We are eBay fans, and have been so for years. We’ve bought all sorts of stuff on eBay, and have sold a few things too. And we’ve always been very careful to provide accurate feedback, and have expected accurate feedback in return.
But a few months ago we had a less than perfect buying experience. We bought a product that arrived defective (after a several week delay). The seller (after weeks of nagging) agreed to take the item back and replace it, and eventually he did in fact do so. As the seller did indeed deliver in the end, we opted not to give him negative feedback, but he definitely did not deserve positive feedback either. We left neutral feedback which we felt was honest and appropriate. And the seller responded by leaving entirely undeserved negative feedback about us. Since then, we’ve been sure to leave our buyer feedback only after the seller has left feedback for us.
But we have another item that we need to leave feedback on, and we intend to leave neutral feedback for this one, too. The problem is that the seller refuses to leave feedback for us until we’ve left our feedback for him. And we don’t want to leave feedback for him until he has left feedback for us.
Apparently, many eBay users are running in to the same issue. Feedback used to be an important way to help determine which buyers and sellers to do business with. But as feedback has become less honest and more retaliatory, the system is fast becoming useless. High positive feedback no longer means that the individual has only high positive feedback, it also means that he or she may have lots of negative feedback that was never left for fear of retaliatory negative feedback posting. The result is that when transactions are good for all parties, lots of positive feedback is posted. But when the transaction is less than good, no feedback is left. Sellers (especially those with scores in the hundreds or thousands) don’t care if the feedback is not left, and buyers (especially those with lower scores) can’t risk being the recipients of negative feedback.
In other words, feedback scores mean next to nothing nowadays, and that is hurting buyers, sellers, and the whole eBay experience.
eBay needs to fix this by enforcing feedback rules:
1) Feedback should be mandatory, and must have a time limit (perhaps 30 days). After that time limit, feedback should no longer be allowed, and the system should automatically generate negative feedback for non-compliance.
2) All of the feedback for any given transaction should remain private until all parties have provided feedback (or have exceeded the time limit). Parties should be informed that feedback has been left, but they should not be able to see the details until they have left their own feedback.
These changes will help level the playing field, and will help make eBay feedback scores relevant once again.

32 thoughts

  1. Hi Ben,
    very valid points and something I have believed for a very long time. As most people, I have had an Ebay account for a very long time. I have managed to keep a sparkling reputation despite a few "less than desirable" experiences. I have always believed you should be able to provide feedback without the fear of retaliation from the other party. I do not believe anyone should be able to see the feedback before feedback from both parties are submitted.
    I do disagree with one thing you recommend. "After that time limit, feedback should no longer be allowed, and the system should automatically generate negative feedback for non-compliance." Negative feedback on Ebay is a very bad thing. I think if you forgot to provide feedback you should not get a negative mark, because the purpose of feedback is not to show that you adhere to compliance rules but rather how good of a buyer or seller you really are. This could be better managed by a "no feedback" option showing how many transactions the user has not given feedback on so other parties doing business with that person can see just how much they have decided not to provide feedback.

  2. Bravo! I agree wholeheartedly. And I’m not sure I agree with TJ about the automatic negative feedback. The last two times I’ve used eBay, the seller didn’t bother to leave feedback. This is very annoying! I was happy with the transaction, and I took the effort to leave positive feedback, and the seller didn’t reciprocate. I’d welcome the suggested changes you offered, Ben.

  3. I have used Ebay for many years, back when it wasn’t even a household name. These kinds of issues with feedback have always existed, they’ve just gotten more prevalent as the service has become more popular and more sellers using them for actual business. I personally like the idea of some kind of mandatory time limit, but I think it should be the seller required to post feedback and the buyer having 14 days after that to post theirs. Since there is now the option to post comments about any negative feedback, we need to take away this ability sellers have to hold their feedback in reserve until you give them a good score. I’ve posted comments about this in the past to the Ebay forums, but of course, the sellers are very much against it, and Ebay cares more about keeping them happy than the buyers.

