Quick reality check: when you use eBay, you’re trading with a complete stranger. Whether selling or buying, it’s absolutely essential to get some measure of how reliable the other eBay member is. In short, will the goods/money arrive? This is why trading history is part of your eBay profile; it’s used to determine whether or not to do business with you.
This might be something of a catch-22 situation if everyone required their buyer or seller to be experienced before trading, since it would not be possible to accumulate a rating without first having a good trading history. However, in practice, sellers of items under £100 are likely to accept business from almost anyone, allowing rookie users to build up their score. It’s probably a good idea to start out buying smaller things on eBay to get the hang of it before taking the plunge and going for more expensive items.
HOW RATINGS AND FEEDBACK WORKS
Generally speaking, feedback – and thus, a rating – is given when a transaction is complete, the money has been cleared, the goods are delivered and both sides are happy. If the buyer is paying through PayPal, the seller might give them their feedback straight away, since there’s very little else required of the buyer, and receiving a thank you comment can encourage the buyer to reply in kind.
If something goes wrong with the transaction, then the feedback system is one way of informing other eBay users about the reality of dealing with this particular user. It should be pointed out that leaving negative feedback is not the first course of action to take if there’s a problem. It’s best for everyone to resolve matters with a positive attitude, rather than by resorting to ‘revenge feedback’. Recent changes to the feedback system also include a three-day delay before you can give non-positive feedback, which can be time enough to cool off and maybe talk it over some more.
Feedback is an important part of the pseudo-gaming aspect of eBay. It’s no coincidence that eBay describes a successful purchase as a ‘winning bid’ and awards a score to its members. Winning auctions and good feedback ratings are an important part of the eBay experience; it keeps people using the system and also provides a threat against misusing the service.
A feedback rating is composed of a choice of ‘positive’, ‘negative’ or ‘neutral’, along with a comment on the transaction. Generally speaking, a transaction should end with a positive result. Only very poorly managed transactions should be classed as neutral, and only in cases where there has been a complete failure, coupled with some sort of material loss on one side or another, should the transaction be rated as negative. Negative basically describes the other party as totally impossible to work with.
The comment in the feedback usually falls into one of two categories. It is either a stock ‘thank you’, which many people adorn with their own brand of hyperbole or it’s a description of what went wrong or, indeed, right with the transaction.
It’s important, on the rare occasions where you need to deliver negative feedback, to make it absolutely clear why you’re doing it. For example, you might write “The seller sent me three poor excuses and then stopped replying to emails,” which would clearly explain why no other person should deal with them. Conversely, writing “This guy is a moron and needs help!”, while possibly cathartic, is missing the point somewhat.
Some people seem to use the opportunity of giving feedback to wax lyrical about how much they enjoy using eBay. With some sellers, this can almost be an incentive to buy further items, just to see what they will write next.
THE RATING NUMBER
The ratings are compiled into a single ‘score’. For every positive rating you get, your score is increased by one. For every negative rating, the score is reduced by one. Neutral, predictably, has no effect. However, an extra detail is that your score cannot be affected by more than a total of one by any individual eBay user in a given week. So, if you sold one hundred items to the same user and received all positive feedback, your feedback rating will still be one. Conversely, if you sold one item per week for a year to the same person and received positive feedback, you would score 52. To make things more complex, if the same user, in the same week, gives a variety of positive and negative ratings to the same seller, the overall positive or negative effect on that seller’s feedback score will be determined by the balance of different ratings – a bit like the ‘swing-ometer’ showing how election results affect the political parties.
When reading a user’s rating, do not just rely on the points total; there’s also a description of the overall total percentage of positive feedback. A new feature of eBay is also the DSR (Detailed Seller Rating), which shows a star-based scoring system in terms of item description, communication, delivery time and how reasonable the postage charges were.
eBay sellers who trade in high volume and continue to receive a high percentage of positive feedback are designated as PowerSellers. This is a hard rating to achieve, but the confidence a buyer can feel with a PowerSeller is often reflected in increased sales. In addition, once you’re a PowerSeller, it’s harder for a buyer to leave you negative feedback.
