Nothing stirs up a hornet's nest among eBay sellers like a new policy or feature that promises to solve old problems, but instead creates new ones.
eBay certainly kept sellers abuzz throughout 2013, with a host of changes that simplified—in some ways, oversimplified—buying and selling on the site. We thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the stories that had the biggest impact on our readers this year. Here are the top five:
1. Global shipping hubs debut
We give props to eBay for attempting to make international trade easier for buyers and sellers. Its Global Shipping Program was designed to provide a "hassle free" experience by setting up domestic shipping hubs, where customs clearance, import charges and tracking are taken care of by a third-party service, which then sends parcels on to their international destinations.
The changes were meant to increase buyers' trust, but many sellers felt the mandate put too heavy a burden on them to revise their listings
Unfortunately, GSP was a one-size solution that did not fit all—at least, not in the beginning. We heard overwhelmingly from both buyers and sellers that, in most cases, GSP adds more cost to transactions than it's worth.
"The GSP charges import duties/taxes, even on items that wouldn't [ordinarily] be subject to them, regardless of carrier. And on some low-value, low-weight items, the shipping prices are ludicrous (e.g., $5 game card, $20 shipping, $11 import fees)," writes one Auctiva EDU reader.
The trouble was sellers were initially forced to choose between opting in or out; there was no option to apply GSP, case by case.
But eBay continues to tweak and tune this feature. Earlier this month, it gave sellers the ability to select GSP on a country-by-country basis, and use their own preferred shipping methods for other countries they ship to.
2. Image policy causes uproar
eBay's more stringent picture quality standards took effect on July 1. These imposed a minimum image size, prohibited the use of stock photos for used items and put restrictions on the use of graphics and watermarks in item images.
Though the changes were meant to increase buyers' trust of the marketplace, many sellers felt the mandate put too heavy a burden on them to revise their listings—which sometimes numbered in the hundreds or even thousands. eBay only fanned the flames when it began emailing policy violation notices in May, two months ahead of the enforcement deadline.
Eventually, the commotion died down and folks accepted that some change can be a good thing. But, as a recent scan of eBay listings (particularly in the electronics category) shows, compliance with this policy is still spotty.
3. What does Buy It Now really mean?
While eBay gave every seller at least 50 free listings per month, the cost of selling went up for many because of a new, flat percentage final-value fee
It seems completely logical to us that Buy It Now would imply pay now, not pay whenever you get around to it. But, as seems to be the norm on eBay, nothing is ever as simple as it looks.
In order to reduce unpaid item claims eBay changed the way it treats Buy It Now transactions. Under the new process, when someone "buys" a fixed-price item, or a seller accepts a Best Offer, the item remains up for grabs until money has actually changed hands—and the first buyer to pay wins the item.
The result has been more work and frustration for sellers, who now must either specify "Immediate Payment Required"—frowned on by buyers who like to combine purchases in one invoice—or proactively educate buyers about what to expect if they choose to pay later.
4. eBay simplifies fee structure
Fee changes are never easy for sellers to swallow, no matter how much eBay might sugar-coat them. That was certainly true with a new, "simplified" fee structure announced as part of eBay's spring update.
While eBay made it cheaper to list items—giving every seller at least 50 free listings per month (and up to 2,500 free for eBay Store subscribers)—the cost of selling actually went up for many because of a new, flat percentage final-value fee structure.
"I have had an anchor store for years," notes one reader. "With this latest increase in fees, my basic cost will be about $225 more per month."
Another reader points out that insertion fees tripled for non-store subscribers, after they've used up their monthly allowance of 50 free listings.
Online merchants will have to collect and remit sales taxes from buyers… until lawmakers can come together on the matter, one way or the other
5. Online sales tax debate roils on
The Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013 revived the debate over whether online merchants should have to collect sales tax from out-of-state buyers. Lawmakers, having failed to take action on a prior bill, hoped to quickly push through a streamlined version.
While this issue affects all e-merchants, not just eBay sellers, eBay has lobbied aggressively for a small-business exemption.
In April, the U.S. Senate voted 69 to 27 in favor of giving states the power to collect sales tax from online merchants on their out-of-state sales. This version included an exemption for businesses that take in less than $1 million a year in out-of-state sales.
The bill then went to the House Judiciary Committee, where a pair of lawmakers further simplified it, and removed the small-business exemption. The House has yet to take a formal vote on the revised act.
If they were hoping the Supreme Court would force the issue, they were disappointed. The high court this month turned down Amazon's appeal of a New York court ruling on sales tax. So, online merchants will have to live with a law forcing them to collect and remit sales taxes from buyers in New York—and other states that passed similar laws. That is, until lawmakers can come together on the matter, one way or the other.
Will the question of online sales tax finally be answered in 2014? Stay tuned (but don't hold your breath).
With the year now behind us, what do you think had the biggest impact on your business? We love hearing from you, so let us know in the comments.