eCommerce Blog / Then and Now: The Evolution of eBay's Feedback System

Then and Now: The Evolution of eBay's Feedback System

In my last blog post, I discussed several ways you can provide outstanding customer service to your online buyers/customers.  Some of the comments and suggestions I made in the post apply specifically to eBay, but others can be applied in a number of additional areas as well.

This week, I'm going to focus on feedback and what an important role it plays in providing excellent customer service to buyers.  And again, although this relates directly to eBay's feedback system, the same principles can be applied across the board, no matter where you're selling.

Some Essential Background on eBay's Feedback System

An extremely important aspect of customer service I didn't address in my previous post is feedback, specifically eBay's feedback system.  Feedback is one of the most high-profile as well as crucial areas in which sellers can and should demonstrate their focus on providing high-quality customer service.   And to explain in part why feedback is so crucial, I'm going to give you a little history lesson.

When eBay first instituted its feedback system shortly after the site was launched, its main purpose was to inspire trust in its users based on the comments and ratings of other users who had done business with them on eBay before.  In its purest form, feedback was meant to provide an open, honest review of how effectively the other user completed the transaction.  Unfortunately, though, human nature took over, and certain unscrupulous eBay users began abusing the feedback system in just about every conceivable way it could be abused. 

One of the most insidious abuses of the feedback system was retaliatory negative feedback.  When one party left negative or neutral feedback for the other, the other would then leave negative or neutral feedback for the first user in retaliation, regardless of how well the first user had completed his/her end of the transaction. 

eBay sellers were the primary offenders in this situation, leaving negative or neutral feedback for buyers who had left it for them, just to get revenge on them.  This horribly unprofessional practice yielded a number of extremely negative results, both for eBay as well as its users.  First of all, most buyers were open and honest about their experiences when they resorted to leaving negative or neutral feedback for sellers.  In most cases, the seller had in fact failed to live up to his/her end of the transaction by promptly providing an item that was as described for a reasonable shipping cost.  

So naturally, the buyers were understandably already unhappy with the transaction, but to add insult to injury, most sellers on the receiving end of this negative or neutral feedback, even when it was deserved, immediately retaliated against the buyers by leaving them similar negative or neutral feedback, just to "get back" at them. 

As a result, the following things happened:

1.    Buyers were extremely unhappy with their experiences on eBay

2.    They didn't trust eBay nor its sellers to promptly send them quality items as described in their listings, for reasonable shipping costs

3.    They were afraid to leave open, honest feedback regarding their experiences, for fear they would receive retaliatory negative or neutral feedback.

4.    They were afraid to report non-receipt of items or items that weren't as described, again for fear of receiving retaliatory negative or neutral feedback.

5.    They began leaving eBay in droves.

Around 2005-06, eBay's phenomenal growth began to plateau, and eBay began closely examining why.   They began researching this issue in depth, and discovered to their horror that over half of all eBay buyers were leaving eBay permanently within a year of registering.  And even more disturbing was the fact that the main reason they were leaving was due to negative experiences with sellers, primarily related to the issues listed above.

As a result of this discovery, eBay came to the realization that significant changes needed to be made to bring buyers back, and one of the most monumental of these was that sellers would no longer be permitted to leave negative or neutral feedback for buyers. 

The Fallout from eBay Sellers

Wow -- well, you can imagine the reaction of eBay sellers to this news.  Never before had there been such an uproar of negativity from sellers towards eBay.  You see, retaliatory negative feedback had become par for the course among most eBay sellers, and indeed, most eBay sellers used the threat of retaliatory feedback as a weapon of sorts, to strong-arm or otherwise manipulate buyers into accepting low-quality products that weren't as described, failing to report non-receipt of items or other instances of seller fraud, etc. 

eBay's Unexpected Reaction from Sellers

When eBay announced it was taking this "weapon" away from sellers, they were outraged.  Many eBay sellers left the site, afraid that they would no longer have any "leverage" against buyers.  Sure, they raised some valid points, such as the fact that non-paying bidders could leave negative feedback for them with no recourse (a concern which has largely been resolved for the most part by now), but that was mostly an excuse, a smokescreen for the fact that sellers had gotten accustomed to being able to get their way with buyers using the threat of retaliatory negative feedback. 

When eBay surveyed large numbers of its buyers and sellers, they discovered that 42% of their sellers were leaving retaliatory negative feedback on a regular basis, while only 6% of buyers were doing so.   Wow.

