Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Raging against the machine

I repeatedly say that I'm not a nice person, but, nasty as I am about feedback whiners, I have to say that I am a LOT nicer than the sellers who withhold customer feedback in order to do their own feedback-hostage-taking. Some do, and won't leave it for a buyer unless the buyer's praise is safely posted.

And while it's not right, I understand it because sellers have almost no power anymore. We can't give the nastiest buyer a low rating. If sellers use that weak leverage to get their rating a smidgen higher, it's little enough.

The fact that we get to deposit the buyer's money before we send him anything is not as great a power as you might think. Buyers can still ream us.

A favorite thing is to pay for the paperback, receive it, claim that it never arrived, and demand a refund.

It's a tactic for small items only. The seller --- OK, we make very little money on a 1.98 paperback, so giving 75 cents for delivery confirmation isn't worthwhile, and increasing the shipping cost to cover tracking bumps our item way down the list for a potential buyer. Buyers appreciate us for our real-cost shipping, and pass over some flat-rate-$3.50 shippers to buy from us instead.

We can clearly state that we take no responsibility for packages lost by the PO and that the buyer should arrange for tracking or insurance.

That's pointless. eBay eliminated our ability to put confirmation or insurance on the invoice, even as options. Some sellers were abusing it, taking the money and running, and maybe there was no other way to stop that, I don't know. But the level at which buyers can rip off sellers is centered on small sales for these reasons.

Here's the thing that I'm having trouble doing the Serenity Prayer about:

Our gold medallion as a "Top-Rated Seller" is gone again. Last year I wrote about how we lost it for awhile, over an anonymous buyer complaint, and regained it fairly quickly, but now it's gone, probably forever.

Only this time, it isn't because our ratings have fallen. They've gone higher. They're the highest we've ever had.

Turns out that "Top-Rated" isn't just about ratings. You have to make enough money to attain Power Seller status. That unrelated factor -- income level -- makes you ineligible to be ...um .... to be top rated. Even if your buyers adore you and your ratings are through the roof.

It's wrong. It deceives the buyer. You search for, say, copies of Jane Eyre or something. The list appears. Gold medal sellers' copies come up first.

You notice that some gold medal sellers have scores of 98 or 99. But a seller with no award, and low on the list, has a score of 100%. To a buyer, the fact that the 100% seller has no medal means something. Logic indicates that there must be some factor on which that seller, despite the 100% score, is displeasing buyers.

You think. But you're wrong. That's a small seller, who's making lower profit for eBay. eBay can deny the seller the reward associated with the medallion, and take a higher percentage of that seller's profit. The small seller is pleasing customers but eBay really doesn't care. It cares about the money that comes in, and only that.

They could at least rename their medallion something honest, like simply "Top Seller." To claim it's awarded for ratings is a lie.

This is why feedback means a lot to us.

In a way, it seems like it should mean less. The greatest ratings in the world won't get us "top rated," and it's, of course, self-perpetuating. We sell less because we're lower on the search results, or because we appear to, in some mysterious way, give at best unexceptional customer service.

I expect it's gone forever, and I also expect that we should hang it up. We've been there 13 years, we've outperformed most sellers, and yet we're considered, in some way, a drag on their enterprise.

But we own a lot of inventory, so winding down the business would still involve selling off stuff. Going back to working for others..... well, getting hired at over age 55 is near impossible, and we have an established business and an established, long-term, and fabulous, reputation.

Quitting is always an option but until we commit to going or staying at eBay, I want that high rating because it now is the only thing that makes us stand out. And I skirt the edge of debasing myself to get it, and I blow off steam here where I can.

I won't feel too terrible about throwing my fits here. This is only part, but still, an important part of my life, a frustrating experience of watching a business that for awhile earned us a nice living go downhill and not only affect our income but threaten to deprive me of doing the one thing I'm best at, which is matching books with readers. The blog might as well show it, warts and all, but other topics are on their way. Really.


Dann said...

Is Amazon an option for you? I buy some stuff via Amazon Stores and generally enjoy the experience.

Catherine said...

Thumbs down to ebay!

I second Dann's suggestion -- maybe check out Amazon's marketplace?

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Dann, you inspired me to go log in to amazon under our old selling ID, to see if we'd be an old or a new seller. It does not look like our seller account would bring up our old high ratings. We'd be either a no-ratings or an "I'm new!" seller.

Which isn't terrible. eBay's advantage to us is our stellar rating, plus linking the picture to the item. We can upload item pictures to amazon but it's removed from the listing - you have to tell viewers to leave the add-to-cart page and go look at the photos and look for the one under our name. BUT it could be a good thing, for some of the less common titles. It's worth thinking about.

Yes, we used to sell on amazon marketplace - in fact that used to be our main venue. We've also in the past signed on as a seller at choosebooks, abebooks, and some other auction site i forget the name of, but none did as well for us as ebay did.

Their policy is so strange to me. Nobody wins. But that's a whole 'nother rant.

Dann said...

Call me an idiot...or naive....but I trust the Amazon brand. I have never noticed an overt feedback system there. But I have bought lots of stuff from them and from their "stores" affiliates.

I'm probably just lucky, but I've never had a bad experience on Amazon. My wife and I have had a couple of mildly uncomfortable experiences via eBay.

The feedback systems...or lack thereof....didn't make any difference.