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eBay Detailed Seller Ratings – Sellers Pay the Price as Opinion is Allowed to Trump Facts

May 15, 2011

For those who have read this blog or followed me on Twitter for a while  now, you will know that I have my issues with the way eBay treats its sellers.  From communications pieces that walk a fine line between being somewhat misleading and reading like outright lies to the complete neutering of sellers in their ability to hold customers accountable or curb buyer abuse, the number of unnecessary issues that eBay creates between itself and sellers seems to grow with each policy change they make.

Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly why eBay makes the changes that they do.  They have shareholders to answer to and profits are the number one concern.  Increased profits can only be achieved by keeping customers happy, so the changes they bring in are for the benefit of those who buy on their website.  They are a business after all.

Obviously, I am also a completely willing participant in their game so the weight my complaints can hold can only do so to a certain degree given that I continue to go along with all that they do to make operating my “business” increasingly difficult from a “profitability” standpoint.

The ultimate stance for me to take against them would be to pack up my store and take my business elsewhere.  That is much more easily said than done though.  Not only have I invested countless amounts of time, effort, and money into building my store to what it is today, but where else can I reach literally tens of thousands of potential customers, have a solid inventory management tool at my fingertips, and generate the sales necessary to move my hobby into a financially self-sufficient situation without starting from scratch?

They have me in a complete catch twenty-two.  I’m damned if I stick with them, I’m damned if I leave.  So I choose to work with the devil that I do know rather than jump ship to a devil that I don’t know.

Even with that being the case, I believe very strongly that my complaints or issues need to be voiced.  Without doing so, the improvements that I feel are needed will never have a chance to be heard and I believe that raising these issues can ultimately lead to positive change, which is what I would like to focus on.

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Today I am focussing my attention on eBay’s “Detailed Seller Ratings” or DSRs.

When they were first introduced I thought the DSR idea was a great one.  Buyers would be provided with a much clearer picture of what to expect from a seller in terms of the service they provide to their customers.  Each area is extremely important to the buyer experience and I truly believe that the program is an important one for eBay to have in place.

Using a rating scale of 1 through 5 (lowest through highest) DSRs are broken down into the following categories: accuracy of the item description; communication; shipping time; shipping & handling charges.

What I take issue with about the program, however, is that DSRs ignore a very fundamental principle of making a valid assessment: the DSR system relies solely on the opinion of the buyer while never even remotely considering the facts that a seller can present to justify their position and/or policies . It also provides no means of appealing poor ratings that in some cases are completely unjustifiable in spite of the fact that the seller may possess important information that could discredit such ratings.

There is much that goes in to selling on eBay that many users who only purchase on the site simply do not understand.  I am not trying to question the intelligence of that segment of eBay users, I am simply stating a fact since I myself was once one of those users.  It was only once I started selling on the site as well did I truly appreciate why sellers operate the way they do and why certain charges are what they are.

The single greatest problem with DSRs centres on the fact that every single buyer will have a unique level of expectation of the service they receive from a seller.

Some buyers may consider a flurry of e-mails from a seller providing updates on the status of their purchase as more of a nuisance than a quality effort in communications.  I use eBay’s system to keep my customers up to date from the second they purchase an item until the moment it has been shipped.  There is literally nothing more I can do to keep them abreast of what is going with their purchase outside of hourly phone calls to see how their day is going, yet I somehow still receive an occasional DSR rating that lowers my overall performance level.  Why this is, I have no idea.

Others buyers may find a cross-border shipment time of six business days to be unacceptable even though the postal service itself identifies that timeframe as its best case scenario.

I once received a low DSR from an international buyer who paid for an item on a Tuesday and was e-mailing me on the Friday upset that it had not arrived yet.  This buyer’s expectations were not only unrealistic but completely irrational, yet I was penalized because he expected next day delivery on an item that he knew was being sent by regular mail.  Of course, nothing eBay can (aka will) do about it.

Finally, – and this is something I have endured and been impacted by far too often – many buyers do not seem to realize that there is a far greater expense involved in shipping an item than the dollar amount shown on the stamp or shipping label.

I have taken the time to do the math and I have done the necessary homework so that my shipping rates are based on the real expenses associated with the fees for shipping services and the materials needed to ensure the items arrive in good condition.  I do not generate profit from my shipping fees.  Even with this being the case, I occasionally find that I have received a 1 or 2 on my DSR rating because the buyer feels that my charge is too high.

eBay itself indicates that “sellers may charge for the cost of the actual packaging materials, along with a reasonable handling fee to cover the seller’s time and direct costs associated with shipping”, yet they do absolutely nothing to enforce or defend this right of sellers.  In fact, rather than enforce it, their suggested remedy to sellers is to offer free shipping, which simply is not an option for most sellers, particularly those like me who mainly sell low-priced items.

As things stand right now, eBay is allowing buyers to indiscriminately impact the very people it relies upon to generateits own income without providing any defences for those sellers to fall back on.  Just saying something does not make it true though.  Evidence and facts should be a mandatory part of the equation.  It is time for eBay to realize this and the make changes needed to help limit the abuse and unfair assessments being handed to sellers based on nothing but the opinions of the poorly informed.

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If you sell on eBay and have horror stories of your own, please get in touch by posting a comment, connecting on Twitter (@bb_bros) or Facebook, or by e-mailing me at bb_bros@hotmail.com.

Until Wednesday, all the best in your collecting pursuits!

Ryan

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