IDEAL FEEDBACK RATINGS FOR BUYERS
As a buyer, if you have a choice of sellers you should favour one with a long trading history and a large number and high percentage of positive feedback ratings. Ideally, you should find no negative feedback for your seller. If there has been negative feedback, it would be best if that transaction happened a while ago (you can see a breakdown of ratings received in the last one, six and 12 months).
You should also read the last few feedback descriptions, as they appear on the ticker on the profile page, to see what else buyers have to say about dealing with the seller. The Detailed Seller Ratings should be an honest appraisal of the seller, because they’re left anonymously.
Look for comments and DSRs that describe items arriving rapidly and in excellent condition. If there has been any negative feedback, it might be worth trying to find out exactly what happened. It’s possible that the cause of the negative rating was a particularly unreasonable buyer, and the seller’s reply to the feedback, explaining their side of things, may give you a more balanced view of what happened and also how that seller treats their buyers.
Overall, though, it’s in the interest of a seller to make sure that they get a satisfactory rating of their conduct on eBay. Feedback ratings are the primary way that a prospective trading partner gets to decide whether you look reliable, so every negative rating counts heavily.
RECEIVING NEGATIVE FEEDBACK
Having described the importance of a clean record on eBay, it’s still almost inevitable that a transaction will go wrong at some point, especially if you’re dealing with countless members of the general public, not all of whom know how to use eBay properly. Should you receive negative feedback, there are two possible things you can do to deal with it.
First and foremost, you should respond. Your response will be listed alongside the complaint, which allows you to give a more balanced view of what happened. It’s not necessary to give your opinion of the other person involved. You need to portray yourself as a reasonable person to trade with.
If necessary, you may be able to appeal to eBay to have the feedback removed. It has very strict rules governing the removal of feedback and will only do so if there’s a breach of those rules. See http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/defect-removal.html for the exact terms of feedback removal. In a nutshell, eBay will remove abusive or libelous feedback, along with feedback resulting from clearly malicious behaviour – like winning an auction purely for the chance to give negative feedback, rather than to buy the item.
AVOIDING NEGATIVE FEEDBACK
Prevention is the best cure. Even with the best will in the world, things can go wrong during the course of a transaction. If you keep the other party informed every step of the way, they’re less likely to consider your service to be poor. This is not a recommendation to spam them with hourly updates (once every two hours is more than enough). However, if there are going to be delays, it’s a good idea to keep the other person informed as you work through the problem.
Generally speaking, people are quite reasonable and respond well to being kept informed, even if it’s bad news you’re delivering. When you’ve completed your side of the transaction, contact the other person to make sure that they’re happy and to offer assistance if they require it.
Leaving negative feedback is really a last resort for dealing with problems. If you’re proactive, friendly and helpful throughout your dealings with other eBay users, the chances are that they’ll give you a positive feedback rating, even if there were problems.
TIT FOR TAT
Amid some controversy, eBay changed its feedback system in 2008. Originally, the idea of allowing people to give mutual feedback made eBay seem like a selfpolicing community. However, the ability for a seller to reward a disgruntled customer with negative feedback, alongside the facility to mutually withdraw feedback, had resulted in a couple of phenomena. Firstly, there was a tit-for-tat effect when a buyer gave a negative rating and the seller immediately responded in kind. This discouraged some buyers from being honest, lest they get smeared in the process.
Secondly, the fact that a rating could be withdrawn had the possible effect of encouraging some people to bully their reviewer into agreeing to withdraw the feedback. One aspect of dealing with the general public over the internet is that there are some crazies out there, and they may have nothing better to do with their time than annoy you on eBay.
The changes, which include preventing sellers from giving buyers negative feedback and the new anonymous Detailed Seller Ratings, are a big step forward. They recognise that the person risking the most on eBay is the buyer. Ultimately, it’s the buyer who sends the funds and risks receiving nothing or something they didn’t bargain for.
Although there’s much to say on the subject of dealing with negative feedback, it’s worth remembering that part of being a good eBay trader is the accumulation of positive feedback from different eBay users in order to aggregate a good overall score. A better score will enable you to deal with more eBay users.
