How to Escape a Hostage Situation

Tactical advice for dealing with 'feedback terrorists.'

by Danna Crawford
- May 14, 2010

Receiving negative feedback can be very upsetting, especially when you feel it's been given unfairly.

I've been selling on eBay since 1997, and I've had my fair share of negative feedback over the years. Griff from eBay Radio refers to negative feedback as a seller's "badge of honor," and I tend to agree with him.

A badge of honor can be considered one of life's lessons that come along with owning your own business. We all have good days and bad days. Trying to ensure the good outweigh the bad is the ultimate goal. As we climb up the ladder of eBay success, we must learn and grow, adjusting our selling styles along the way.

Rolling with the punches

eBay's feedback platform has changed over the years. Everyone used to exchange feedback with a few minor issues. Then feedback became a bit like road rage. Sellers would wait to leave feedback for buyers until after buyers had left feedback for them. Once a buyer left feedback, the seller would respond accordingly to the feedback that was left, either graciously or in retaliation to the buyer. I can understand why eBay has been trying to improve the feedback system to avoid these "road rage" situations.

Today, sellers can't leave negative, or even neutral, feedback for buyers. When this change came into effect, there were more than a few angry eBay sellers—sellers who were accustomed to having the power to retaliate or praise a buyer through feedback.

My feelings about it, at the time, were that this helped me become a better eBay seller. I thought twice before I waited an extra few days to ship an item, or did not answer a question from an eBay member contacting me. I took a new look at my techniques for dealing with customers, and went above and beyond to provide quality customer service. It was a reality check. There is always room for improvement and, as a business person, as an entrepreneur, as an eBay seller, we should all strive to be better and successful.

The motto at eBay still stands: 'People are basically good,' and I believe this is true

The current procedure I follow is this:

  • Sell an item on eBay
  • Buyer pays
  • Print the shipping label
  • Leave positive feedback
  • Message the buyer with a "thank you"
  • Write a short thank you note to slip inside the package
  • Ship the item

The buyer has done their job. They've paid; they deserve the feedback. Now, it's my job to provide quality customer service and ship the item I've promised to ship, according to my description. Now I wait while I expect the buyer to either contact me or leave feedback.

How the manipulators work

However, it seems that some buyers have learned how to manipulate the system and take advantage of sellers. I've seen this happen: A buyer contacts a seller to complain about the item they received. Sometimes they ask for a refund. Sometimes they ask for credit or a replacement. The request is then followed by a statement to the effect of "…or I will have to leave you negative feedback." Some have been reported for feedback retaliation before, so they may not come right out and say the words, "negative feedback."

I call a situation like this being held "feedback hostage."

Being held feedback hostage is an uncomfortable feeling—especially when you know that if you don't do what the buyer asks, a negative feedback mark will be left on your record. Often, no matter what the terms are from the "feedback terrorist," sellers will give them what they want in hopes of avoiding a neg.

This is unfortunate. If every seller gave into this kind of manipulation, then that unscrupulous buyer would continue to shop on eBay and take advantage of one seller after another. Sellers who accept that "badge of honor" can at least hold their heads high, knowing they didn't allow a buyer to hold them hostage over feedback.

The motto at eBay still stands: "People are basically good," and I believe this is true. The positive will outweigh the negative in our online businesses and in the eBay community. However, knowing this doesn't eliminate the few shoppers who don't play fair. So, how can you avoid being held feedback hostage?

If you believe you're being manipulated, you should never give in to unreasonable terms

Dealing with their demands

When a buyer contacts you with a complaint, before responding, take a look at their feedback history and review the feedback they've left others. Do a bit of research and see how many negative feedbacks they've left for other sellers. Take a look at the feedback that others have left for them and note a couple of key points.

  • Were there any comments made about their activity?
  • What about follow-up comments?

Spend some time researching before you answer the message back. Allow yourself time to collect your thoughts and be able to communicate unemotionally. The worst thing you can do is respond in anger. Walk away from the computer and, whatever you do, don't get angry and write a bad message. It's just not good form.

Remember that kindness will outweigh rudeness. If a person is being rude, be kind in return. Don't stress yourself because this too shall pass. Be the best and be proud of who you are and what you represent as a business owner. Handle the situation with dignity.

After the research has been completed and, if you've discovered they do have a history of leaving negative feedbacks, then you may want to think twice about how you handle things. Depending on the complaint and the situation—because they all will be different—you will have to judge if they are indeed a "feedback terrorist," or if they have an authentic complaint. Don't be too hasty with your decision.

If you believe you're being manipulated, you should never give in to unreasonable terms. Either accept your "badge of honor," or do whatever it is you need to do to make things right as a proud business owner.

If you have received a negative feedback, keep in mind this is only temporary. List more items and accept the challenge of working harder to adjust the percentage of your feedback rating by selling more and receiving more positives. The negative feedback will soon be behind you.

For more information, read eBay's rules about feedback.

About the Author

Danna Crawford, CEO of PowerSellingMom, Inc., has been a successful eBay seller since 1997. In 2008, she received eBay's Community Hall of Fame award, as well as the Golden Ribbon Community Seller Award from eBay Giving Works. As an eBay Certified Education Specialist, she teaches at the community college and university levels, and frequently speaks on topics such as how to make money blogging, writing eBooks and more. Crawford can be heard every Friday night on her Internet radio show, PowerSellingMomRadio, and in weekly webinars at

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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