eBay (the ‘e’ is always small) is an international, consumer to consumer website focused on trade and commerce. Those who have items to sell – Sellers – list those items on eBay for sale in an auction or fixed price format. Buyers browse the website and, if they find an item they wish to buy, either put in a bid or just buy it outright if that is allowed. It is a simple idea that allows people from all over the world to meet and buy and sell: A global bazaar.
The IDEA is simple; implementing it is, however, a complicated process. eBay has had to develop a raft of rules and procedures to make sure Buyers and Sellers know what to do, that mistakes and problems are kept to a minimum, AND to try to block the fraud and abuse that such a system is prone to.
They seem to be having mixed success in all of these, to judge from the complaints and rants being expressed by Sellers and Buyers on the eBay Community forum. There are constant allegations of fraud and chicanery, frequent pleas for advice, and a lot of confusion about what’s going on by people who clearly have not read any of eBay’s rules or guidelines and have no idea what they’re doing. It is quite distressing.
One charge that is repeated over and over, however, is that eBay is unfairly taking the side of Buyers in almost all conflicts. For instance, the example is given that many Buyers, once they receive in the mail an item they had purchased, decide they don’t want it and demand refunds from the Seller, claiming the item is not as described. Or deliberately damage it and then say that the item arrived in that state and they want their money back.
What is enraging Sellers, according to their posts, is that eBay will seldom pay attention to any evidence the Seller can provide that disproves Buyer claims, they will simply find for the Buyer. Period. The accusation is made frequently that the dispute resolution and customer service employees who handle these cases are uninformed, under trained, and simply follow a script that assumes the Buyer is always telling the truth and the Seller is always lying. And that script almost always forces the Seller to refund the purchase price to the Buyer.
There are two reasons why all these accusations might be at least somewhat true. One is that, as noted, many people using eBay seem to have little idea what they are doing; Buyers especially. The various boards in the eBay Community forum have numerous posts from people who seem to think eBay is just like Amazon.com and they are ordering items from a corporation. Or who do not understand the legal obligations that placing a bid on an item involves and believe they can cancel a purchase by refusing to pay. Or complain because delivery is not immediate, no matter how far away they may live from a Seller. eBay is trying to deal with a multitude of people using its service and getting it completely wrong; and doing so while keeping customer service costs as low as possible. As a rule of thumb, it is apparently assumed Sellers understand what they are doing more than Buyers; if there are problems, therefore, the Sellers are most probably responsible.
This has been reinforced in recent days by a swarm of sellers from China and other areas who are selling counterfeit or questionable goods on eBay in massive numbers. They sell, they get money, they put off buyers awaiting shipment of goods with excuses while continuing to sell to others and take in more money, and then suddenly disappear, leaving behind EXTREMELY unhappy customers. eBay appears to be reacting to this by showing blatant favoritism to Buyers. In the event of dishonest Buyers who understand how eBay’s system works, this can result in serious losses to honest Sellers.
The second possible reason is more hardheaded and pragmatic: Money. Although eBay charges Sellers some minor fees for listing on their website, the majority of their funds come from taking as their commission a percentage of the money Buyers pay to Sellers for their wares. The vast majority of the money eBay gets comes ultimately from the Buyers, not the Sellers. Sellers are almost literally a dime a dozen on eBay; few of them sell unique items, it’s often just brand name clothing, purses, and electronics that almost anyone can peddle. But Buyers are irreplaceable: They’re the ones with the money. If they stop buying on eBay, eBay’s profits shrink. So naturally, eBay will do what it can to keep them happy.
Regardless of cause, or even actual basis in reality, the perception that eBay has stacked the deck in the buyer’s favor is causing a great deal of upset and anger among Sellers. Some – more than some – have left to use other exchange sites, like Craigslist. Unfortunately few of those sites have the popularity and traffic of eBay. Even Amazon’s buying and selling platform suffers in comparison, both in size and in the range of services offered. eBay is simply the biggest game in town.
Others have sought relief through outside agencies. The Better Business Bureau has received thousands of complaints about eBay; many of them from Buyers, but a large number from Sellers, as well. This has the advantage of circumventing the lower ranks of Customer Service and forcing eBay to explain actions and decisions. It does not, however, guarantee satisfaction. The Attorney General of California, the Federal Trade Commission, various consumer protection agencies and organizations are also reportedly getting reports of eBay’s behavior. So far this does not seem to have had any effect.
This is quite probably a temporary problem. To survive eBay will have to increase customer service and the satisfaction of Buyers AND Sellers; otherwise the latter will continue go to other selling platforms, allowing those to grow to a level to compete with eBay. How long this will take, however, is impossible to say. Until eBay begins making changes, Sellers will continue to be at risk.