Good communication and prompt payment or delivery are the main sources of positive eBay feedback. If in your communication or item description you under-promise, and then, in reality, over-deliver (for example, claiming you deliver in a week, but you actually turn around delivery in three days), you will make people happy. If, in addition, you contact the other eBay user on completion of the transaction and remind them to leave you feedback, having given them a positive feedback score, then you are more than likely to receive positive feedback in kind. Success on eBay can be as much about good social skills as good business skills.
WHEN TRANSACTIONS GO BAD
Overall, trading on eBay is about as safe as buying something from a stall at your local market. eBay provides a range of services to help you resolve disputes, and the vast majority of transactions go by without a hitch. However, when eBay transactions go wrong, they can do so spectacularly. The fact that most items are bought by mail order is a significant complicating factor, as is the fact that many people on eBay are enthusiastic amateurs, rather than professional business people.
TAKING THE RISK
Although there are risks associated with eBay transactions, and although you may prefer to reduce those risks by dealing only with PowerSellers or those eBay users with huge feedback ratings, it’s best for the eBay community as a whole to give people the benefit of the doubt. There are ways of dealing with failed transactions and, assuming that the other person is in the UK, normal trading laws govern the sale. Although some eBay users are unreliable, it’s better to play the game rather than miss out on good deals ‘just in case’.
Conversely, when buying something from an eBay user with a low feedback rating, you should consider the value of the transaction. Could you afford to lose this money? Although you might, ultimately, be able to recover the funds or replace a faulty item bought at that price, would it be worth the hassle?
Generally speaking, the average eBay user should expect to have some sort of problem with an eBay transaction around 5% of the time, usually with low-value items where the seller isn’t making enough of a profit to be able to do much to rectify any problems that occur.
NOT RECEIVING THE GOODS
Sometimes eBay items do not arrive. In this situation, the first thing to do is check that the seller has received the funds and ask them for the date when the item was sent. If the seller has proof of mailing, then they should be able to chase the matter up with the Post Office or courier. If they’ve sent the item via special delivery, it’s possible to track the item through the post office’s system.
In order to bring costs down, many items are sent via normal mail. This makes them difficult to track, and they may end up permanently lost in the post. Given that many eBay sellers are selling unique items, possibly from their own personal house clearance, the chances of getting a replacement for that exact item are low.
If you’re concerned about the possibility of the item being lost in the mail, ask whether the seller is prepared to add postal insurance to their delivery service, which should offer some guarantee of arrival or a refund if the item is lost.
BUYER COMPLAINING OF NON-RECEIPT
When considering how a seller might respond to your complaint about non-receipt of an item, think how you would react if one of your buyers contacted you, claiming they haven’t received the goods. On one hand, it’s quite possible that the postal system has failed or that you incorrectly addressed the package. On the other hand, there are going to be some people who receive their items perfectly and then contact you complaining of non-receipt in an attempt to get a refund on top of the goods.
You have to take the buyer’s claims at face value. Therefore, it’s recommended that for any item of value, you use Royal Mail’s special delivery service or an equivalent (even getting a simple certificate of posting for low-value items). Postal or courier tracking on an item, and the insurance to replace it if it’s lost, is a good way to resolve any complaints. For items worth more money than you can afford to lose, consider tracking and insurance to be an absolute must.
RECEIVING DAMAGED GOODS
If an item arrives damaged or faulty, it’s easier to convince a seller that there’s a problem. You can take digital photographs or even return the item to them. It’s important that you’re fully aware of the seller’s returns policy before you agree to bid on the item.
Most sellers will expect you to pay for the return postage. Some sellers may stipulate that they will only deal with damaged items in situations where postal insurance has been bought. In any case, the first thing to do is contact the seller, explain the problem and ask them what they can do.
NOT RECEIVING PAYMENT
It’s best not to send an item to your buyer until their payment has already cleared. Receiving a cheque is all very well, but cheques can easily bounce. PayPal, despite charging a transaction fee for sellers, is an instant method of payment and it also simplifies things greatly.
