Why eBay sucks for buyers, too

I’ve read some posts recently on why it sucks to sell on eBay (short version: high-ticket items are scam magnets, etc etc). But let’s say you’re a buyer, like me, and you’re interested purchasing a Nintendo Wii.

Here are the top listings in the Nintendo Wii system category as I write this:
1-4 are Wiis in various states/bundles/misleading “5 games included” when all it has is the free Wii Sports disk
5 is a Wii accessory
6 is a gambling/lotto scam
7-10 are more Wiis
10 is a PS3 with spammy keywords

Scanning the first couple pages of listings, about 30% are clearly prohibited. There are many listings for ways to get the Wii for “free” and “information”on where to find them and whatever else. In a high-traffic category where you should only see listings involving the system itself, where you’d think eBay would be pretty active in policing, since they’re spending a lot of money driving visitors off Google (etc) there, it’s tooth-grindingly annoying to actually shop for one.

What makes matters worse is that, while it’d be nice if they’d police their listings better, they make the process for reporting a bad listing confusing and difficult. Say you want to report that guy at #6 who is running many, many different scam lottery listings. First you hunt the report link, which is all the way at the bottom after page after page of scammy disclaimers and pleas in horrible colored HTML text on why their particular lottery isn’t really a lottery or… whatever.

On the “Report this listing” page, you’ve got two choices that seem obvious: one is “prohibited (banned items)” and the other is “listing policy violations”.

Logically, you might go

Listing violation -> “Misleading title” or “keyword spamming” even, but what you might really want is “other…” and then there’s an option for “Miscategorized items” (or, at that point, since they’re selling tickets or whatever, “Listing more than fifteen identical items”)

Whichever way you wind your way through their difficult complaint form, you reach this page, which I think should win some kind of award for deceptive dead-ending.

Things that are wrong with this page, a non-definitive list
1. The 1-2-3 metaphor breaks on the first page, when you start at 2
2. The “Review Help and Email Us” makes no sense as a navigation pointer or an instruction
3. The yellow-highlighted page is confusing. Is it a post-complaint suggested reading? Am I being diverted?
4. The “Contact Customer Support” link shows no indication that this is what you need to select to proceed with your complaint.
5. Moreover, it looks just like other generic “email us” links and is separated from the rest of the page by a horizontal divider, which says “unrelated” to the user. There’s no “Email us your complaint about item xxxxx” though the page is passed that information.

The result is that if you stumble on the report link, manage to find a complaint category/subcategory/subsubsubcategory that’s vaguely related, you wind up dumped here, without an obvious way to proceed down the path.

As a result, in trying to shop for an item, you pretty quickly see that eBay’s listings don’t reflect that they’re able to enforce their listing policies. Attempting to complain about a particular listing is made difficult to navigate, so eBay either intentionally wants to reduce email volume by frustrating you or they don’t care enough to make the system work.

Then what? Once you’ve complained, you wait. And nothing happens. I’ve been idly shopping eBay on and off for a couple years, and I have never seen them take any kind of action against serial offenders I’ve complained about. De-listing a specific auction is about as bad as it gets. The guy I was complaining about at item #6 in the list I pulled up has a decent feedback rating (somehow, you can speculate whether he got that legitimately or not) despite doing this kind of crap all the time.

It’s clear that the company places raw transaction volume at the top of its priority list – customer service and maintaining any kind of community are things they do only as they must, because doing them well costs money and reduces transactions they can take their cut of.

And yet I have to wonder how this is sustainable. I wouldn’t use eBay to sell a laptop, because I’ve heard too many horror stories, and I’m extremely reluctant to buy anything worth more than $50 on a site where they take their public-facing policies so lightly and treat complainers so poorly. If they’re not willing to listen to and respond to someone pointing out scammers running about, why would I reasonably expect that they would attempt to resolve disputes fairly?

It’s also a market opportunity: eBay’s explosive growth early was fueled in large part by a strong community they’ve exploited and destroyed. It seems like user reputation done better, with more vigorous site (or user-based) listing policing, would attract hordes of people eager to shop and sell there. Even with eBay’s massive initial advantage in having the most sellers for buyers and the most buyers for sellers, if someone offered me a market with far fewer buyers but a much better chance at an honest one, much cleaner listings to shop from, and fewer sellers but more reliable ones, I’d certainly go there, and I can’t be alone.