  4. Ben,
    I had a bad experience like this on my second attempt to buy somthing on eBay. I was trying to buy some Adobe software which seller claimed was genuine. It seems that the seller realised that I was an Adobe Partner and withdrew the sale and gave me negative feedback saying I had refused to pay.
    Subsequent attempts to buy anything on eBay were refused by several sellers so i gave up.
    I never got eBay to investigate and decided it was all too dangerous to participate.

  5. Instead of automatic negative feedback. How about after a transaction is finished and no feedback has been left for a party. Then Ebay automatically generates good feedback for that party. That way, volume sellers who are too lazy to leave feed back don’t have too, and yet new buyers can still build up their reputation.
    Unless there is a situation, most feedback from sellers is macroed anyway.

  6. Ben,
    The most recent, or second most recent issue of Scientific American Mind contains an article about the psychology of eBay and is written by some of the people working with eBay to revamp their feeedback system. One of the key improvements will be that sellers will be ineligible to receive feedback until they’ve left feedback for their buyers. So that people like this can’t blackmail buyers into positive feedback. Apart from providing hope for jaded eBay users, this is an interesting look into the human concept of fairness in business.
    Check out the article here
    http://www.sciammind.com/article.cfm?articleID=1D9DFCAC-E7F2-99DF-3C2DE7F657B943E5

  7. Sellers should have to leave feedback before the buyers have the option to do so, and seller feedback should be based on payment and communication.
    I’m in a situation now where I’d like to leave negative feedback but the seller is clearly an immature goof that I’d get retaliatory negative and it’s just not worth it for me to warn other buyers that the guy tried to charge me $17 bucks to ship a CD I won for 31 cents. (Actual shipping: $1.61)

  8. As a seller, we do exactly what you complain about. We never leave a positive until we get one, and always leave a negative when we get one (they are invariably wrong). We also never solicit feedback because who cares once you’ve got thousands of positives. You’ll probably solicit a negative.
    Your system is in fact biased towards buyers. The problem is the same with the suggestion by others of the seller going first based on payment alone because buyers leave negative feedback for reasons that have nothing to do with the seller, e.g., buyer didn’t read the details and item doesn’t fit, or a simple mixup which the seller would happily fix as he would any normal website order, but, instead of emailing, the buyer leaves a negative. (We then leave a negative about not emailing to fix a small issue.) So, sellers are forced to not give feedback until they see what they get, otherwise do without.
    I think your system would result in a lot of pissy negatives, because it costs you nothing at all to be nasty under your system. One rude email – leave a negative because maybe that guy will anyway and what can he do once they’re revealed? The present system of retaliation perhaps keeps people more in line. The egregiously bad buyers/sellers get negatives anyway. No system is perfect that I can see, every one will entail new strategies.

  9. Sorry ziggy, I simply cannot agree. If sellers had to leave feedback first, yes, they would probably get more negatives because they couldn’t blackmail buyers anymore with the threat of retaliatory feedback. And yes, some of that feedback would be undeserved. But when all sellers have to play by the same rules, it works itself out. Simply look at the Amazon sellers…there’s no buyer feedback there at all, it’s only seller feedback. And yes, I’m sure sellers on there occasionally get feedback they don’t deserve. But I always look for sellers that at least have 95% positives or more…that still allows for a fair amount of unreasonable complaints but shows that the seller overall does a good job. With the current ebay system, you really don’t know how much ratings truly reflect a seller’s ability to make a customer happy….or if they tend to manipulate the system to avoid getting bad feedback. I try to look for sellers who in their listing are clear about their feedback policies. If I know they will only leave feedback after a buyer does, I am far less likely to trust them. I also am very suspicious of sellers that have a lot of "mutually withdrawn" feedback. This is a good indication of a seller that will leave you negative feedback if you leave anything put positive for them…and then holds that negative as a leverage point to get their own bad feedback removed.
    As for shipping, it’s fairly well known that many sellers WAY overcharge for shipping. They price items well below cost and then jake up the shipping charges to compensate. Never, ever buy on Ebay without knowing shipping charges up front. Also, the new feedback "star" system at least allows you to leave positive feedback for a seller while still rating them low if they overcharge on shipping.
    For those that want a quick way to review the feedback on a seller, be sure to check out http://toolhaus.org/.

