eBay: biassed, incompetent, indifferent or all three?

Fairness and a transparent, responsive, timely process for getting justice matter to us

There are a number of situations, events, processes that are guaranteed to generate contempt, anger, rage.  One such situation is when we perceive that we have been punished when we should not have been.  Yet, this anger arising out of our strong sense of justice, is likely to melt away if there is access to an easy to use, impartial, transparent process for dealing with complaints.  Yesterday, the UK consumer affairs tv program singled out the DVLA and  Microsoft (Xbox 360) for their tyrant like behaviour towards their customers.  Fo example Microsoft disconnected customers in mid August. Why?  Microsoft asserted that the customers had violated the terms of usage. When customers complained (including mums and their young children) what did Microsoft Customer Service say?  Something like “We are right, you are wrong. And we never make mistakes.  If you want to carry on playing XBox 360 you have to get a new console!” Does this remind you of the behaviour that Dave Carroll was subjected to by United? Then when Watchdog got involved Microsoft recanted: we made a mistake due to a software fault!  Today, I want to look at eBay and share a more personal story withyou.

eBay: biassed, incompetent, indifferent? – I’d say all three!

Imagine that you trade on eBay, it is the early part of September and you list an item (headphones) for sale.  You describe the details of the item and you set out the price.  Because you do not want to create any problems for anyone including youself  you go further on your listing: you clearly state in a large font size that the headphones will be shipped out by 24th September 2011.  Before you know it people start buying these headphones.  You are on holiday and when you can access the internet you (the seller) remind the buyers that the headphones will not be shipped out until 24th September as you are on holiday. As it happens you get back a little earlier and start posting out the headphones on the 21st September and complete the task by 23rd September – you have to pack and post some 50 packages.  And you have a proof of postage from the local post office to show exactly when and to whom you have posted the headphones.  At this point you might be feel happy as you are shipping the goods out to your customers earlier than you had promised.

Well the story did not have that happy ending because the seller did not take into account the whims of some his customers and the bias of eBay towards buyers.  Around the 21st September some of the buyers started filing complaints against the seller stating that they had not received the headphones.  You, the seller, get on the email and remind the buyers that the listing clearly stated that the headphones would not be shipped out until 24th September.  And that you have now posted the headphones – they are on the way to the buyer.  At this point you might think that everything will work out fine – you are wrong.

Whislt some of your buyers get that that you have kept your word, other buyers are not happy.  And you find yoursef unable to resolve the issue with these buyers.  How can you?  You have shipped out the headphones and you have proof of postage.  The case escalates to eBay and eBay sends you an email to let you know that they have judged in favour of the buyer.  So you appeal.  You ask eBay to look at the listing (and they will see that it clearly states the goods will not be shipped until the 24th Sept) and you spell out that you sent the goods before the 24th.  And you offer to send a copy of the proof of postage.  You might think that eBay would ask for the proof of postage, look at the eBay listing and then rule in your favour.  You would be wrong, instead you get this:

If you take a look at this notice you will find that no rationale is give for why eBay has ruled in favour of the buyer.  There is absolutely no response to your assertion that the listing clearly stated that the headphones would be shipped by the 24th Sept, the buyer bought knowing that, you shipped as promised on the listing and you are happy to send the proof of postage to eBay.  And there is no contact number – there is nobody that you can speak to.

I’d love to share the listing with you so that you can see it for yourself.  Unfortunately, eBay has suspended the sellers account and so no-one can see the listing:

One final piece of the story: you the eBay seller have contacted both eBay and PayPal to understand what is going on, to put your case forward, to provide the documentation.  What is your experience?  The eBay folks tell you that you have to contact PayPal and get this sorted out.  The PayPal folks tell you that you have to contact eBay folks and get this sorted out!  No-one at eBay or PayPal wants to stand up and work with you to sort this out.  And they cannot or will not tell you what rules you have broken!  Just that you must have broken some rules.  Does this remind you of Microsoft’s treatment of its XBox360 customers?

What can we learn?

You cannot count on your customers to read what you have written even if ask them to read it and/or display in large size fonts right there on the screen.  This is one of the issues that plagues the insurance industry, for example, people buy insurance without reading the policies to find out what is and is not covered under what circumstances.

