“It's going to be a bloodbath,” says Cheryl Johnsen, a platinum-level seller on eBay. Last month war was declared in the online auction community and how this battle plays out may have broad implications in terms of opening up the concentrated world of electronic auctioneering.
At issue are changes in eBay's selling policies, introduced by new chief executive John Donahoe, which began taking effect last month. They include fee hikes of up to 66 per cent; a 21-day hold on some monies received through eBay's payment partner, PayPal; and barring sellers from leaving negative feedback on buyers with whom they've had a bad experience. According to sellers on DelphiForums, Allspark Forums and within eBay's very own discussion boards, it is the latter that causes the most concern.
The latest policy changes reveal that ratings will now be tied to the fees eBay charges sellers. The lower a seller's ratings, the more they will have to pay. Sellers who do small volumes will be effected much faster by a negative rating, since the payment involved will represent a larger percentage of their overall activity. In addition, the disallowment of shared information on bad buyers strips sellers of a protective tool.
Within minutes of the new policy announcements on January 29, a call to strike was posted on eBay's discussion forums by disgruntled seller Mary Killion. Entitled “Sign the pledge – no sales Feb 18-25!”, the posting received some 15,331 replies. This was followed by a YouTube video that received more than 110,369 views and nine similar videos. A petition then circulated and Facebook and My Space pages were created with the same theme. On February 18, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of eBay sellers ceased activity for a week.
Trawling the forum boards, including one at AllSpark.com dedicated to buyers who swindle sellers, it would appear that bad buyers are rampant on eBay. Johnsen, who has sold 7,000 items on eBay, tells of one buyer with five different user names who purchases items, claims non-receipt and has successfully received numerous refunds through credit card reversals. PayPal policies stipulate that sellers must prove buyers received an item. If a seller skimps on or forgets to purchase tracking, and a buyer claims nothing has arrived, the buyer is entirely refunded, without investigation.
Johnsen says that the announcement of eBay's new structure has already inspired buyers to take advantage. “I've already had experiences where buyers want to hold me hostage for more goods by saying they can leave negative feedback, not realising that the changes haven't taken complete effect ... buyers who decide they want some money back or perhaps just don't like the colour of the item now have immunity.”
Theories have developed about the reasons for the changes. Sellers, including those represented by Nancy Baughman, head of the Online Seller Cyber Union and the author of Buy It, Sell It, Make Money (iUniverse.com), are speculating that allowing seller ratings to fall may be part of a bigger strategy.
“Donahoe has been quoted saying he wants to rid of eBay of the flea market look,” says Baughman. “How do they do that? They get rid of the small seller ... ”
However, Jose Mallabo, a spokesperson for eBay, simply says, “The changes made to the site are geared to maintaining the long term health of the marketplace and the user experience. As for the boycott, we are in wait and see mode as it is too early to speculate on it.”
Sellers like Cheryl Johnsen are looking permanently for new shores. She has taken her auctions to iOffer.com, an auction site with the second-highest volume behind eBay, partly because of the PayPal 21-day payment delay. “You can't walk into a store and take something out and then, 21 days later, if you decide to keep it, you pay the store!” she says.
And she's not the only one – she is part of a community group titled “eBay Sellers who moved over to iOffer”. A tracking site of the number of online auctions at any given time at the website Power Sellers Unite shows a shift away from eBay to other players such as iOffer, Bidville, eCrater, Bidtopia and HiBidder.com.
Baughman is creating her own feedback forum. “We're going to do what eBay should be doing. We're starting an online seller blacklist. We're working to make it fair for buyers and we're working on preventing libel.” eBay has already noticed her actions. “I've been kicked off the eBay Forum for seven days. They call it hate speech.”
Tim Church, organiser of the MySpace strike page, has indicated that a follow-up boycott, scheduled for May 1, will ask sellers to hold out indefinitely. “In return for holding out, we will be contacting four alternative sites and asking them to be prepared, because we will be promoting them, and directing buyers to these four sites,” says Church.
Syl Tang tracks trends and runs HipGuide Inc
战争的导火索缘自eBay新任首席执行官约翰•多纳霍（John Donahoe）推行的销售政策变革。这项于上个月开始生效的政策包括：将收费提高66%之多；对通过其支付伙伴PayPal的部分付款延迟21天交付；禁止卖家向买家给出差评。在DelphiForums, Allspark Forums 和eBay讨论版上议论纷纷的卖家表示，他们最担心的是最后一项改革。
1月29日，新政策刚刚公布，心怀不满的卖家玛丽•基莲（Mary Killion）就在eBay论坛上发布了一张号召罢工的帖子，标题为“签署联名信——2月18日至25日停业！”。该帖收到15331篇回复。之后，YouTube上的号召视频点击收看次数达到110369，并相继出现9段类似视频。接着，一份请愿书在网络上传播，Facebook和My Space上都出现相同主题的网页。2月18日，成千上万的eBay卖家开始集体停业一周。
为什么要进行这一变革，人们对其原因议论纷纷。卖家们猜测，任凭卖家等级下滑，可能是一个更大策略的一部分。这些卖家以南茜•鲍尔曼（Nancy Baughman）为代表，她是网上卖家联盟（Online Seller Cyber Union）主席，曾出版《买吧、卖吧、赚钱吧》(Buy It, Sell It, Make Money)一书（由iUniverse.com出版）。
琼森并不是孤身作战，她是名为“搬到iOffer的eBay卖家”的社团组织的一员。Power Sellers Unite是一家跟踪统计即时在线拍卖交易数量的网站，他们的数字统计显示，eBay的交易正在向iOffer、Bidville、eCrater、Bidtopia和HiBidder.com等同类网站转移。