  10. I agree about the retaliation factor. The only negative and neutral feedback I have received on ebay (1 each) were retaliation from sellers that I left negative/neutral feedback for. I like the private feedback idea that you mentioned.

  11. I recently had a volume seller leave negative feedback for me at the tail end of the time limit. Since I hadn’t left feedback, I was left with no recourse other than a short explanation in my Feedback profile. The seller stated me as a non-paying bidder which was the furthest from teh truth. In fact, I had to dispute the transaction in PayPal to get my money back for the broken laptop I received.
    As a note to volume sellers not worried about not receiving feedback, I’d like to add that someone w/ 1000’s of feedbacks doesn’t worry about negative feedback either since its affect is negligible.

  12. I don’t think it is that complicated – just do not post or make feedback public until both parties have done so. That way I can leave my feedback anytime I want at no risk of anyone knowing it before they have a change to massage theirs. And there should not be a time limit. I’ve been involved with transactions that take time to sort out for one reason or another. Communication might be going well and if I am forced to leave feedback prematurely, then the seller would only have to drag it out for so long before screwing me or anyone else over.
    Its really nothing tricky, just do not show feedback until both have posted – then the differences can be worked out as they already are – this is a 20 minute fix – at tops.

  13. >>And yes, some of that feedback would be undeserved. But when all sellers have to play by the same rules, it works itself out.
    That’s exactly what you have now, a system that works itself out, just in a different way, as you say yourself below.
    >>I’m sure sellers on there occasionally get feedback they don’t deserve.
    Exactly as buyers do, except more so. Generally the buyer is just paying; a buyer though will post a negative because the post office didn’t deliver on time.
    >>But I always look for sellers that at least have 95% positives or more…that still allows for a fair amount of unreasonable complaints but shows that the seller overall does a good job.
    That’s exactly what I said above. So the system does work.
    >>As for shipping, it’s fairly well known that many sellers WAY overcharge for shipping.
    Well, I don’t and I’ve never experienced that but it’s pretty obvious you don’t buy anything anywhere without knowing the cost beforehand.
    No system is "just", they are all merely standards.

  14. >>I’d like to add that someone w/ 1000’s of feedbacks doesn’t worry about negative feedback either since its affect is negligible.
    We have a few thousand and we still do. Ebay will limit your sales if you have a string of negatives and complaints in a period no matter what your overall rating. We had a threat of that in a period where one idiot left many negatives after a big bulk purchase because his country charged him duty. And of course tried to screw us on the payal (which we won).
    Worry about negatives is precisely why big sellers don’t solicit more feedback.

  15. One other option is that feedback is automatically left as positive for the buyer when they pay via paypal and the money has transferred to the seller. From an ebayer’s point of view, the buyer has paid for the goods as described. The buyer has been a good ebayer.
    Now it is down to the seller to deliver the goods as described.

  16. "feedback is automatically left as positive for the buyer when they pay via paypal"
    but then what motivation does the seller have to deliver the goods?
    As I’ve mentioned, but no one has commented, why not simply hide the feedback from everyone until both have submitted it?
    Each party would get a message that the other has provided feedback and those comments are now public. The feedback process would then resume as it does now.
    Adding to my additional spin on this, you could add a cap of 30 or 45 days after which either party that has not provided feedback is reminded to do so. From there, a new label "unresponsive" would be tagged to that user fro that transaction instead of negative, positive, or neutral. Of course, each user will be able to edit their feedback during the time it is not visible (or pending the other to reply).

  17. Ja czesto kupuje na ebay’u, mysle ze swietnie pokazuje mentalnosc danego kraju.. Ebay w Usa jest super, mozna sie spotkac z ogromna zyczliwoscia ludzi.. Natomiast w ebay de to tragedia mnostwo oszutow.. Ale jak sie wie to wszytko jest ok..
    Thanks And Regards From Poland

  18. I disagree with Ziggy – ebay is biased towards the seller big time. I now only decided to use it to sell stuff since buying is rather risky business especially from people with less than few hundred positive feedback messages. People can simply take your cash and as long as its not a lot you have almost no way of getting either your stuff or money back. So don’t buy over eBay – just sell. Seller has all the power since he gets cash and then can decide whatever to ship an item or not. Maybe eBay would fix this by providing a free escrow service – this would limit the scam by a lot.

