Category Archives: Ebay

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.