A few days ago eBay announced that it was going to be extended the length of the title on listings/auctions from 55 characters to 80 characters. A former colleague of mine blogged about the change and offered a couple of pieces of advice to sellers on how to take advantage of the change, from a SEO perspective. Having being out of eBay for over a year now, my opinion should be objective, both as a consumer and as an investor.
First, why are eBay users not buying stuff? Or in eBay’s language: why is the value of a CRU falling and Active users declining?
The answer is simple, because eBay sucks. No, I am not angry at eBay, in fact, I love the brand, I love the company, and I love the people who work there. But from a pure customer perspective, it just sucks. No matter if you are a buyer or a seller, eBay has an exceptional ability to leave you feeling like you have just been kicked in nuts (or other similar discomfort if you are not familiar with it) sooner or later…most often sooner. Let me elaborate with a couple of examples:
Bad Policy: A friend of mine listed an authentic brand name handbag with a buy-it-now option. A Canadian seller bought the handbag but was not happy with the Canadian Customs tax and demanded that the seller pay the taxes or the buyer would leave a negative feedback. After negotiating a discount for taxes, the buyer submitted a claim on PayPal, claiming that the bag was a fake and eBay’s policy was that the ‘bag should be destroyed by the buyer’ and a refund would be issued. So, the seller is out 1 bag, shipping fees, custom taxes, insertion fees, final value fees. The buyer has successfully scammed a free bag and some pocket money, but not without eBay’s enthusiastic “buyer protection” program. As a casual seller, why take the risk? It would have been cheaper to give it away or even Craig’s List.
Bad Tools or inadequate platform: This one comes from a seller who is a Small Business specializing in refurbished computer and electronics components, mostly B2B. He has listed lots of 8-piece CPU units for sale. A buyer buys a lot and reports that 1 of the units is not functional. The seller gives the option for a replacement unit or a refund for 1/8th of the cost. The buyer opts for the partial refund. Submits the claim to PayPal and PayPal refunds 100% of the purchase. The buyer then creates several new accounts and tries the same trick, successfully obtaining 32 CPU units for free. The seller contacts PayPal but paypal is unwilling to do anything. PayPal states that the refund policy and buyer protection policy are in effect, and instructs the seller to contact local police if he thinks the buyer defrauded him.
As a small business, the seller hardly has the time to deal with the issue and does what he knows best: increase profit margins in order to be able to absorb the losses. And how can he increase gross profits? By charging higher shipping, refusing refunds, shipping only within US, etc. In other words, he takes a more defensive and antagonist stance.
As a buyer…
I recently bought a projector that claimed to support HDMI and 1020p resolutions. A few hundred bucks for the item plus $15 shipping. Not a bad deal. When I received the item, I hooked it up to my PS3, pop in a Bluray disc, but the image was only 430×540. I checked the settings, and the instructions booklet, and apparently that was the highest resolution possible. I contacted the seller, and the seller kindly explained that the projector’s input supports the various formats and resolutions, but the output is only capable of 430×540. Seller apologized for the ‘misunderstanding’ and was happy to have the item returned and to refund the amount of the item minus the shipping fee. The cost of returning the item would be, of course, at my own expense. The seller gave me the return address….in China. Even though the item was claimed to originate from the US and the seller claimed to be a US seller. The cost of shipping a 12-lb projector to China: $180.00, added the original shipping fee of $15.00 and I am out $200.00.
Needless to say, my shopping activity on eBay has stopped since I left eBay. Even if eBay hijacks the Google search results and saturates the page with links to its site, it won’t make me forget the bad experience. Would I ever shop again on eBay? Yes, of course. There might be something old and rare which can only be found on eBay and it doesn’t cost more than $20, then I would take the risk. But don’t expect much.
I don’t have any problems finding items on eBay. I can search on eBay, use Google to find eBay deals, and even click on eBay direct marketing emails. My problem is really transacting on eBay. Its the ‘one-size fits all’ solution. It is the uncertainty of how much time I will be required to spend resolving a problem when something goes wrong. It is the money I will be out of pocket if something is not wrong. Fix those problems first. The buyer should NEVER be required to pay for shipping on returns. You are forcing buyers to eat a bug, and quietly turn away. If eBay has issues with copyright or intellectual property rights, don’t let the buyer be the judge, have you heard of escrow service? Protect both, buyers and sellers at the same time.
Of course I can only speak for myself, but if you try to Google the subject, you will find that my examples above are quite common.