They “get it”.

I have been an eBay customer for a long time as both a seller and a buyer. I have logged about 1,500 transactions with 90% of those  as a seller. My feedback rating is nearly 100% positive with only two negative feedbacks in all those transactions.

Both negative feedbacks came from sellers, not buyers of my items. At any point after a transaction, both the buyer and the seller may post a feedback rating of the other party. This seems to make sense on the surface, but really, it makes almost no sense at all.

I say that even though the feedback idea is what built the public’s trust to hand over money to complete strangers in exchange for a hopeful bargain. If the seller has 500 transactions without a complaint, the buyer can probably trust the seller to ship the item as advertised.

True enough. But most people quickly learned that sellers can compel positive feedback from buyers. They do that by withholding feedback until the buyer says glowing things about the transaction. If the buyer doesn’t say nice things, the seller can post negative feedback and comments about the buyer. eBay does not permit ANY changes to feedback once posted by either party. Often, dissatisfied customers choose to skip posting negative comments for fear of retaliatory feedback.

So, if you buy a book on eBay from a seller who represents the book as “new” but you receive a book that is obviously “used” and then post a negative comment, the seller in turn can post that you are “not to be trusted” and an “unworthy member of the eBay community”. For some buyers who seldom use eBay, the negative posting about them could cause some sellers to refuse their bids. For example, a buyer with only 4 purchases would have a 75% positive feedback rating if he received only 1 negative rating. A seller may have concern about selling to someone if the transactions turned out bad 25% of the time.

I’ve long held that the customers only obligation is to pay for the goods. With eBay, payment is always rendered in advance. If the customer pays, how can he possibly earn a negative rating?

My only 2 negative feedbacks were from bad sellers. One was for a piece of gas welding equipment. I did not receive an instruction manual and I considered the equipment dangerous enough to require some documentation. The seller promised to send a manual for weeks but never did. I was not able to locate a manual online. I finally posted negative feedback because I did not receive everything I was promised. That seller posted the first negative against me in retaliation.

The other negative was from a seller who represented “an orange gel pen of very high quality”. Because I sketch the sun frequently for my log book (I have specialized equipment for observing the sun’s activity), I thought this would be an ideal item in spite of the $20 price. I hadn’t been able to find an orange gel pen anywhere so I was pleased to buy this one. Turns out, the pen itself is orange but the ink is black. I was disappointed at having spent $20 for just another pen. I did, however, see how the error in communication could happen. But still…  If you ask someone for a red pencil, do you expect them to hand you a normal black pencil with a red exterior? I wrote the seller and explained my understanding that I expected an orange gel pen, not an orange painted pen. I didn’t expect much and was prepared to keep it. But it never hurts to ask. I received a very curt and nasty reply about my failure to ask before buying. Too bad. You bought it, it’s yours. All sales are final! Her reply was unnecessarily rude so I posted neutral feedback. She slammed me with a negative and a tirade.

eBay is changing this system and I applaud them for making this move in spite of strong protest from sellers. All of eBay’s income comes from sellers. Buyers pay no fees so that makes this a particularly gutsy move on eBay’s part. Sellers may now only post positive feedback about buyers. If a buyer does not pay, there is recourse for the seller. And, sellers don’t ship until payment is received. eBay has a procedure to reverse the fees is a buyer does not pay. All the risk rests on the buyer. No longer can sellers “blackmail” buyers by withholding feedback until they get a positive rating. Great move eBay!

What this means for sellers is that they will have to deliver on promises or face receiving negative feedback. Negative feedback will hurt sales. Ethical sellers will thrive and those who have been less honest in their dealings will fail.

If your business had to post on a review of every customer transaction on a website for everyone to read, how would your business look? Would new customers be reassured or a little nervous about buying from you? As we head into recession, think about that because customers are reviewing you every day. Customers now have the Internet to post their experience with your business. Do a Google search for “Dell Hell” and you’ll see what can happen if you fail deliver on a promise. Providing great customer service matters more than ever.

Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog
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