If you haven’t received any form of payment, you can prompt the other user with an eBay invoice, for which there’s a link in the email confirming the sale. After that, you can contact them directly, perhaps offering them an alternative means of payment (PayPal, cheque, money order, bank transfer and so on). If you’ve sent the item out before cleared payment or if a cheque bounces, then you’re in a very weak negotiating position. Don’t do this; it’s really not worth the stress.
If you’ve sent the item on trust and have received no payment, then you can send an invoice to the buyer’s delivery address and could, ultimately, proceed to the small claims court. This is much better avoided by withholding the item until cleared funds are received. The overwhelming majority of buyers will have no problem with you doing so. If a buyer is putting pressure on you to deliver before you receive the cheque, consider it a warning sign; there’s seldom a good reason for this sort of behaviour.
NEGOTIATING WITH THE OTHER PERSON
eBay users are, in general, reasonable people who are worried about their feedback rating. Putting aside all the things that can go wrong, people generally go onto eBay to trade honestly, rather than con each other. Wherever there has been a problem, the best step to take first is to contact the other user and discuss it. You shouldn’t storm in with threats about negative feedback, because although it means something, it’s also a fairly limited ‘punishment’. If you’re polite and reasonable with the other person, there’s a high chance you’ll be able to come to an agreement over how to solve the problems blighting a transaction.
EBAY COMPLAINTS PROCEDURE
If negotiation fails, then eBay has a Dispute Console. You can use this to ask eBay to step in to help resolve the problem. eBay will not refund your money. Indeed, the worst eBay can do to a buyer or seller is suspend their account until they have either resolved the problem or, more likely, set up a new account in a different name and continued trading regardless.
In some cases, the threat of an account suspension or even the more official nature of disputes taken up through eBay’s Dispute Console, will break a stalemate in negotiations, so it’s worth following this course of action if you can’t resolve things amicably directly with the other person.
PayPal was acquired by eBay in order to provide financial services for its customers. Along with the ability to manage credit cards and virtual funds in multiple currencies, protecting those vital personal details, rather than revealing them to the other person, PayPal also provides insurance on every purchase you make. This insurance will cover you up to 100% of the value of an item that never arrives or arrives but proves to be significantly different from the item description. Given that this is an insurance policy, however, PayPal will be as keen to follow the small print of the original item description as the seller was.
It is certainly confidence inspiring to think that if an expensive item doesn’t arrive, there’s the possibility of PayPal refunding its worth. PayPal’s service extends to sellers as well, offering insurance against chargebacks. A chargeback is when someone asks their credit card company to reverse a transaction for some reason. If this were to happen against an eBay sale you were involved with, you’d be obliged to return the funds. However, PayPal insures you against this.
Overall, using PayPal is a pretty good way to protect your interests on eBay, even though its disputes team and complaints process can be quite hard work.
CREDIT CARD PROTECTION
Many credit cards offer protection against fraudulent transactions. If you’ve bought something and paid by credit card, and this includes your credit card being debited by PayPal for an auction item, you can contact your credit card company for its assistance in reversing a transaction or at least putting pressure on the merchant to resolve the matter. At the very least, it may put a hold on the transaction so you neither have to pay it off nor pay any interest on it until the matter is resolved.
If you’ve paid for services and they haven’t been provided or if the items sent to you are counterfeit or unfit for purpose, then you have the support of UK law. This is more complicated when dealing with overseas eBay users, however. Within the UK, though, you can contact your lawyer, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, local Trading Standards office or even the police, in order to get help dealing with your problem.
In particular, if you’ve been provided with counterfeit goods, your complaint to the authorities may help them to deal with an organised counterfeiting group.
Thankfully, trading on eBay seldom results in a complaint, claim or lawsuit. The reason it works as well as it does is that there are huge numbers of honest people on it. Likewise, selling on eBay is relatively straightforward, especially if you have the right attitude.
You need to recognise the difference between an eBay PowerSeller, from whom you might expect the same guarantee of service as many dedicated online stores (and many PowerSellers have their own sites outside of eBay as well) and an individual trader, who won’t be selling on eBay full time so might need longer to complete the transaction and is less able to provide after-sales support. eBay is at its best when buyers and sellers work together to make transactions succeed.