they get mad at the sellers and are likely to leave negative feedback.
    SOLUTION: implement a requirement that the buyer must confirm negative/neutral feedback by receiving an email at their listed email address (the same one the seller will be trying to reach them at).
  • Overly Impatient or inexperienced buyers. Many buyers, especially new users, are more likely to leave negative feedback at the drop of a hat. Often they do this without contacting the seller first or without waiting for a reply–the seller has no way to resolve the problem and no way to know if the buyer is unhappy before negative feedback is left.
    SOLUTION: Similar to the above system, buyers must confirm negative/neutral feedback. As an addition, the buyer must wait 24-48 hours for the seller to have a chance to respond. The seller’s response will be included in the email and on the eBay website which the buyer must use and view before confirming the negative feedback.
  • Neutral feedback is not neutral. In past years, neutral feedback was just that–it did not affect any ratings for the seller, it basically just meant the transaction never happened. 1-2 years ago, eBay suddenly made neutral feedback nearly as bad as negative feedback. A few months ago eBay revised this, but neutral feedback does still affect your buyer satisfaction rating and therefore your search results. The problem is the average buyer views neutral feedback as (suprisingly) neutral!
    SOLUTION: Like the above system, buyers should be required to confirm negative and neutral feedback and the seller should have a chance to respond. The buyer should be required to confirm the feedback on the same page as the seller’s response so it cannot be overlooked. This way the buyer’s problem could be resolved and it could also be communicated to the buyer that a neutral feedback is actually just a slightly milder negative.
  • Limited / no feedback revision. Sellers used to be able to resolve problems with buyers after receiving a negative feedback, then give the buyers the option to revise the feedback they left. Somewhat recently, eBay completely removed this option. Their reasoning was that it opened up options for “blackmailing” feedback–however this makes no sense since buyers can simply blackmail/threaten negative feedback BEFORE leaving feedback. In my eyes, all this accomplishes is making it tougher for sellers to resolve problems for buyers. In fact, it makes resolution LESS likely since there is no gain in the seller’s eyes after negative feedback has been received. More recently eBay re-implemented the feedback revision option, but has limited it to 5 revisions per year (plus 5 every 1000 transactions!)
    SOLUTION: I see no reason not to allow unlimited feedback revisions. This makes any problems more likely to be resolved to both the buyer and the seller’s liking. At the very least, Increase the number of revisions to 1 every 50  transactions or the like. This, plus the above mentioned feedback confirmation system, should eliminate any communication problems causing bad feedback.
DSR 5-star system

DSR 5-star system. Your ratings are checked against other eBay users--anything below 4.5 out of 5 stars is bad!

  • DSR / Detailed Seller Ratings 5-star system is unbalanced and confusing. About 1 year ago, the 5-star system was added to the feedback ratings. Whenever buyers leave feedback, they now have a choice of not only negative, neutral, and positive plus a comment, they also have 4 categories to rank the seller. Buyers can rate from 1-5 stars in 1/2 star increments. The 4 categories: Item as Described, Communication, Shipping Time, and Shipping and Handling Charges.While I think it is a good idea to have more information recorded other than just positive/negative, this system does not work as it should because buyers do not understand what the ratings really mean to a seller’s overall score. For example you would think 3 stars out of 5 is for an average transaction–however in reality eBay counts anything below about 4.5 stars as a negative mark!In addition, the categories do not take into account specific situations and items that should be exceptions. For example if a customer ordered a custom-made necklace and the seller advertised it would take 2 weeks to create, they buyer is very likely to leave a poor shipping time rating. This is unfortunate because it means in other buyers’ search results the seller’s custom made necklaces will get pushed below the pre-made necklaces that are shipped out immediately.
    SOLUTION: Alter the star rating system so 3 stars is average. Most users assume 4 stars is a good rating to give when they are happy with the transaction and this should be reflected in its effect on the seller. 5 stars should be reserved for really wowing the customer on special occasions. Overall, the star rating system should have less impact and sellers should be given more leniency while buyers should be more educated on the actual meaning of the ratings.

SUMMARY–easy solution!

Overall, the easiest and best update the feedback system could receive: Require buyers to confirm negative and neutral feedback before it is left. Before it can be confirmed, sellers should be given at least 24-48 hours to respond and communicate with the buyer. The buyer should be forced to receive an email at their listed email address which would contain the seller’s response and a link to a page similar to the resolution center where they would see any communications and then given the option to confirm. This would eliminate 99% of poor feedbacks as a result of email communication problems and/or buyer inexperience or impatience.

The name of the game here is communication. Almost all sellers want to make their customers happy in order to continue get more customers. They can’t do this if they don’t know about any problem and they aren’t as likely to do this if it they are going to be stuck with negative feedback anyway. If the buyers aren’t willing or able to receive communication from the seller, eBay should take every step toward bridging the communication gap.

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4 Comments

  1. I totally agree with your solutions and that ebay has a ridiculous feedback system. Sellers are getting undeserved feedback due from buyers who are either noobs or stuck up (comes from personal experiences) There are many times when a seller doesn’t know that there is a problem with the transaction until they receive the negative or neutral feedback and surprisingly, we are never informed by eBay either. I just log into my account one day and see a negative feedback which has been there for at least a week!

