So when eBay first announced that they were mucking with the feedback system, there was general outrage. There was also specific outrage in the form of one hell of a conspiracy theory. At the time, I thought people were overreacting but I got to say, its starting to look closer and closer to the truth.

It goes like this:

  • eBay changes the feedback system so that whether a seller’s item gets shown in search results, how high it is shown and how much they pay in eBay fees is dependent on their star ratings, one of which is a rating of 1 to 5 stars on the shipping costs
  • Sellers argue that this is unfair because we have no control over shipping costs as they are set by the Post Office, UPS, FedEx et all. This means that if John Doe thinks that $8 is too much to ship a package, regardless of the fact that the seller has no control over this cost, takes his anger at the post office’s cost out on the seller.
  • I was at a workshop on eBay where a seller asked this question and, I kid you not, the official reply from eBay was that if you think buyers will be upset by your shipping costs, you should offer free shipping.
  • Here is where the conspiracy theory comes in: When you sell an item on eBay, you only pay end of auction fees on the final value of the item, not the shipping costs. If you offer free shipping, then you’ll need to raise the cost of your item to make up for it and, thus, eBay makes more money per sale than if you charged for shipping.

A small rant. Feel free to bypass: Now, I actually see a small part of the logic of having the buyer rate the shipping costs, but it only applies to people charging a flat rate shipping. I once bought a hot wheels car from someone on eBay. They charged me $6 shipping. It arrived with $0.50 postage on it. That is unfair shipping. But if a seller is using calculated shipping (which is when eBay figures out shipping for the buyer based on the weight of the package) then it is ludicrous to let the buyer have a say in whether that cost is “fair.” It is fair by definition as it is the only option offered by the carrier. Never mind the fact that the USPS just raised their prices again, the average person has no clue what it costs to ship something. As a seller, I have drastically undercharged on shipping and still gotten feedback claiming my shipping cost was too high. Not only is it ridiculous to let the buyer rate something that they know nothing about and that the seller has no control over, it is even more ridiculous to make that rating so important that one confused person who thinks that you should be able to mail a brick across the country for $1 can, with one rating, keep your listings out of search results AND raise your eBay fees all in one swoop.

Rant over. Carry on. So, I assumed that, while there is some food for thought in that conspiracy theory, it was just paranoid of the mob. That is, until eBay debuted a huge new graphic for items with Free Shipping. It’s big, bright orange and really hard to miss. See example. They also changed the functionality of free shipping to allow free shipping with calculated shipping. (What I really wish they would offer is the option to specify a discount off of calculated shipping. If I offer free shipping in the USA, that is all well and good, but why not give me the option to offer the same amount off to international buyers without my having to create a flat rate to do that, hmm?) With the introduction of this button, people again cried that eBay was trying to turn into Amazon with the free shipping and force us sellers out.

Now I did find that a little fishy in light of the free shipping conspiracy, but it wasn’t until I saw this that I became convinced that this is not just a conspiracy theory, this might be fact. eBay is running a huge promotion, giving you an unheard of additional 15% off your end of auction fees. For those of us already earning 15% off, that puts us at a full 30% off discount which is nothing to sneeze at.

How do you earn this wondrous discount, you wonder? You guessed it, offer free shipping.

I’m trying to keep the faith, but it really seems like they are trying to force sellers into an all free shipping eBay. Forget for a moment that this would raise their bottom line since they will earn more end of auction fees, it would largely kill eBay as we know it. Suddenly, if I want to sell something, I have to start bidding at a price that would cover my highest shipping cost. That means that a single My Little Pony, for example, if I offered free shipping, would START bidding at $12.45 which is the cheapest I can ship a pony internationally. It would effectively kill the backbone of eBay. All those auctions that people throw up at less than a dollar which get the bidding going are what made eBay what it is. How can we bid victoriously if the prices are so high no one wants to bid?

And I don’t want to play their game, I really don’t. And yet, stay tuned next week when I am offering free shipping on just about everything. Damn them, but 30% off is just too good to pass up!

Oh eBay, say it ain’t so!