eBay's unwavering focus on the "buyer experience" in recent years has brought many changes that helped broaden the consumer appeal of the eBay marketplace and revive growth. Yet, with each enhancement, it seemed, sellers became more vulnerable to capricious, and even fraudulent, users.
But a bit of good news for sellers is coming this spring, in the form of new seller protections. First announced as part of eBay's 2012 Fall Seller Update, planned changes to eBay's protection systems are designed to make the marketplace fair, not just for buyers but for sellers, too.
In a recent online workshop discussing the changes, members of eBay's Seller Protection team said they want you to know that, no matter what size seller you are, eBay has got your back.
"On the eBay marketplace, there are millions of transactions a day that go off without a hitch," says Jonathan Haney, senior manager of Seller Protection at eBay. "We're focused on those instances when you do need eBay to intervene."
The buyer must wait three business days before getting eBay involved, to give the seller a reasonable chance to respond
A cooling-off period
With an update to seller protections rolling out April 9, dissatisfied buyers will have a few hoops to jump through before they can open a Buyer Protection case. First, they will be required to contact the seller through the Resolution Center, and specify that the item was either not received or not as described. Previously, contacting the seller before opening a case was "encouraged" in order to qualify for eBay Buyer Protection, but not required.
Then, after making contact, the buyer must wait three business days before getting eBay involved, to give the seller a reasonable chance to respond and try to resolve the issue.
"How many times have we heard stories from sellers about when buyers wouldn't give them a chance to respond to their email before opening a dispute with eBay—sometimes literally within minutes of contacting the seller," says Rebecca Miller, Auctiva.com product manager and an eBay seller of 13 years. "This cooling-off period hopefully will put some anxious buyers as ease, and allow them to work out a resolution with the seller without involving eBay (which is the way it should be)."
Open cases won't count against you
If the buyer still decides to open a case, Customer Support will step in and make a decision. In the meantime, the open case won't count against you—only cases that are found in the buyer's favor will count toward your performance rating.
This aspect is particularly important for Top-rated Sellers, whose standing and eligibility for discounts are directly tied to performance. To maintain Top-rated status, for instance, sellers may have cases opened on no more than 0.5 percent of total U.S. transactions, and cases decided in the buyer's favor on no more than 0.3 percent of total U.S. transactions.
To put this in perspective, if you had 100 transactions in the last 12 months—the minimum needed to qualify as a Top-rated Seller—just one case would put you over the limit.
Reporting hub more accessible
eBay has been putting the pieces in place to support these new seller protections for several months. In October, eBay made it easier for sellers to report buyers that are violating policies or abusing the system, by putting links to the seller reporting hub on more pages.
The hub can now be accessed from the Sold Items view in My eBay and Selling Manager, the Leave Feedback page, the feedback profile page, in the message flow, in the Resolution Center and during the returns process. Through this hub, sellers can report an unpaid item, feedback extortion or other problems without risk of retribution from the buyer.
"We didn't do a very good job of letting buyers know what the expectations are inside of the marketplace"
eBay says it keeps the reports confidential, and uses these—in combination with technology that analyzes every single eBay transaction—to identify "patterns of inappropriate behavior," and take action.
eBay's recommendations to sellers: Check messages in My eBay daily and respond to buyers right away. And don't be afraid to report a buyer you think is out of line.
"It's a partnership," says Shawn Lindberg, eBay's senior manager of Trust and Safety. "We really need your help in reporting problematic buyers."
Just know that identifying problem buyers doesn't necessarily lead to their removal from the site. Except in cases of flagrant policy violation or fraud, eBay will generally favor "rehabilitating the buyer so they understand the norms of eBay," Lindberg explains.
eBay says it's also doing more to make sure buyers know what is and isn't acceptable behavior. A Buying Practices Policy that spells out eBay's standards is now more visible on the site, says Rich Matsuura, director of Seller Protection.
"We had some of these policies written, but we didn't do a very good job of letting buyers know what the expectations are inside of the marketplace," he says.
Here are some eBay pages to keep handy:
Report a Buyer — www.ebay.com/reportabuyer
Resolution Center — resolutioncenter.ebay.com
Seller Protection Center — www.ebay.com/sellerprotection
Seller Dashboard — www.ebay.com/sellerdashboard
Buying Practices Policy — www.ebay.com/buyingpractices
Editor's note: This article was updated Feb. 5, 2013 to reflect a change to eBay's User Agreement regarding how buyers should contact sellers to report problems, and the date the new policies will take effect.
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