6 thoughts on “Why eBay sucks for buyers, too

  1. Scraps

    I used to love Ebay, for all its flaws, and did a lot of my shopping there (and a fair amount of selling). It’s astonishing how thoroughly they seem to have been taken over by short-sighted policies, how quickly they have squandered their considerable customer appreciation. Every Ebay regular I know agrees that it’s gone downhill catastrophically. They must be aware of the plunge of their reputation, yet they appear to simply take their market for granted. They certainly won’t be the first company to get huge and think they’d become untouchable, but it sure is something how quickly they’ve become a cynical dinosaur.

  2. DMZ

    I always find it a wonder that companies do things like that in pursuit of short-term goals.

    I was at a company once that made more money per-customer than any of their competitors: it was a huge competitive advantage, because we dominated a high-margin, low-fraud by being really, really good at serving them.

    Then we started to expand our market, doing things like giving out cell phones to people with abysmal credit scores, and as a result someone else took our good customers and we were left with horrible ones. It’s crazy.

  3. Fnarf

    I’m a heavy Ebay user, because it offers something you can’t get anywhere else: a huge marketplace. But you’re right, Ebay doesn’t care about their customers AT ALL. They never have. I don’t think it’s “gone downhill” aside from the marked increase in scammers; they’ve always been terrible at it. They don’t care.

    They do police listings, but it takes them FOREVER. One common scam is the little old lady who sells doll clothes or whatever, who clicks on a link in her spam and gives up her password. Within minutes she’s selling dozens of high-end computers, Leica cameras, wide-screen TVs, and so forth. It takes a month for the bad feedback to start showing up. Ebay does go after these guys, but it takes them a really long time.

    Another popular new scam is the bogus “second chance” email that comes to your private email, not ebay, after you lose an auction, even if you dropped out at $5 on an item that ended up with twenty bidders at $1,000. The seller fell through, and he’s offering it to you again, just don’t tell Ebay. You pay him separately via Western Union and he disappears. Again, Ebay shuts these guys down but only after they’ve been scamming for months.

    The little stuff you mention — accessories in the main category, etc. — Ebay’s NEVER going to pay any attention to. You can try telling the seller privately to list correctly, but they’ll just tell you to fuck off. You have to have the patience to wade through the crap. And even then you’re going to get burned.

    You have to learn how to read the listings, too, and how to spot the seller who’s an even bigger threat than the scammer: the moron, who doesn’t know the difference between a camera that works and one that doesn’t. They are legion.

    The biggest Ebay scam of all isn’t even illegal; there are tons of things being sold on Ebay for considerably more than you can find them elsewhere.

    The problem with trying to get them to behave is that there’s no real reason for them to reform. Why should they? All they have to offer is their vast market of buyers and sellers; any potential competitor can have all the ethics you can imagine, but without that market they die on the vine. The trick is to think of them not as a reputable company but as the ex-con who parks his beater down behind the Wal-Mart and sells stolen goods out of his trunk.

  4. Cecilia

    Hello, found this site searching google. I agree completely that ebay has turned to crap. Searching online so that I can vent with others about how much I hate ebay and wish that no honest person would use that site. Ideally it should be left only for scammers so that they end up scamming each other and self-destruct.

    Was a long time ebay user and used to think it was great but in this last month ebay made my life a nightmare. I couldn’t sell a new ipod or my old laptop without getting scammers on my back. I agree about being careful, but the problem with ebay is that: 1. they continued to charge me for Final Value Fees even though I was never paid for any of the items by winning bidders b/c they were all from Nigeria and 2. They make it very confusing and frustrating to contact them when there is a problem. 3. Customer service is not helpful. When I tried to report how somebody breached my account, I literally got bounced between account security and custumer service 5 times, and each time no one was helpful.

    Please, is there any other place to sell stuff in an honest environment??? I guess I have to go back to the flea market? who can I trust?

  5. kash

    I used to buy lots of things on eBay, and I still have no problems selling things on eBay, but lately buying things has become quite horrible. I run into more and more sellers that will either not ship the item at all or ship a stolen (unusable if its a cell phone) or broken item or an item of such horrible quality compared to what is described in the listing. And then if you try to complain, they either don’t respond or you have to threaten reporting them to eBay or suing them to get them to respond. Then when they do respond they’re really cocky about the whole situation and try to make it out to be your fault. And don’t even bother leaving them bad feedback, because then they’ll just leave you bad feedback in response and say something like “not fair”. Most “Power Sellers” get really bent out of shape about negative feedback and some will harass you for weeks about it to try to get you to revoke it. The new rules that just came out that allow only positive feedback for buyers is an attempt to curb the “negative feedback just because you gave it to me” problem, but it won’t help with the problem of bad sellers screwing up and then avoiding you or being cocky to you. I was going to stop buying things on eBay altogether, but I’ll probably just try to stay away from “Power Sellers” that have even just one negative feedback comment.

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