But as disturbing as retaliatory negative feedback was, it was an indicator of an even larger problem, that of many sellers' overwhelming disregard for their buyers.  eBay sellers had become accustomed to operating in an adversarial manner on the site, with fear and the desire for power and control dictating their atrocious behavior towards their buyers.  In a sense, quality customer service had almost ceased to exist among many sellers. 

Take for example what happened when eBay announced sellers could no longer leave negative feedback.    Most decent, customer service-oriented sellers were not upset by this announcement, because most of them had never considered leaving retaliatory feedback in the past anyway, nor doing anything else to exemplify substandard customer service.  It was primarily the sellers who were already creating bad buying experiences that were upset that they could no longer use feedback to perpetuate their misbehavior. 

The Birth of a New Era in Customer Service on eBay

Whereas the eBay selling community should have used this announcement as a wake-up call and as a driving factor in improving their customer service, many of them missed the entire point completely. 

As an eBay employee during that time, I fielded hundreds of calls from angry sellers who wanted things to continue as they were.  I came up with an analogy that I used to demonstrate to many of them how foolish they had been:

Imagine what it would be like if you walked into a department store or into a store like Walmart, and you walked up to the Customer Service desk wanting to return an item.  What if the second you told the Walmart employee you wanted to return the item, he/she jumped up on the desk with a megaphone and announced angrily to the entire store that you were an awful person, that you had a lot of nerve trying to return an item to them?

Obviously, that would probably never happen, and any employee who would do such a thing would be terminated immediately.  Yet in effect, that's what eBay sellers were doing over and over again, on a daily basis, when they left retaliatory negative or neutral feedback for buyers. 

So as it turned out, eBay's decision to remove sellers' ability to leave negative or neutral feedback for buyers was inspired.  Not only did it inspire trust and confidence in many buyers again, but just as importantly, it also heralded an upheaval and huge shift in the way most eBay sellers approached their businesses and the way they treated their buyers. 

My Two Cents

To be clear, I'm not saying that all eBay buyers are perfect angels, and that buyers never try to manipulate, threaten or defraud sellers on eBay.   But statistically, there are very few buyers who do this, and the fact that buyers are required to pay for items before receiving them provides the greatest protection for sellers. 

And as long as sellers use good judgment and follow eBay's guidelines for protecting themselves, instances of them receiving unfair negative feedback should be few and far between.  And indeed, in all the years I worked at eBay, although I personally spoke to dozens of sellers on a regular basis who had left huge amounts of negative or neutral feedback for buyers before, the instances of buyers leaving undeserved negative feedback for sellers (with sellers having no recourse or ability to successfully resolve the situations) were very few in comparison.

I've found that sellers who continue to operate defensively on eBay are the ones who usually run into trouble.  But the sellers who continually strive to provide outstanding customer service almost never suffer any negative effects of buyer misbehavior. 

In the next installment, I'm going to go into detail regarding some additional, specific ways you can demonstrate and provide outstanding customer service and therefore insulate yourself almost completely against being taken advantage of by the occasional bad buyer.

Erika Garnica
eBay User ID: the auctionguru
eBay PowerSeller and Top-Rated Seller
Former eBay Top Seller Account Manager


Comments (16)

