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What is feedback manipulation and how do I avoid it?

What to know about one of eBay's most frustrating and violated rules

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What is feedback manipulation and how do I avoid it?

It doesn't matter how great your feedback is or has been in the past; doing the wrong thing can still cause eBay to take your selling offline.

Image: eBay

The eBay feedback manipulation policy is one of eBay's most notoriously frustrating policies. It's also one of eBay's most flexible policies in terms of what it means and how it's enforced—which is probably why it's frustrating to so many.

In a nutshell, the policy makes it a suspendable eBay offense to leave feedback in a way that manipulates the feedback system. But what does this mean?

In practice, this means that eBay wants all feedback to paint a picture of what eBay and its members are like for basic, everyday buying and selling by regular, non-eBay-specialist people, not a carefully crafted result that makes buyers and sellers look either better or worse than they actually are in their everyday buying and selling lives.

Of course, this is all still pretty general, and eBay's policy, too leaves things open, which often means that sellers busy trying to build or rehabilitate their feedback profiles can run afoul of the policy and end up suspended, as can buyers doing something as simple as trying to give problem sellers a second chance but feeling a bit conflicted while doing it.

Here are some things that may (and in many cases do) lead to suspensions under the feedback manipulation policy when eBay members do them.

Things for Sellers to Avoid

  • Buying lots of very cheap goods. eBay's system takes a dim view of sellers whose buying activity seems to be about improving their feedback, rather than buying things they want or need. This is true particularly if your feedback percentage has suffered in recent weeks, if you're buying mostly digital goods, if you're buying items in the dollar-or-less range, and if you buy a large number of such items very quickly.

    The takeaway: Build your feedback, sure, but do so by making real purchases just as you really would of stuff that you really want, and make sure that your purchases don't average out to mere pennies. Don't make it look like you're just buying positive feedback.

  • Offering positive feedback. Sellers are generally free to tell buyers that they expect to earn positive feedback by being good sellers with great customer service to boot. eBay is watching carefully, however, for sellers that are selling very cheap goods and that make promises to leave positive feedback quickly for buyers.

    The takeaway: Sell what you want, but don't make promises in advance about feedback, and don't make it look like you're actually selling positive feedback rather than selling items that people might actually, you know, want to buy.

  • Telling changes in items for sale. Closely related to this last item is the practice of suddenly switching to an entire stock of high-feedback items (especially low-priced digital ones) when your feedback starts to go south. eBay knows what categories you sell in and what your average selling price is. If your feedback takes a hit and you're suddenly selling a whole bunch of goods worth pennies at below even that market value, eBay assumes you're just propping up your poor past performance.

    The Takeaway: Sell the same things in the same mix regularly, or change gradually over time. Avoid bursts of selling or selling changes that make it look like you've decided on a sideline of "lose a little money and get back my feedback" before you return to a troubled business-as-usual.

  • Selling too cheaply. Even if you've found a way to offer lots of things for a penny that everyone else sells for dollars, don't do it. In general, if eBay sees a regular seller pumping goods into the market at well below market value—particularly if they decide you likely can't run a profitable business that way—they'll decide there's likely a feedback manipulation angle at work.

    The Takeaway: Undercut your competition, sure, but don't make it look like you're happy to lose money selling because there's another angle at work; don't make it your regular business to sell items for just a penny or even just a few of them, since eBay tends always to be suspicious of these prices.

  • Including the word "feedback" in your listing title. If your feedback is particularly impressive, it might be tempting to make this into a selling point, but worries about feedback manipulation have caused eBay to dislike this practice when it comes to listing titles.

    The Takeaway: Don't do it—eBay has explicitly banned the use of the word in listing titles.

Things for Buyers to Avoid

  • Sending mixed messages in feedback. Don't mix a really poor detailed seller rating with a positive feedback evaluation and a really happy comment, or vice-versa. eBay tends to view mixed messages like this as a case of "something else is going on here," rather than a case of mixed feelings.

    The Takeaway: Your detailed seller ratings and feedback evaluation should match, not radically disagree. If you can't make up your mind, wait and try again later when you're more sure of yourself.

  • Leaving feedback too quickly. In the case of non-digital goods, eBay has as much common sense as the rest of us: it takes a while for items to be shipped to your door. Routinely leaving feedback long before items can possibly have reached you opens you up to feedback manipulation charges.

    The Takeaway: Be honest about your feedback, since that's what it's for—wait until you know how the transaction turned out before telling the world how it turned out.

  • Leaving lots of feedback for the same seller. This gets deeply into the "judgment call" territory that many eBayers hate, but leaving lots of feedback for the same seller in a short period of time can make it seem as though you and they are in cahoots—even if that's not actually the case. In particular, avoid doing this for low-value items, which tend to arouse eBay's suspicions.

    The Takeaway: If you do buy multiple inexpensive things from a single seller, make sure that you do it from the same account (don't use several different accounts to make such purchases if you have more than one) so that it doesn't look like you're padding their feedback, and consider leaving feedback once for the entire group and leaving it at that.

  • Leaving lots of negatives. eBay has a pretty good idea about how many transactions on the site turn sour, so they take a dim view of buyers who report negative encounters much, much more often than anyone else. This is particularly true if you leave lots of negatives about a single seller, and you're basically guaranteed a suspension if you buy from the same seller using two different accounts, then leave negatives in both cases.

    The Takeaway: Why are you leaving so many negatives? If you're having repeat bad experiences, it may be time to change what you buy on eBay or how you evaluate sellers.

The Shill Bidding Angle

Buyers and sellers that carefully setting goals for better feedback should also be very aware of eBay's shill bidding policy. Never leave feedback between accounts that you own, or between accounts that can be connected by a name, address, phone number, bank account, family tie, or other relationship.

Doing this will always lead to a rapid suspension, though usually for "shill bidding" rather than feedback manipulation.

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