Before we start, in the interest of disclosure, I’m a Top Rated Seller (TRS)… at the moment. I add that little disclaimer because of this:

This is an actual screenshot from my account. Yup, .02 of a percent (or .0002) is going to keep me from Top Rated Seller once the new program rolls out. Never mind that this rounds up to a major jerk move on eBay’s part, I was already expecting to lose TRS because I’m committing the crime of shipping fast and free (See: It ships fast! It ships free! It… hurts my eBay Top Rated Seller status?)

But here’s a little thing I don’t often blog about: I tend to pop in and out of the Top Rated Seller program. I think I’ve lost it for a month twice since they rolled the program out. eBay, as you know, is only one of several platforms I sell on and the bulk of what I do sell on eBay is for TA clients. Sometimes my store has hundreds of listings and sometimes, like now, I’ve got a whopping 19 items for sale. Because my volume is so inconsistent, a 19 item month can make me ineligible for TRS and, while I can coast on a big month for a while, I can have the highest DRSs in the world and still lose my badge for a month here or there.

eBay Top-Rated Seller Badge

eBay Top-Rated Seller Badge (Photo credit: ebayink)

I’m being completely transparent here because I want to explain something. To be clear, here’s what I like about the Top Rated Seller program:

  • getting a 20% discount off fees
  • having a snazzy little badge that makes me feel fancy
  • increased search placement* (*=more on this in a second)

I also believe VERY strongly that, regardless of what platform you sell on, you should be offering a good return policy and providing the best customer service you can. This has nothing to do with DSRs and eBay’s reward program of the year, it’s just a necessary step for building a successful business. If good practices like that get you into a reward program such as TSR, great, but that shouldn’t be why you’re doing it.

That said, I want to let you in on a little secret. Some time ago, I took on an account for a client that had been suspended and had just gotten their account reinstated. Forget about TRS, they were on probation and were suffering from limited search placement. But for months I sold for them under this account and discovered a few things about so the dual carrots and sticks of increased search placement and limited search placement.

I can tell you from personal experience, that the only real disadvantages of having a status other than Top Rated Seller are:

  • No 20% discount. Sad face. But, really, how much savings does that really add up to? Is that amount with the drama of worrying about keeping your badge?
  • No badge. You feel less fancy already. But, really, what’s the advantage of that badge? A subtle shift in customer perception to view you as more professional? Most buyers still only look at feedback %, the badge means nothing to them. Having lived life on both sides of the badge, I can tell you for certain, it makes very little difference in sales. Your customer service and feedback still trump any profile bling eBay invents.
  • Inability to upgrade your store. This is one I never would have realized was an issue until I lived it. If you’re not Top Rated or Above Standard, you aren’t eligible for higher level stores. Why would you care, you wonder? If you list over 2,000 items a month (as my client did), you actually save on fees by upgrading your store. Because they couldn’t upgrade until they achieved a higher rating, they ended up paying extra fees that entire time. Couple that with the loss of the 20% discount and that can add up to a major fee increase until you get back into the program or at least out of limited status.
  • Decreased search placement*

*= I need to bust into a whole new section for this one. Because this is the boogey man that keeps us all us in fear of low DSR stars, right? We’ve been told again and it again that it means our items might not even show in search result at all! Oh noes!

Except that that’s BS.

If you’re selling an item that everyone else is selling, ie, an item that is very common, the increased search placement can be very helpful. With media items (books, music, movies, etc), eBay highlights the lowest price from a TRS and they are starting to do this with all pre-filled in listings. If you’re selling an iPad and your buyers are searching with Best Match as their default, then the TRS status ensures that your listing is one of the first they see. Buyers can also opt to only view items from TRS giving you another extra edge. For some business models, this extra exposure may be a dealbreaker for you if you have a ton of competition. But, keep in mind that, if your customers are searching with any other sort parameter, this TRS advantage doesn’t do you a darn bit of good.

But most of us aren’t We aren’t a massive reseller or drop-shipper. We’re selling niche items, antiques, collectibles, products we produce ourselves, etc. At any given moment, how many people are likely to be selling the exact item you have listed? The lower that number, the less good the Top Rated Seller status does you.

See, here’s the thing eBay doesn’t tell you about “limited search placement.” They want the buyers to find items when they search. “Not results” is bad for business. If your “limited” item is one of only a few listed, it will still show in search results no matter how bad your DSRs are. OK, if your item is one of 15, Best Match may shove you towards the bottom of the first page of results but… you’ll still be there and that only effects people using Best Match. And if you’re the only person selling your item? Or one of a handful selling it but you have the best price? Your item will still be the first result even with Best Match on.

This was the thing that amazed me the most about living the life limited. My clients’ items were supposed to be as limited as possible (they were bad, bad boys and were being punished with eBay’s very stiffest penalty) but they still regularly had sales and their items were almost always in the first page of search results, even with Best Match on. The items they were selling weren’t unique, other sellers were selling them, but they were niche enough that limited search placement had almost no effect.

Where am I going with this? When I realized that a single bestselling item was going to keep me out of the Top Rated Seller program, it never occurred to me to stop selling it. It’s not that I don’t care about TRS… it’s just that I don’t care that much. Other than the 20% discount, I already know that the loss of TRS won’t actually hurt my business in any way so what’s the point in getting hysterical about whether I have it or not? I’m happy to take the discount and badge on the months where I get that extra .0002 to push me into TRS but if I don’t hit it… I don’t see it as a big deal.

But what do you think? Has Top Rated Status been worth the hassle of keeping it? Or have you already been doing just fine without?