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