EBay's Feedback Changes Are Bad News For Buyers - InformationWeek

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2/7/2008
11:27 AM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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EBay's Feedback Changes Are Bad News For Buyers

Whatever happened to Web 2.0 openness at eBay? That's what many sellers are wondering, now that the online auction powerhouse is killing its longtime policy of letting sellers leave bad feedback about buyers. Sure, there are abusive sellers who vindictively post bad ratings, but warts-and-all feedback is eBay's one market-policing mechanism, Now, as Ars Technica correctly puts it, eBay wi

Whatever happened to Web 2.0 openness at eBay? That's what many sellers are wondering, now that the online auction powerhouse is killing its longtime policy of letting sellers leave bad feedback about buyers. Sure, there are abusive sellers who vindictively post bad ratings, but warts-and-all feedback is eBay's one market-policing mechanism, Now, as Ars Technica correctly puts it, eBay will have "no real feedback." Here's the deal.As eBay explains it in its "Upcoming Changes to Feedback" write-up: "Sellers will no longer be able to leave negative or neutral Feedback for buyers. This change will occur in May, 2008."

Why on earth would they do this? According to their explaination, "sellers will be protected from buyers who violate our policies without risking a cut in good buyer activity."

OK, I'll grant them that. There are some disreputable sellers who believe a strong offense is the best defense, and haul off unnecessarily at good buyers. It's also true, as eBay writes, that "buyers will be more honest when they leave [seller] Feedback since they will not fear retaliatory negative Feedback."

On the other hand, the inability of honest sellers to post honest feedback on bad buyers means that buyer fraud is likely to increase. I'd submit that this will happen without any concomitant reduction in seller fraud, which is what you'd hope to achieve if this policy had any meaning.

Clearly, then, this isn't eBay's purpose in making the change. One can thus only assume that eBay is doing this in some misguided attempt to prop up the site's sagging performance. Carrying this thread forward, I'm forced to point out that eBay only got into a mess in the first place when, a few years back, it screwed the very buyers which made it popular in the first place by raising its fees.

Those fees, incidentally, were reduced recently. So the feedback about-face comes as the second leg of a strategy to get eBay back on the fast-growth path. But eBay was never broken in the first place, and it's still not broken, if only its executive team would stop trying to squeeze it beyond all reasonableness.

What eBay really needed to do was crack down on fraudulent buyers. But that's something they've never seriously attempted. (Ebay is making one other small change in its policy, which will actually help in this regard. It will limit to one the number of feedbacks per week anybody can get from the same trading partner. This will reduce fraud; though the fraud it will reduce is obvious to all but the most naive eBay user.)

Anyway, my point is that eBay needs to leave the current feedback system alone, because "bad" feedback from sellers is just as much of a tool for buyers looking to weed out the bad sellers as it is for sellers hoping to avoid deadbeat buyers. If you're not an eBay user, you're probably confused. But if you are, you know just what I'm talking about. (That is, you have to subjectively scan feedback, to get a sense whether a seller is "OK.")

Caveat emptor -- and vendor -- indeed.

For more, directly from the keyboards of eBay's users, check out the "Ebay changes feedback policy" thread on eBay's own forums. Currently, 5,238 pissed-off posts -- "this could be one of the worst decisions eBay has ever made," writes one commenter -- and counting.

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