Many customers do live up to their side of the bargain including acknowledging their mistakes (if these are pointed out gently) and apologising.

A small number of customers cannot be reasoned with as they are convinced that they are always right and if something is not working out as they’d like then it has to be your fault.

In the West we live in a world of instant gratification if you are selling online then it is best to assume that the customer is expecting delivery within the next day or so.

If you are a seller then you cannot count on eBay to treat you fairly because eBay can get away with treating you unfairly.  Buyers are more important by the simple fact that if you are not selling then someone else will happily take your place.

Power leads us to dehumanise others.  Which is why the bigger and more powerful the organisation (eBay, DVLA, Microsoft) the more likely it is to treat customers, employees, suppliers etc badly.  I wrote a post on that about a year ago.

A final word

The eBay seller is related to me which is why I know this story so intimately.

If you from eBay or PayPal: I issue you a challenge lets make the facts of the case (publish the listing, the emails, the proof of postge) clear to the world.  And let the world at large judge who is in the right and who is in the wrong.  If you are convinced of your justness then you should have no issue in taking up my challenge.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

6 thoughts on “eBay: biassed, incompetent, indifferent or all three?”

  1. Maz,

    That’s quite a story. I think you have drawn out all the key points. The only thing I would add is that if this incident really pisses you and the seller that much then there is really only one route forward. Total war! Consult a legal buddy and see what they say. Talk to a media buddy for the best way to build a viral stinker. Its unfortunate when Might is Right, but you either walk away or raise the stakes


    PS of course talking to Michael Hill could also be a smart move!


    1. Hello Martin

      Welcome to the conversation, I am pleased to hear your voice. This incident does not really piss me off and the ‘Seller’ has used the incident as a lesson. One, not to sell anything that he is not ready to ship the next day. Two, make sure that the person on the other side absolutely has to sign for the delivery. Guess who will pay that extra cost? The buyers – all of them.

      The frustrating bit is the remarkable fact that PayPal can do what it likes! Really there is no regulation that covers/controls PayPal as it is not designated and thus regulated as a bank. Yet, in lots of ways it does act as a bank!

      As for talking with Michael Hill, that could be a smart move indeed.



  2. There is nothing surprising about the way both eBay buyers and eBay reacted. Making a bunch of listings and then trotting off on holiday is not standard practice, and your relative’s first mistake. Amazon would likely have responded the same way.

    His second mistake was not using the words “Pre-Sale” in both the title and description. Saying the item would not be mailed until such and such a date does not comply with the letter of the rule.
    eBay’s pre-sale rule can be found here: http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/pre-sale.html

    Number 3: Did he set the handling time to reflect the number of days before shipment was planned?

    That said, there is nothing reasonable about eBay from the seller’s point of view. Your relative should probably find a a new venue to sell from and a payment processor other than PayPal because he will be wasting his money listing on eBay after a 30 day suspension. His visibility will be close to zero and I would bet he will have holds and reserves imposed.

    Please tell him not to try to get around the ban, they will catch him, even with a new seller ID and PayPal account. Try eCrater.

    In the USA proof of posting does not cut it, you must have online tracking with proof of delivery. Even with proof of delivery US sellers have had buyers refunded. eBay is no longer small seller friendly.


    1. Hello Henrietta
      I thank you for taking the time to share your experience and your perspective. Your advice sounds sensible and I hope that people will benefit from it. For my part, I will be sharing it with the ‘Seller’.

      I wish you well.



  3. Maz, interesting story, I side with e-bay (sorry). Clearly the customer is an idiot but they do have the cash, and if I was buying a pizza I wouldn’t expect it to arrive in 4 weeks tie after the pizza man gets back from holiday. Even if he had told me so.

    That is not to say I side with Microsoft though.



    1. Hello James

      Thanks for chiming in and adding your perspective. And you can disagree with me and we can still be in communication and respect one another as professionals and human beings.

      I find human behaviour interesting. Logically you would expect that the Seller had done all the right stuff. And to some extent he has because 2/3 of the buyers are happy and have not complained. Yet, at the same time he has not factored in the other 1/3/.

      I wonder how often companies do that when they make universal rules.

      Be well and thank you for adding your perspective.



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