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Twelve Things You Didn't Know About Feedback

Know your way around the scoring system that makes eBay what it is


Twelve Things You Didn't Know About Feedback

Detailed seller ratings affect not just buyers' opinions, but search ranking and Power Seller status as well.

Image: Aron Hsiao
eBay's feedback system is one of the most complex amongst major online marketplaces for new and used goods. The complexity in question is the result of years of evolution, and of course, the system continues to evolve. Here are some things that you may or may not have known about the world of feedback on eBay.
  1. Only this year counts in feedback percentages. The feedback percentage that you see in the Meet the seller area of any auction listing is calculated using feedback the seller has received in the last 12 months. Though some buyers don't like eBay's attempt to keep memories short, it gives sellers a way to gradually benefit when their performance improves over the long term.

  2. High scores aren't necessarily great. Don't be fooled by super-high numbers, sometimes in the thousands or even tens of thousands, that appear next to the seller's feedback percentage. While you don't want to buy from anyone without a star (that indicates they have little selling experience), scores are just the total number of positive ratings without consideration of negatives. A seller with a high score might also have an unacceptable number of negatives, so review their feedback in detail and rely on their percentage, not their score.

  3. Ninety-seven (97) percent is a rotten percentage. Buyers are often misled by high percentages that would be excellent test scores on an exam, but that are actually rotten scores when applied to buying and selling. A seller with a 97 percent feedback score has left 3 of every 100 (or about 1 in 30) buyers feeling very dissatisfied. Look for 99 percent or better if you want to stay ahead of the game.

  4. Sellers can't leave negatives about buyers. Though there was a time when retaliatory feedback was an issue on eBay, those days are over, since only one party in a transaction can now leave a negative—the buyer. This 2008 policy change drove sellers crazy, but eBay was determined to create an environment in which buying and selling was more like a traditional business relationship, with sellers being forced to take more responsibility than buyers.

  5. Feedback is a forum. Yes, you can actually post replies and follow-ups to feedback, though few users ever do. Yes, such replies and follow-ups do appear in a user's public feedback profile. This gives buyers and sellers the opportunity to explain themselves to the public when they're involved in a transaction that goes bad. Use the Reply to Feedback Received page to post a feedback reply, or the Follow Up to Feedback Left page to follow up on feedback you've already left.

  6. You can make your feedback private. It's true, you may from time to time run across an eBay member that has used the Make Your Feedback Profile Public or Private tool on eBay to make their feedback profile private. Such users are no longer, however, allowed to sell on eBay, and many sellers won't do business with them, so unless you're tremendously embarassed by your feedback (and shame on you if you are), it's in your best interest most of the time to leave it public for the world to see.

  7. Detailed seller ratings aren't universal. If you happen to encounter a seller that doesn't seem to have a detailed seller rating online, don't run for the hills right away. In fact, detailed seller ratings only appear once a seller has done business with at least 10 buyers that were willing to leave detailed ratings for them. Depending on the types of goods involved, this can take dozens of generally positive auctions to occur.

  8. More-than-four stars is mandatory. Once detailed seller ratings do appear, you might be surprised to find that they're all reasonably good. This isn't by accident; eBay effectively punishes sellers whose ratings fall below too far below five stars. Power sellers are suspended from the program if any of their ratings falls below 4.5 stars. Sellers whose average rating falls below 4.2 stars may find that their items are no longer selling quite as well, for the reason we're going to discuss next.

  9. Feedback affects your search results. Sellers whose feedback ratings aren't quite up to par are penalized in eBay's search ranking system, meaning that many prospective buyers will never see their listings at all. For sellers, this means it's important to keep your feedback good and your detailed seller ratings high. For buyers, it means that eBay is protecting you from problem sellers, but it also means that you should think twice before you give a three-star or four-star rating to a seller. Are you dissatisfied enough to indicate to eBay that the seller should effectively be put out of business? A four-star rating comes close to suggesting this, a three-star rating yells it from the mountaintops.

  10. You can lose your feedback privileges. As a buyer, if you fail to complete a transaction with a seller or fail to pay for an item in a timely manner, eBay may automatically remove negative feedback you've left for the seller since you didn't actually complete or intend to complete your purchase. Furthermore, buyers with a tendency to leave positive feedback but very low detailed seller ratings may be contacted or sanctioned by eBay, since doing so effectively distorts the effectiveness of the feedback system.

  11. You can't leave feedback forever. Just as is the case with disputes, you can't wait too long to leave feedback for a transaction you've been involved in. You have sixty (60) days from the close of the auction to give your opinion about your trading partner; after that, the feedback form won't give you the option of leaving feedback for the transaction in question.

  12. You can leave feedback in batches.You don't have to crawl through your My eBay index leaving feedback one auction at a time in tedous fashion. Instead, use the Leave Feedback link hidden at the lower-left of your My eBay status page to leave feedback for all of your auctions at once (you can exclude any that you aren't yet ready to rate).
As Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay suggested, the feedback system remains the core of what makes eBay different from many other online buying and selling venues. It's in everyone's interest to understand as much as possible about how it works and to use with the greatest possible care.
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