Neutrals are now negatives in TnS policies…

August 22, 2007

First, I want to make sure everyone reading understands that I, like everyone in the eBay ecosystem, wants a clean, well-lit marketplace and I agree with eBay’s recent take that the bottom performing sellers should be managed up or out.  It’s also about time something was done here.  However, it’s  easy to get on this “kick sellers out” bandwagon and forget that every GOOD/GREAT transaction on eBay comes from… you guessed it a seller.  As a marketplace manager, it’s eBay’s job to have clear, easy to understand policies and then enforce/reward them.

Now with that all clear, here’s what’s happening.

Many great sellers are getting suspended/managed out of the marketplace because without notice, eBay is considering NEUTRALS to be essentially NEGATIVES  In early June, in an obscure message board (not the announcement board).  eBay via a TnS employee called “Policy Steve” (post 17) revealed that:

  • eBay has found that the bottom 1% of sellers are responsible for 35% of buyer complaints (makes sense, but note that this kind of abstraction will tend to catch larger sellers vs. smaller sellers just by the nature of absolute numbers.  If I sell 5k items/month, I’m bound to have 50 negatives that would take a smaller seller a lifetime to hit).
  • eBay is actively suspending/limiting the sellers that fall into this category.
  • When making the “Bad Boys” determination eBay is using this calculation:

“If more than 5% of a seller’s buyers are dissatisfied, as measured by
negative and neutral Feedback left or Item Not Received complaints
during a 90 day period, the seller is in violation of the Seller
Non-Performance policy.”

(The bolding/underlining of neutral is mine).

The problem
Here’s the problem with this.  Assume you are a large seller and you are running a business and eBay is not a hobby.  You have two people in customer service and those people answer questions and focus on your negative feedback.  Maybe you have 1% negative feedback which is great as a large seller.  For a variety of reasons you have a good bit of neutral feedback (4%).  Now, without warning you are considered a bottom 1% of sellers.  You don’t have any announcement that neutrals are now essentially the same as negatives (which begs the question, why? and why have neutrals at all?)

If you had 30/60/90 days to know this was coming, you could retrain your customer service reps, maybe augment them to start investigating neutrals as well.

Also, what I don’t get is why TnS couldn’t just rank the sellers by negatives and deal with the bottom 1% that way?

Why neutrals are not negatives
To illustrate the point, here is a sample of the recent neutral comments from a customer of ours, grapevinehill. I’m picking on them because I know they go 1000% out of their way to make every customer happy and they have a 100% feedback rating (only counting negatives).

  • not as described, but still a good buy.
  • shoes ran small and I had to return them
  • pretty, but poor fit sizing, very wide and short, warning would be appreciated
  • good stuff A++ however, company does not leave feedback for the ebayer
  • Shoes didn’t match-They refunded money & return shipping- I would buy from again
  • Shipped wrong item.  Quickly refunded money in full.  Very apologetic.  Thanks!!
  • fast shipper
  • too big, must return

There’s really only one on here that I would say is really something you could argue should be considered a “negative” (the first bullet).  If a buyer doesn’t buy the right size, the seller offers a full refund, then should that be considered by eBay as a wholesale negative?

A wake up call for sellers
The morale of this story is that we are now alerting all of our customers that TnS is considering neutrals to be essentially negatives and you need to train/staff customer service reps accordingly or look at beefing up your customer service staff to handle the increase in ‘cases’ this policy change is going to create.

One useful tool for sellers to look at is the neutral/negative lister that lives here.

Example: Dolphin in the fishing net
It’s pretty well known in the eBay community that one of the lowest feedback sellers out there is bargainland liquidations.  The Bargainland folks sell as-is returns and even though they clearly state everywhere that items are as-is they still receive a ton of negative feedback.  Their feedback tends to bob around the high 80’s/low 90’s so they are definitely (based on NEGATIVES) in the bottom 1% when you rank by negatives as they obviously have more than 5% negatives (less than 95% positive).

Bargainland’s listings are way down, so there’s a fair amount of speculation in the community that they are being limited/managed-out by eBay.  Also, Bargainland just launched their own auction site, which could be a move to get ready to leave eBay or just leverage it for customer acquisition.

The TnS action here appears to be justified.

Now look at a seller, inflatablemadness with a 97%+ positive rating (3% negatives).  To many that seems high, but this is a media seller and that category is very hard to stay in the 97/98 range.  They sell some used DVDs without cases that I guess they acquire from the likes of Netflix or Blockbuster’s online DVD rental biz.  In the last 6 months this seller has received 72k positives, 1500 neutrals and 2200 negatives.  2200+1500 = 3700 which puts them at the 5% mark and thus I suspect they are in TnS’s crosshairs.

While they are not a ChannelAdvisor customer, I know the folks at inflatablemadness and I’m sure if they had known that neutrals were going to be treated the same as negatives they would change some policies and manage things far above the 5% level they find themselves in.  If they are kicked/managed off of eBay, there goes 144k positive buying experiences/yr.

This smells like yet another dolphin caught in a Trust and Safety net.