“eBay has a pro-buyer bias.”
“eBay has a pro-seller bias.”
These statements can't both be true, but when I receive mail about eBay these days, it's as often as not from an angry eBay member repeating one of these statements to me almost verbatim.
Sellers, say many eBay buyers, run ever-more amok—providing increasingly poor service and posting listings with such volume and ambiguity that it becomes difficult to find what you want to buy—not to mention the fact that if you leave them negative feedback over a poor performance, they will simply “neg” back in retaliation.
Buyers, say many eBay sellers, are increasingly impossible to work with. They ignore the terms and descriptions in auction listings, fail to pay promptly using seller-approved methods, and maintain unreasonable expectations about service and item quality that are as strict as or more strict than the expectations they have about retail stores. Add to this the fact that they have an incredible amount of leverage over sellers, able to “neg” for almost any reason at all, deserved or not—a potentially bad blow for any seller.
Is it possible that both buyers and sellers are right? That both buyers and sellers are wrong? What is to be done about the state of affairs on eBay, given their pro-buyer (or is that pro-seller) bias?
Times Change and So Does eBayOne reason for the increase in apparent “bias,” whether you're an eBay buyer or seller imagining the worst about your eBay counterparts, is the growth that eBay has experienced in recent years. Incredible growth has caused the eBay marketplace has simply become much, much bigger than it was only a few years ago, with well over 200 million users by 2007, nearly 100 million of these “active” in their eBay use. This increase is closely tied to a number of realities about eBay that simply can't be wished away:
- Many people on eBay are new to eBay. In practical terms, this means two things. First, that there are a lot of people on eBay at any given time who don't quite know what the limits or typical practices of an online trading site like eBay are; they may have expectations that are unreasonable, or at the very least, that match those that they have about other types of buying or selling. Second, it means that older eBay members will continue to inevitably see eBay's culture “shift” as more and more new members join, bringing their expectations and techniques for buying or selling with them.
- Listing and sales volume are increasing. No matter how great the rules and management of any commerce site like eBay are, an exponential rise in the number of items for sale at any given time is going to mean a similar rise in the number of complaints from buyers, as well as in the difficulty that prospective buyers have in using search tools to find that one item that they want to buy in an amazingly huge haystack of millions of eBay auctions.
- eBay has to adapt its rules and processes. For a a wide variety of reasons, some related to managing network traffic and server resources, others related to law enforcement and an ever-more international market to go along with an ever-growing user base, eBay has to change with the times. More users means more potential for trouble—and thus more rules. It also means more computing and management overhead to cope with ever-increasing complexity—and thus more costs and a greater need for revenue to continue to function effectively.
- eBay has to respond to its shareholders. With the amazing growth of eBay has also come its increasingly public nature. eBay is a publicly traded company and whatever else happens in the midst of this growth, it must respond to the needs its ever-more-diverse base of shareholders. No longer a company with a single goal, eBay's goals are now twofold: to provide the best possible trading platform for buyers and sellers, certainly, but also to maximize return for its shareholders, both in the short term and over the long term in an increasingly crowded e-commerce market.