Every time eBay makes some changes to its program, my initial reaction is irritation because I usually like things how they are. There have been a few changes though where, right from the start, I thought it was a great idea (seasonal PowerSeller calculations are one of them). Even the ones I hate right away, I try to give eBay the benefit of the doubt and most of the time they turn out to be for the best.

That said, a lot of the new changes seem like terrible ideas to me, but I am trying to give eBay a chance to show me it was the right thing to do.

If you haven’t already seen, eBay announced that it was drastically changing a lot of its policies in February (see announcements). Here is my gut reaction on the changes:

The Good: Lower insertions fees, free gallery and fee discounts, feedback from repeat buyers counts and greater protection for PowerSellers

I love the idea of reducing the risk in listing an item as the previous high fees would often discourage me from just trying something unusual or listing an item that I wasn’t sure would sell so this definitely makes me eager to list a lot of merchandise.

Making Gallery free is nice, but the fact that they really ought never to have been charging for it in the first place makes this bittersweet.

I also expect to see a huge change in my feedback rating over this roll out because now repeat buyers (as long as the purchases are at least a week apart) count each time they leave feedback. I always thought the old system was a bit unfair in that it basically penalized you for having a customer base of repeat buyers so I like this change a lot.

Even if I wasn’t a PowerSeller, I like the incentives for PowerSellers because it gives the average seller something really worthwhile to shoot for. When they first launched the PowerSeller program my initial issue with it was that it didn’t really offer you anything other than a nice icon. I think now they have made it something really worthwhile to not only try to reach but also to try to keep.

The Bad: Mysterious Detailed Seller Ratings, huge increase in End of Auction fees, and sellers can only leave positive feedback

While this may turn out to be a good thing, they are being a bit coy with this new Detailed Seller Ratings (DSRs). I don’t like the fact that, starting next month, how much exposure my listings get is totally dependant on a number that is some mysterious combination of the star rankings (yes, those same star rankings that everyone indicated that they hated at last eBay Live) and other factors. What I especially don’t like is that a low DSR will limit your placement in sales rankings. Now, while this may be a good idea for the marketplace in general in the long run, I fear that, come Feb, suddenly hundreds of sellers are going to find that they have a low DSR out of the blue since we won’t really know until then what ours is ahead of time. I don’t like nasty surprises and I am hoping they give us info on what our DSR is and how we can improve it ahead of time so its not a shock.

I understand that in order to lower Insertion Fees, they had to raise End of Auction fees to offset that. However, they did not raise them proportionally. So while it is now less risk for a seller to list an item, the total fees for that same item are actually higher than they were before they “lowered” fees. Now, my annoyance at this is tempered by the fact that, as long as I keep my PowerSeller, my fees will be discounted, but I don’t think this is fair to the small time seller.

No single item of these changes upsets and worries me more than the changes to feedback. For starters, feedback will only “count” for a limited time. I am hoping that this only refers to the calculation of percent positive or for PowerSeller and doesn’t mean that the little number next to our user ID goes away. It may be old school, but many of us have worked very hard to get that feedback number up to where it is and I don’t want to lose that. This is also iffy because times, like the holidays, when there are more newbie bidders leaving very stupid feedback will now have a bigger effect when they are only a small piece of the whole year.

The most baffling change, however, is that sellers are no longer allowed to leave anything but positive feedback. eBay’s reasoning is that buyers will be more honest in their feedback if they know that the seller cannot leave anything but positive back. The problem with this is that this basically neuters the sellers. In other words, if a buyer does not pay for an item, we can only leave positive feedback. By the same token, if the buyer scams the seller (fake money order, reverses charges, etc) the seller has no way to warn other sellers. It seems like the sort of policy that only sounds like a good idea if you have a) never sold on eBay before or b) like we live in a Utopian society where everyone is perfectly honest.

I was reading other seller’s comments about this on another blog and someone put it very well. eBay is increasing the number of buyers that a seller can block but, if all buyers will only have positive feedback, how would a seller know who to block? Another fear that people have is that a buyer who did not read the description or otherwise has unreasonable expectations (pays for Ground shipping and then is upset it didn’t get there overnight, etc) can do serious damage to a seller’s business for something that is not anything the seller did wrong. This also has the chance of starting feedback extortion where you get the sort of buyers who get the item and then say, “Send me a refund or I will leave you a negative.” eBay has, at the same time, made a seller’s feedback more important that ever (since bad feedback reduces your search placement and affects eligibility for benefits) while simultaneously encouraging buyers to leave more careless feedback without any fear or repercussions. As a seller, this stinks big time. I find it hard that eBay would shift this system to be so one sided and blatantly in disadvantage to the sellers.

I think what annoys me the most upon reading this announcement was that one of their reasons for changing this was, essentially, that negative feedback hurts a buyer’s feelings and makes them less likely to buy on eBay again. If a buyer gets negative feedback because he bid on an auction and then never pays or because he sent me a fake money order, I hope his feelings are hurt! He just hurt my business and is not an asset to eBay so if he doesn’t ever bid again, that is a good thing. Negative feedback hurts my feelings but they are encouraging people to just leave feedback of sellers completely willy nilly.

If they really want to make the feedback system fair, they need to get rid of the negative / positive system altogether.

The star rating system has a lot of potential and something that is a sliding scale like that would much better as it would a) force buyers to consider the actual sale when leaving feedback (ie, did the seller ship it fast? instead of “I really hate this color pink”) and b) allow for more middle of the road feedback. Sometimes a person will leave negative feedback for something that is very minor when a sliding scale ranking might have caused them to leave it somewhere in the middle. There is no need for a comment anymore. That is just what makes people fight back and forth. Just let people leave a ranking anonymously and then everyone would be happy. Heck, I would even be happy to have automatic seller ratings. Did they pay? How fast? And just automatically assign them a ranking bases on how fast they paid.

I have been seeing nothing but outrage so far at this changes from fellow sellers and the phrases “nail in the coffin” and “straw that broke the camel’s back” being tossed around. I am reserving judgment until I see how it actually is implemented, though I confess that I am wary. eBay has been very good in the past about listening to its members so I am hoping all these changes will either be for the best or changed after feedback. I think a lot of the unrest is also coming from the fact that eBay has had a huge change in leadership recently with Meg and Bill stepping down so this has the flavor of “the new guys are idiots who are making stupid changes.”

Anyway, go ahead and read the announcement and then let me know what you think of the changes by leaving a comment below.