Monday, January 08, 2007

eBay Annoyance

Like many Transformers fans, I occasionally use eBay to buy or sell some of my Transformers. I've been a member for nearly 10 full years now, so it's probably safe to say that I know the ins and outs of the culture by now. For example, although I continue to be frustrated with the practice of "sniping," it's enough of a "fact of life" that one must simply accept it if one wants to do business there.

This past week, I was reminded of another growing practice that I find annoying. I had won an auction for a Transformer on the day after Christmas, and immediately paid with my PayPal account, as is my consistent practice. On New Year's, I got the following message:
Thank you for purchasing (item removed). Please leave feedback for me on eBay and I'll do the same for you. Take this opportunity now and help build a better eBay community.
Now, this wouldn't actually be a concern, except for a couple of things: 1) I had not yet gotten the item yet. This was not a huge concern at the time I'd gotten the note, since I was fully aware that the week after Christmas is a fairly busy time, and that there were a few postal holidays in that span during which I couldn't have received my toy, anyway. 2) The seller was indicating his intentionality in not having left positive feedback for me yet, and I'd already kept up my end of the deal by sending payment promptly.

This, in my opinion, should the be only thing that matters in leaving feedback for a buyer: "Did the buyer pay in full and in a reasonable amount of time?" If the answer is "yes," you (the seller) should go ahead and leave feedback immediately. There's no fair reason to wait until the buyer has left feedback for you.

Of course, I didn't want to anger the seller, but I did want to communicate this somehow, so I sent this reply:
I will happily leave feedback for you once the item has arrived. No doubt the holiday season has slowed things down a bit (especially given the extra holiday tomorrow to commemorate President Ford). I expect the toy will probably arrive on Wednesday.

However, I should note that your leaving feedback for me should in no way be predicated on my leaving feedback for you. All feedback for me should reflect is whether or not I sent my payment in a timely fashion, which your previous communcations seem to indicate was indeed done properly.
The seller responded by sending me the USPS tracking number, which indicated that the postal carrier had attempted to leave the package on the 30th, but that since I wasn't home, left a notice instead that I should pick the package up at the post office. Although I had not, in fact, gotten such a notice, this was plausible enough. The matter remained that I would be unable to do anything to check up on the delivery until after the post office opened again on January 3rd. Using the tracking information the seller provided, I was able to successfully retrieve the package this past weekend. (I do work, after all. Of course I'm not home when the carrier drops by! Usually they leave the package at the doorstep.)

But the seller never did leave feedback for me, until after I left positive feedback for him upon delivery of my item (although it was actually very complimentary when it was finally accomplished). He never even mentioned the aspect of my note to him suggesting that there was no reason to wait.

Besides the "principle of the thing" I alluded to earlier, this bothers me for one very important (at least, I think so!) reason: a seller who holds back feedback is, in essence, blackmailing the buyer into leaving positive feedback, lest the buyer be hit with "retribution feedback" if the buyer is unhappy with the item and says so by leaving negative feedback for the seller. Now, to be fair, most sellers who engage in this practice probably don't realize that this is what they're doing. I also grant that seller feedback may be more important to sellers than buyer feedback is to buyers. But the point remains. Buyers who must leave feedback for the seller before they can get the feedback they've already earned are under pressure to leave feedback that is more positive than the seller may, in fact, deserve. If the buyer paid in full, and on time, and is simply unhappy with the item, it should be the buyer's right to leave negative feedback without fear of retribution. But sadly, it seems that the holding of buyer feedback hostage happens all the time. I can't honestly recall the last time a seller left feedback for me before I left feedback for him/her.

It seems to me that there's a simple solution to this problem: eBay could prohibit buyers from leaving feedback until after the seller has left feedback first. There's really no reason that a buyer should leave feedback first, and this will encourage sellers to leave feedback that is based solely on the buyer's good behavior in paying promptly and in full. As it is, eBay enables buyers to leave feedback immediately upon the closing of an auction, before it's even possible for the buyer to have received the item! This could be fixed via a simple programming change on eBay's site, and I think it would help to ensure that the feedback process is more fair.

I've already sent this suggestion to eBay via a suggestions link, but I'm not hopeful. We'll just have to wait and see, I guess.

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