Sunday, February 17, 2008

How to fix EBay

EBay's recent changes to its feedback system are being widely decried as a bad move, but I'm not so sure.

The change eliminates the ability of sellers to rate buyers. In other words, if you sell an item on EBay but the buyer flakes, you don't get a chance to leave nasty feedback. From now on, only buyers can leave feedback for sellers.

Which is usually as it should be, as that's the norm in the general marketplace, yes?

Let me explain.

If I go to a restaurant and get lousy food and lousy service—say I find a cockroach in the soup and get smacked with a dirty mop by the waiter—then as a consumer I have various means at my disposal to inform other diners of what awaits them at Che Dirty Mop: I can leave negative feedback on Yelp, complain to the local chamber of commerce, or use good, old-fashioned word of mouth and tell everyone I know to avoid the place like a tourist bar on New Year's Eve.

But if, on the other hand, the service and food at Che Dirty Mop—name nothwithstanding—turns out to be good, yet I get a little too loud after my 3rd glass of wine or falsely accuse the chef of using rat meat in the veal cutlets, then the restaurant's owner or manager can ask me to leave. If I order food but then, after it arrives, send it back, telling the waiter I changed my mind, the owner can, from that day forward, exercise his right to refuse service and tell me never to come again.

But does the owner have the right to fax my picture to every restaurant proprietor in the area, telling them to steer clear?

That, I think, is analogous to EBay's now-defunct buyer feedback.

But there is still a problem at EBay that needs fixing, and it has to do with the delay between the bidder's winning an auction and remitting payment to the seller.

Anywhere else online, if I want an item, I pay for it up front, after which the seller mails it out to me. I don't email the seller saying, "Yeah, I'll take the Star Wars teapot" and expect them to hold it for me while I get around to sending in payment.

Therein lies the problem that EBay sellers want most to avoid—buyers who flake.

Which is why I think EBay needs a different system for paying, such as an escrow-like system in which a buyer's credit card is charged automatically once the sale goes through—too draconian?—or, say, a 24-hour deadline for paying. Buyers who miss too many payment deadlines could be barred from the site.

I'm just rambling here. I think I here my kettle boiling.

Bye for now,

—Mellow Monk

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