Blog

Bye bye eBay

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

I hate eBay.

I never used to – in fact, when I ran my business it was a handy outlet for shifting unsold stock, part exchanged hardware and faulty goods for spares or repairs that would otherwise have been thrown away. It was also a useful resource for picking up obsolete parts. In fact, over several years I traded a few thousand pounds worth of goods. It's not a massive amount and I was certainly no power seller, but it was a profitable partnership between me and eBay that worked out for all concerned.

But then the rot started....


... and the rot affects more than just me as this CNN article from last month shows. I saw it coming and so did a lot of others and I, like the others, shouted about the problems on the eBay forums at the start of the year – but nobody was listening. It's one of those New Coke moments where eBay took a model that has worked for years, makes money, has a loyal fan base and a near monopoly and they screw with it to the point where the income stream from people like me dries up and their profits start going down.

Plenty of people  have pointed out the obvious but here for the record is my two penneth on where it's all gone wrong...

Complexity.
Selling on eBay was always a bit of a form filling exercise that just gets worse as time goes on. There are soooo many options when creating a listing and there are soooo many categories to list in. Although many settings can be saved for future auctions, unless you know your return is going to be worth the time it takes to wade through the listing process, it's just too much of a chore to bother sometimes.

PayPal.
I hate PayPal more than eBay. Sure, it's handy when buying but it can be a risk for the seller. In 2006 I sold an LCD screen on eBay and was paid via PayPal. The item was shipped via ParcelForce48, an insured and tracked service to the PayPal address of the buyer. ParcelForce confirmed delivery on time and to the correct address and I received positive feedback from the buyer which I reciprocated.
Great! But then, a whole month later, PayPal deducted the received funds for the purchase from my account as they said it was a suspected fraudulent transaction. At their request I provided PayPal with the Post Office receipt, ParcelForce tracking number, proof of delivery to the buyers PayPal listed address and a copy of the scanned recipient signature as well as copies of all correspondence between me and the buyer and the positive feedback received. A few days later they came back to me and said they had concluded that the transaction was indeed fraudulent and I wouldn't be getting the money back. I also wasn't entitled to know any details about how the transaction had been deemed to be fraudulent and neither was I covered by their much touted Seller Protection Scheme as the address PayPal had supplied was 'unconfirmed'.
Sucks huh? Unfortunately PayPal isn't a bank and isn't subject to a lot of banking regulation. When you create an account with them you accept their terms and conditions – which (in not so many words) state that they are judge, jury and executioner when it comes to transactions across their network so it's just tough bananas if they want to help themselves to your balance because they think you shouldn't have it.
After that I stopped accepting PayPal and took payments only by cheque or bank transfer so that I would retain control of the money. As of 2008 however, all eBay transactions HAVE to include PayPal as a valid payment method and you can't refuse to accept it.
While that is the case, and their T&C's allow them to grab my cash at their leisure, I won't be selling anything. PayPal can shout all they like about their protection policies but they had a loophole to get out of protecting me and recently the consumer group Which? have also raised concerns about your protection when paying through PayPal especially outside of eBay.

Spam.
Tried selling anything on eBay in the last two years? I don't know about other items but if you're selling computer hardware you can bet you're going to get spammed by dodgy Chinese firms offering to do business with you. It's not a show stopper but a bit of spam filtering by eBay wouldn't go amiss.

Scammers.
So I've waited a week for my item to accumulate bids and now there's only ten minutes to go. Suddenly the price rockets to a number way over what I know the item is worth. I mean, who wants to pay £500 for an old laptop that I know is only worth £150? When that happens, you know the winning bidder is a timewasting scammer. Sure enough some bullshit email follows stating that PayPal payment has been made (even though PayPal wasn't offered as a payment option), however the balance won't show until I send them a tracking number to prove dispatch to Nigeria (even though delivery was specified as UK only). Fortunately I'm not half as stupid as they are and my £150 craptop isn't getting shipped anywhere – but now I have to go through the process of reclaiming the final value fee, relisting the auction and waiting another week to see if I can attract a real buyer.

Timewasters.
Did IQ levels drop sharply since 2006? My auctions were trouble free up until that point but nearly every other auction I listed in 2007 had some timewaster involved. Now this isn't really eBay's fault but it does make the business of selling through them less attractive.  My auction descriptions were detailed but to the point. I had headings explaining the payment methods, specifying UK delivery, stating there would be no Buy-It-Now option – it was all there in black and white, so why do people insist on asking “can I pay with PayPal” or “how much to end the auction early” or “will I ship to Nigeria”. Worse are the pricks who win the auction but then tell you they've changed their mind so I have to fart around reclaiming the final value fee and relisting.

Feedback.
One of the strengths of eBay was the feedback system with buyers and sellers rating each other on a level playing field. It's worked that way for over ten years. In 2008 however, eBay pulled the plug on sellers so that only buyers could leave negative feedback. As mentioned in the last three points, with the increase in spammers, scammers and timewasters patrolling eBay, removing the right for legitimate sellers to publically complain about a sour transaction seems to be a green flag for anyone who wants to cause trouble. In fact, this appears to me to be a lazy way of dealing with the spammer/scammer/timewaster problem because instead of tackling these troublesome users, eBay are just stopping those on the receiving end from complaining. This gives eBay the appearance of being a safer place to do business when in fact sellers are facing more problems but are gagged and unable to shout about it.

Change of focus.
Remember what eBay used to be about? It was an online flea market where anybody could buy and sell pretty much anything. These days however they don't want the small individuals selling second hand tat and are trying to refocus themselves into a shiny virtual shopping mall full of powersellers running eBay shops. Maybe they think it'll put polish on their brand and please the shareholders. They forget that it's the people selling their tat that got them where they are today. As they squeeze out the legitimate individuals they become just another online store selling mainly new goods, however there is plenty of competition on the Internet and the high street doing the same so eBay loses its edge.

Bizarre listing cancellations.
So my home office laser printer finally died and I decided to sell the spare toner on eBay. I charged £9.99 as a flat postage fee which is what I usually did (£4.99 for smaller items, £9.99 for larger). Sometimes postage was less, sometimes more. In this case I had specified ParcelForce48 as the courier so postage was actually going to be nearer £14. Some twonk at eBay pulled my listing several days in and gave me a slap on the wrist for overcharging postage. Dispite my protests on how much postage was actually likely to be, I was talking to the legendary eBay customer service brick wall and nothing I said was going to get them to back down or even explain their decision. Like there aren't enough time wasters without eBay themselves causing the problem! I never did bother selling the toner - not through eBay anyway, so it was their loss, but that is one example of three listing cancellations over the course of the year where my time was wasted, my protests were ignored and my patience was worn down.

Alternatives.
Everyone knows eBay is a near monopoly, especially with alternatives such as QXL reaching for the off switch in 2008. Fortunately Amazon have partly come to the rescue for certain sellers with their Marketplace. It works well and they've seen a fair amount of business from me over the course of the year as I buy the kind of items I would have traditionally sourced from eBay.

What's needed is a big name with deep pockets like Google to come along and provide a real alternative as that's the only way eBay are going to get kicked up the arse. I doubt even hoards of sellers leaving will be enough for their management to steer the rusting eBay ship away from the iceberg. For now though, my online trading days are over as eBay fades from being a once indispensable resource to just another business failing to get it's hands on my ever valuable credit-crunched cash.

Amazon on the other hand can look forward to more of my custom in 2009.