    There was also the time when I got a negative feedback because the mail was delayed by Royal Mail. The item was dispatched the next working day after payment was received, but the recipient didn’t get the item until 3 weeks later. No message or anything from the buyer within this time period. It was during the Christmas period as well, which was clearly stated in the item description. Ebay should be doing more to help the sellers, they are always siding with the buyers.
    Another improvement would be to allow the seller to communicate with the buyer via a system similar to Windows Live Messenger or Yahoo Messenger. It can be useful for business eBayers who stay logged in to check their messages, so they can respond quicker to messages coz there are some really impatient buyers out there!

  2. Just a quick thought on this.

    I am a 10-year plus seller and buyer on Ebay and I had a 100% rating until this week.

    Both buyers bought their respective items over 4-5 weeks ago and I received no word from them telling me their items were problematic. All was good, or so I thought.

    During this 4-5 week spell, I politely emailed them 3 times (worked out about once per week) asking for them to remember to leave me feedback on the transaction (unless there was a problem I could fix for them first). No word from them on any of these messages.

    Then, feedback was suddenly left out of the blue today after another reminder to both buyers last night – and it wasn’t good or pleasant reading.

    One was negative for they believed I “will not leave them alone after you’ve bought from them.” In fact, their subsequent email to me was of a threatening tone, so I forwarded it to eBay to investigate. Not nice at all.

    The other feedback was neutral, as it said “good transaction negated by harassment for feedback.”

    Harassment for feedback? Why don’t you tell me you’ve got everything I sent to you and leave me a very short ‘A+ seller’ comment in positive feedback? It takes all of about 5 seconds.

    Is it also too much to ask for feedback within a month of the end of the auction, especially when I have left them positive feedback on their prompt payment as soon as they had paid? They never once responded to my earlier emails, so how do I know if they have got their item anyway or there isn’t a problem with it unless I ask?

    I would understand the negative feedback if the items were faulty or not as described and I wasn’t willing to do anything about it, but this is totally unfair and unjustified. The feedback I have been given is negative or neutral purely on the basis of my regular (and polite, not pushy) communication asking for feedback. Feedback is the lifeblood of Ebay’s ratings system. Now my 100% rating is damaged beyond repair and I am fuming – this is where Ebay falls down overall. I am now rated as 99% and I’m less likely to get the prices for things I want to sell.

    There is no comeback for buyers – it’s down to sellers like me to get shafted by buyers who don’t let you know what’s going on or give you feedback in a timely manner. If I hadn’t bothered leaving them feedback, you can bet they would have been pestering me for their positive feedback.

  3. I have read the comments above and totally agree with everything said- eBay side with the Buyer. I have received negative feedbacks for not receiving parcels yet I post daily and most buyers are too lazy to check tracking number or because parcel is awaiting collection from Post Office and blame me because Postie didnt leave a calling card. I had one buyer who right on the 60th day left a negative to say they had a problem with the slippers- HELLO??? 2 months later. I phoned eBay and they said the slippers may have been brought as a gift and not used before 2 months- how ridiculous…eBay should have it that feedbacks up to 30 days not 60 days because even if sent international (apart from China as they are always slow to ship) most countries receive within 30 days. eBay also said the reason sellers cant leave Negative or neutral feedbacks as there was too many doing this in spite before BUT where is the fairness when buyers leave them against sellers. eBay really need to lift their act in many ways as so much is wrong especially as it is sellers where the money comes from the keep ebay owners rich, the fees do not come from buyers.
    My rant over

  4. As both a buyer and a seller on ebay, I can tell you – In my 14 years buying and selling, bad buyers and bad sellers are just the way business is. If it is not on ebay, it will be somewhere else. Sometimes thankfully it is on the internet where they cannot slip and fall in your store – so be thankful there.

    The Sellers – I have found that about 95 percent of sellers are truly genuine and just looking to make some extra money. Some, however, do not care about the merchandise, incorrectly claim its condition, avoid showing flaws or describing flaws, pack awful, and literally do not care about feedback because they are not power sellers and just create a new account and move on.

    The Buyers – I have also found about 95 percent of buyers to be fair and reasonable with sellers. I have also had buyers that have been the most cruel cold-hearted people that I am glad I never see face to face. They are bad enough. Some buyers have waited until day 60 to leave negative because I had to block them further from buying because they always want a special deal. Some both you like you are running a garage sale. I have in some cases sent the item, sent the money back as well. Far too many know the ebay loop holes.

    As for Ebay – I WISH sellers could GRADE and provide feedback on Ebay. Holding ebay to the flat out ridiculous high standard that power sellers are held to. Ebay customer service Rarely helps – they listen (I think) but do nothing. I have had countless times where ebay customer service did nothing to my legitimate claims as both a seller and a buyer.

    Experiences as a Buyer – I have gotten packages EMPTY, that is correct, empty, where poor packaging caused the item to fall out or post office to take the item (not ghetto here either). I have had buyers demand refund and to keep their items or giving negative feedback or other extortion methods – about half of those are stupid enough to do it thankfully through the ebay message system so ebay CAN help me as a seller. I have seen it all and nothing, nothing surprises me.

    As for Ebay and Paypal for Sellers – Think of it like this – You do not have a physical store, but if you rented a space at a mall and had a customer upset – It would be like your landlord walking over to your cash drawer, opening it, and taking the money out to give it to your customer.

    Selling on Ebay helps ONLY 5 different groups – The Buyer, Ebay, Paypal, shipping supplier, and the post office. Very seldom does it help the seller and I am sure 99 percent leave the IRS and taxes out as well because I know way too many who open multiple paypal accounts to avoid the threshold as well as hide their location to avoid paying state sales tax.

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