  19. I am so frustrated by the eBay feedback system that it’s nice to find a blog with similar views. I both sell and buy on eBay a lot. As a seller I leave positive feedback for any buyer who pays on time. End of story. I do the due diligence to make sure checks have cleared or money has posted to my PayPal account and then I leave feedback at about the same time I ship the package. As far as I am concerned, the buyer honored their end of the deal by paying me and that is worthy of positive feedback. Whether or not they leave me feedback is irrelevant but when I do, they do 99% of the time.
    As a buyer, I find it amazing that I have literally spent hundreds of dollars on a single item and not one thank you by email or in the box, no feedback, nothing. When I have had a good experience and do leave feedback, what I get back is an auto-generated positive feedback which I guess is better than nothing. I have gotten to the point that I just don’t bother leaving feedback for sellers who don’t possess the common courtesy to thank me for spending money with them.
    Imagine going to the mall, paying your money and having a cashier not thank you for shopping with them until you say "thank you so much for taking my money and for the lovely merchandise". Uh…oh yeah, this is already happening. We live in an age of bad manners.

  20. >>From an ebayer’s point of view, the buyer has paid for the goods as described. The buyer has been a good ebayer.
    I described several instances where the buyer pays and THEN causes a problem, so paying is only one part of it. Do you want to only judge the seller by shipping (not post office problems, not quality, nothing)?
    >>As I’ve mentioned, but no one has commented, why not simply hide the feedback from everyone until both have submitted it?
    I explained above why that is no better.
    >>ebay is biased towards the seller big time
    Everything you described has nothing to do with feedback at all. Any seller on ebay or elsewhere can just take your money and not ship. Pay with a cc or paypal and then cancel. (And any buyer can just cancel payment and steal items after received too!)

  21. @ziggy,
    I appreciate your feedback but I’m not sure where you are going with your reply to my statements. Everything I’ve suggested has to do with feedback and how to improve that function – which (btw) was the initial point of Ben’s post (as I und

  22. >>Everything I’ve suggested has to do with feedback and how to improve that function
    That’s why I specifically commented on why I don’t think it is an improvement.

  23. Too often too much effort is put in trying to create something innovative at the expense of intuitive. While it is nice to have the product look “great” it is much better to have it “work Great”

  24. Imagine going to the mall, paying your money and having a cashier not thank you for shopping with them until you say "thank you so much for taking my money and for the lovely merchandise". Uh…oh yeah, this is already happening. We live in an age of bad manners.

  25. Here is just an exmaple of what is going on over there. Ebay has changed their feedback and fee policy. Expect ebay stock to drop into the lower 20’s very soon. If you have stock, now would be the time to sell. Buy later once it drops to near nothing.
    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/new-feedback-policy-unfair-for-sellers
    http://answercenter.ebay.com/thread.jspa?threadID=1000104468&tstart=12&mod=1201831331602
    http://answercenter.ebay.com/thread.jspa?threadID=1000104384&tstart=13&mod=1201829991753
    http://forums.ebay.com/db1/thread.jspa?threadID=1000635648&tstart=40&mod=1201825719445
    http://forums.ebay.com/db1/thread.jspa?threadID=1000637539&tstart=40&mod=1201826584325
    These are just a few examples…..

  26. As a buyer, I find it amazing that I have literally spent hundreds of dollars on a single item and not one thank you by email or in the box, no feedback, nothing. When I have had a good experience and do leave feedback, what I get back is an auto-generated positive feedback which I guess is better than nothing. I have gotten to the point that I just don’t bother leaving feedback for sellers who don’t possess the common courtesy to thank me for spending money with them.
    http://www.automotive-repair-manual.net/

  27. Again, I never questioned whether or not your statement is true, [ebay is biased towards the seller big time], I only offered a solution to the feedback application being able to be more accurately report true feelings of the parties involved without that risking the outcome of the transaction.
    http://www.oyunambari.com

  28. I do not see how you have explained why the concept (of not posting feedback publically until both buy and seller have submitted it) is not an improvement.

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