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john dale on 21:39 26 Oct
Good points but there is some missing data. eBay was brought to its pinnacle by Mom and Pop sellers or people who made a living on the side along with their regular jobs. Antiques, used CDs/DVDs, records, posters artwork etc... were sold by individuals all across the US. eBay wanted completely professional Newegg or Bestbuy type experiences from small time sellers. What this has done in many cases is eliminate the small time seller and a lot of the fun from eBay. The big sellers are happy because a lot of competition is gone and they can now sell items for more money. When I talk to people about eBay, many say they don't buy anymore because the fun of bidding is gone and its all Buy It Now with a lot of junk from Asia. The general consensus from buyers is why buy from eBay when they can buy from Amazon for the same price with impeccable customer service and no questions asked returns with free return shipping. And part time sellers selling their used gucci bags or other brand name items is gone due to over protective bots. The real solution would have been to tell all buyers to use their credit cards through Paypal as Paypal must by law, abide by the rulings of the banking system. Instead Paypal now makes buyers wait for their money for bad or no items bought from eBay. There is more, like the DSR systems poor software and eBays harsh actions based on DSRs which most buyers dont understand starts to accrue poorly on anything but a 5 star and of course the favorable treatment of the big sellers from the DSR system.
April Redbird on 4:51 30 Oct
I have generally had good experiences selling on ebay with my customers, however it doesn't take too many bad experiences to sour you. I remember selling a particular item that was rare to one man, who later complained to his credit card company that it was not as described and he asked for a refund which was granted to him by the credit card company. Then he in turn however refused to return the item that he was objecting too. repeated calls to his credit card company netted us nothing, and even calls to the local sheriffs office about this fraud were not sucessful, so he managed to get my rare item without paying for it, and as I recall I got a dinged with bad feedback which was rare for me. I believe out of nearly 1000 sales I had 2 bad feedbacks, with this being one of them. Qute frustrating for me. I really got taken.
Samuel Degrace on 17:12 1 Nov
I have to be honest and say that as a new seller on eBay, by only a couple of weeks or less, i had listed quite a few items i had ordered and the such already, and then listed them on eBay for action and/or sale...i was very hyped about getting started...i had spent a lot of time on research and planning both before i even started...and when i say allot of time, i mean a lot of time...however, when i was in the middle of my first few days of doing so good, i had experienced some very rude and abrupt people in the middle of my success...i do however understand protective measures, rules, and regulations and the such...but i don't in any way shape or form understand anyone telling me when i call them for help that they need invoices of my suppliers, and my purchases, and just about everything else i consider to be things i worked hard to accomplish to just say "ok" this is all of my proof and info of all my secrets of success...i don't even have one negative feedback as a buyer or seller...i thought, at least give me the chance to give my customers a positive experience first before i get completely cut off in the middle of bids, sales, and auctions...besides, how in the heck are you supposed to show proof of a drop-shipping pre-order ahead of time anyway?...i even respond to every question and/or concern of every customer of mine very quickly and efficiently always...which is what i'm sure they want, but they truly fail to do that that themselves...i was even told, while i was on the phone asking questions in my first few days for help and concerns, that just because i was on the phone does not mean they won't stop my current if i was an idiot or i think that would explain one of the main reasons why Amazon continues to soar as a company, and Ebay continues to maintain and not improve as a proven by Alexa traffic and the such...besides, what's even funnier, is that all of my purchasing sources even come from or are referred through my membership with you...which they supposedly approve of or support? ending, i'm very glad to have a membership with you, and will just continue to strive for success as an individual...with or without Ebay...
Roger Cinto on 17:44 1 Nov
eBay should have prevented sellers from leaving negative feedback much earlier and provided sellers with different tools to deal with bad buyers (and there are plenty of bad buyers). I never left feedback for a buyer until the left me positive feedback. Just how business is.
Hugh DeForest. on 17:46 1 Nov
Entire eBay rating needs to be revised. DSR system is worthless. Example - one month I only sold 10 items (total) with free mailing. Yet my DSR rating about shipping cost went down. I have sold 2640 items (average of over $195) on EBay. Presently have 100% positive feedback; yet my DSR does not reflect that. And only 34 persons have bothered leaving any remarks in DSR. That means that less than .07%. And eBay uses this figure. That's insane. System does not work. Really a dumb idea.
John Baca(aka bacpro) on 17:54 1 Nov
Great Article, I always try to just refund the item even if the customer is wrong, recently I had a customer that was disappointed in the item he bought for 10 bucks, he sent a message "I demand a full refund as the item is junk". My response was "Sure, no problem" Just sent the item back & I will issue a refund. The customer was totally shocked. He did not expect this answer! I worked in a retail environment before and a boss once told me. "The customer is always RIGHT, even when he's wrong" Keep this attitude and you'll be successful on ebay! I know there are some bad people out there, but the good outweigh the bad! Thanks John (aka Bacpro)
Hugh DeForest. on 17:54 1 Nov
