Steve Grossberg, past-president and founder of the Internet Merchants Association (IMA), shared his thoughts about the biggest "pain points" a seller must endure on eBay in 2009.
Grossberg, who sells video games as 1busyman on eBay, operates a large eBay business. He received more than 10,000 feedback ratings in December alone. He was kind enough to share his views with us. But even more, he recently invited an eBay executive to visit his businessand when that executive arrived, Grossberg put him to work.
Here are the three main pain points Grossberg has identified:
1. Overgrown community
eBay's devotion to its "sense of community" no longer fits as a business model. Grossberg recognizes that, in the beginning, this was eBay's strength in the emerging Internet shopping market. People could come together with a sense of community, share their passion for hobbies, interact and feel safe in shopping with kindred spirits.
But as Internet shopping has evolved into the enormous marketplace we now occupy, that community spirit is no longer viable.
"I'm running a business, not a community," Grossberg says. "The community is no longer the model for Internet shopping. I'm on a mission to break this model because this model is breaking eBay." He notes that as your business grows, the small community model is simply not sustainable.
An NPB isn't a customer, so why should that person be entitled to rate a transaction that never happened?
2. Flawed feedback system
eBay should not allow nonpaying bidders to leave feedback. "eBay claims it doesn't take sides," notes Grossberg.
But, he observes, when the company allows a nonpaying bidder (NPB) to leave negative feedback for a seller who issues a NPB strike, the company is taking sides. "An NPB isn't a customer, so why should that person be entitled to rate a transaction that never happened?" Grossberg asks. "I don't want to file a strike against anyone, but eBay says I have to in order to get my final value fee (FVF) refund."
Grossberg proposes a new model that would be simple for eBay to institute, especially with the emphasis now on fixed-price sales. Currently, when a purchase is being made, the "pay now" button appears. Under Grossberg's proposed model, "After three days, that button disappears and the seller's item is automatically granted the FVF refund. Then eBay issues the strike against the NPB. That removes the adversarial relationship between the buyer and the seller."
If eBay sees a pattern of NPB for a particular user, then the corporation can take action and leave the seller out of the fray.
3. E-mail overload
eBay should take steps to reduce the deluge of e-mails large sellers receive. "I get 300 to 400 e-mails a day in my eBay mailbox," Grossberg reports. He estimates it would take five hours each day, nonstop, to answer all those messages. That would leave very little time for processing and shipping orders or listing new items.
"eBay buyers want to communicate with sellers, but that's not the model for a large business," Grossberg notes. He contrasts these astounding statistics with his experience on Amazon. "I get five to 10 PayPal disputes every day on eBay but have received none from Amazon in the last 90 days. On Amazon, I get five to 10 e-mails a day, which is manageable."
Why is there such a discrepancy between the two sites? "Amazon provides the customer service," he explains. "Both parties deal with Amazon, not each other."
Our successes aren't aligned among eBay, buyers and sellers
To make matters worse, Grossberg faults eBay's feedback changes with making life for large sellers even worse. "I look at my feedback for the past month, and I have 81 negatives with 10,000 positives. Why isn't eBay displaying that as 99 percent positive and leaving the 81 negative comments out of the list? Why include comments at all? It's human nature to go looking at those 81 remarks as opposed to the 10,000."
Grossberg suggests that once a person has attained PowerSeller status, feedback comments are no longer necessary. A simple designation of "eBay Trusted Merchant" would be every bit as effective.
A mile in his shoes
So, how did Grossberg entertain the visiting eBay executive who traveled to his Florida location? "I put him to work answering e-mails and filing NPB strikes," he says. "I wanted him to get a real feel for what life is like for a volume seller. By the time he left, he understood much better what the limits of the current system are!"
Grossberg reports that last year was a good one for him, with a sales increase of 31 percent. "I'm not naive enough to believe that eventually I won't go down with the ship," he remarks.
On eBay, success is capped, he adds. "Our successes aren't aligned among eBay, buyers and sellers."
Yet, he makes it clear that he isn't an eBay basher. "I'm eBay's friend," he says. "I'm telling them things to do to make the site better because I care about them. I see eBay in a free fall right now. Amazon reported the best Christmas everand clearly they're not having the same stock problems that eBay does."
Grossberg is still hopeful that eBay executives will take his advice to heart. He makes quite a compelling case for that to be a wise business move as we head deeper into 2009.