Also return system makes liars out of buyers. All buyer has to do is CLAIM item not as advertised and get a full refund. I have had to pay claims where new items were sold (how could an new item be faulty?). One time I sold a camera and listed as "for parts only". Yes, in eBay's infinite wisdom I had to buy it back. Last week buyer filed claim and was denied. So he filed another claim "and I had to refund his money".
Steven Dale on 18:00 1 Nov
As a long-time buyer and seller on eBay I well remember the early days when negative retaliatory feedback was a real problem. However, I have to say that there were a lot of time-wasters in the early days. The ordinary individual sellers may now be out-numbered by the business sellers but I don't think that is a bad thing. The general quality of sellers has improved considerably IMHO and this can only be a good thing. As the main thrust of this discussion is about customer service I can't see how you can expect good customer service except from business sellers - individual sellers may sell only one or a few times and have little incentive to provide good customer service. A business depends on good customer service and repeat purchases from existing customers is the surest way to build a successful business. The current feedback system is a great improvement on the original. The weakness of it is that buyers and sellers don't have to leave feedback. Perhaps that's a topic for discussion? Steven Dale (New Beltane Tech Media Ltd)
Landis Cornett on 19:58 1 Nov
I am a former eBay PowerSeller who quit selling on eBay shortly after this change in feedback took place. I had maintained a 100% feedback rating for a number of years. A couple of reasons that I quit marketing on eBay. As a small wholesale distributing business owner, my eBy business allowed me to market special items that I could only market a few of in my local area. It was my policy, and I believe should have been all sellers, to post feedback for my buyers as soon as their payment cleared. I felt that at that point my customer had done their part. I always posted all shipping and handling costs on my auctions. However, a couple of users posted negative feedback for me destroying my 100% rating. On all of my auctions customers were told that if something was wrong to contact me and I would make it right, guaranteed. These actions upset me greatly and contributed to my dissatisfaction with the eBay market. The main reason I ceased selling was eBay's changes to favor the large marketers. The playing field was no longer level. They got a better deal than I could get. I had bought and sold on eBay for several years spending 100s each year myself. Now, I rarely look at their site for products. In fact in the last couple of years since I stopped selling I have purchased about $20 of merchandise using eBay. eBay, not for me!
Regina on 20:11 1 Nov
This is exactly what happened to me two years ago. I bought a inflatable garden frog with stake from a seller on eBay. The stake was broken the moment I tried to push it into the ground. I took a picture and emailed to the seller. She replied accusing me using a hammer which I can swear not the case. I left a neutral feedback for her which I consider very gentle and I was shocked to discover a nasty feedback from her accusing me a lier and asked all ebay sellers to ban me. I was never being mistreated like this both online and offline myself. I can't imagine why people can be so vicious behind the computer. I always wonder if she is capable of doing the same thing face to face. I complained to ebay and as a result, she started to email me saying that her husband is a lawyer and she is not afraid of any consequences. After couple of times back and forth with ebay dispute with no result. I just gave up. That is my last experience with ebay and i have not even looked at it since then. From time to time, I am tempted to look what is in there, but can't bear to look at those nasty words. I thought it is the ending of the story until a few months back, someone I don't know sent me a message telling me that I am not the only one with this experience with this seller. She told me what happened to her and said this vicious seller has done this again and again, leaving very nasty feedback to her buyers. I don't know how she has climbed to be a power seller, but to today she remains the most ugly person I know in this world. and I was very disappointed that ebay didn't take necessary steps to end her behavior. I asked ebay to remove her negative feedback, but ebay refused. That is the reason why I left ebay and never went back.
Phil on 21:04 1 Nov
I've stopped selling on ebay due to dishonest buyers and lack of knowlege on the part of ebay workers (or mediators if you wish to call them). I had a buyer in South Carolina say that the contents were removed by a Fedex driver and then tell ebay there was no item in the package (after he signed for receipt with Fedex). Buyer filed a claim for "item not described properly" rather than missing as he stated to me. The whole deal was a cluster f__k and paypal even put a hold on my account until this issue with this liar was resolved. It was FINALLY resolved in my favor but only after many requests from me for someone to just read and properly investigate it for me. I've never had such a headache in my life and I'm NOT anxious to do it again. I'm a 10 year member of ebay with almost 500 feedback (100% positive). Also had a potential buyer out of Alaska threaten my feedback while the auction was still running because he thought my shipping cost to Alaska was too high. Good lord, he didn't even win the item and was threatening me !? Flakes go both ways on ebay but this new system is one reason I stopped selling. Even though your shipping quotes are right there for all potential buyers to see,...they'll still baste you for what THEY perceive as "too high". Not fair for the honest sellers! I'll go somewhere else thank you!
Colette - TopCat2x2 Wood on 22:20 1 Nov
I arrived on eBay just a little before the change was made that sellers could no longer provide neutral or negative feedback. Some of the comments on the boards had me wondering if eBay conspiracy rumors were actually true. You know, the one where eBay was whittling out small sellers in favor of mega fixed price sellers. And each new restriction on sellers was simply part of the plan and aimed at getting rid of those who didn't perpetuate the new image eBay was supposedly striving for. But I personally have never felt that kind of animosity towards eBay that fairly shouts from some of the seller comments. In the beginning when auction listings were all I sold, I regretted the feedback change now and again when I had a buyer who didn't pay and refused to communicate. I would have liked to be able to warn other sellers, but assumed that eventually the unpaid item strikes would eventually catch up with them. Today I sell fixed price and a product that mostly sells itself. Ninety-nine percent of the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. My one neutral feedback was more a misunderstanding and I tightened the listing clarification for future listings. As a seller, my one disappointment would be that not all buyers leave feedback. I want buyers to check out my feedback and know that others are very happy with their purchase and the service. I want them to have confidence and trust that what I say in my listings will be provided. I hope you have a future article planned about DSRs. Specifically a way of educating buyers about shipping times and rates. It is frustrating at times to provide buyers with the cheapest rates possible, with no handling fees included, and ship items the same day as the order received and still get dinged with less than five stars because the buyer was used to cheaper rates and delivery times in their own country. But since I know I've given my very best my only real concern is how low DSRs can affect my discount status. Thanks again, Erika! Colette TopCat2x2
inlikeben on 15:54 2 Nov
A buyer put me out of business because of negative feedback he left me, after getting a refund and keeping my 450.00 mobile phone I sold to him. I had and still have tons of emails from this customer stating exactly what malicious move he was going to perform if I kept asking for the item back and sure enough he caused my account to be closed. Though I reported it dozens of times to ebay, sending them his malicious emails, they did nothing. It went on for about a year before the case was solved in the buyers favor simply because he also sold on ebay, however, he was selling exotic cars like, Ferrari, Mercedes, Lamborghini and such a such, so take a wild guess whom side ebay took, even though I sent them all the evidence in the world that this customer used the feedback system to his advantage and my demise. Ebay's feedback system is like two boxers in the ring where one can block and punch while the other can only block. So now I'm on Amazon where fare is fare. I will send anyone who ask an email from this customer to me as proof of what I'm saying is true.
Denny on 17:20 2 Nov
I have done business on ebay for many years both as a buyer and seller, I have 100% good feedback. I personally liked the old system I never had much trouble with buyers as I was always honest about my items. I did have a couple of"paid too much so i'll break it " deals and ebay backed me up on both of them. I did then have the opprutunity to warn other members about these tactics. I am with some of the others, I miss the enjoyment and excitement of the auction format. I believe the buy it now's flood the site with over priced items and scrolling through them is tedious for the casual buyer.It also appears that some of the newer sellers either don't research the competative value of their product or are just plain greedy. I would like to see ebay set up a completely seperate "store" site and welcome back the "ma and pa" auction sellers. After .I am hopeing that ebays new policy regarding multiple listing helps all of us
Mike on 22:16 4 Nov
I have been selling on eBay for a year now after being a buyer for many years. The others are right you cannot be a Ma and Pa seller and survive the fees. I had to go to buy it now when I got over 250 listings because of the costs involved. I like the auction format and have a mix of auction and buy it now, but always leave a best offer option. 50% of the offers are worth considering the rest are on the laughable side. I really feel the buyers expect a big box experience with out paying the price. I had one buyer throw a fit about how he was mistreated when i filed a non payment claim after 2.5 weeks and no communication, he swore up and down he had paid for the item even when I supported my sale with paypal and eBay but the odd thing was ( I was Still working a full time job at the time) during our conversation I told him I would have to deal with it later after work as I was on my lunch hour, right then his whole tone changed and he was shocked i was a working man. We had the matter resolved in minutes after that he paid for the item and left me great feedback. I like my success on eBay but it is a challenge and the buyer is always going to win the way it is now. I had a man buy an antique clock claim it wasn't real even though the movement was clearly marked and the maker was stamped on the bottom I told him no problem i would refund him just return it first he thru such a fit i dumbly refunded his money first he did return it but it was purposely broken and when i filed the claim with UPS he got the check and refused to give me the money saying I deserved it because I was a cheat. From that point on I stopped the estate sales and auctions sales and started selling all new. I have had hardly any problems since i made that decision. I do free shipping when I can and will still get low DSR's on shipping costs. Go figure.
jim johnson on 23:30 6 Nov
"Imagine what it would be like if you walked into a department store or into a store like Walmart, and you walked up to the Customer Service desk wanting to return an item. What if the second you told the Walmart employee you wanted to return the item, he/she jumped up on the desk with a megaphone and announced angrily to the entire store that you were an awful person, that you had a lot of nerve trying to return an item to them?"

And now I know you've never been to a Walmart return desk.

I've seen managers call security after some customer tries to return a 2 year old sweater, gets denied and starts threatening employees. I've seen a person trying to return a 19 inch lcd in a 42 inch led box.

It's sick, and they were called out.


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