This guide contains tips and information which should help if you find yourself on the receiving end of hostile or retaliatory negative feedback - especially if it's your first time.
This guide was written before the recent changes which have been made by eBay to the Feedback system (May - August 2008). These changes have addressed some of the major issues highlighted in this guide. I am very grateful that eBay have taken note of members' views and am very optimistic about the future of eBay as a place where decent people can trade with confidence.
For these reasons, this guide is now largely historical, but may be useful as an indication of past problems. I look forward to being able to remove it once we have had the opportunity to evaluate the revised feedback system.
IN THE BEGINNING...
If you haven't already done so, it is well worth having a look at the message from eBay's founder, Pierre Omidyar, which can be found at http://pages.ebay.co.uk/services/forum/feedback-foundersnote.html
When I first read his original vision of how the feedback system would work, I thought it seemed unrealistic, but my experiences on eBay have convinced me that, on the whole, most eBayers use the feedback system appropriately and respect Pierre Omidyar's call to “deal with others the way you would have them deal with you”.
WHAT IF THINGS TAKE A NEGATIVE TURN?
In a perfect world, it would be possible to avoid negative feedback simply by being a great buyer and/or seller.
But what if someone doesn’t play by the rules? What if, despite doing your very best, someone leaves you unfair hostile or retaliatory negative feedback?
Remember, this guide is aimed at first timers. Established traders may not even flinch at the prospect of negative feedback, but receiving that first hostile or retaliatory negative feedback can feel like a real body blow - especially if you were used to wearing your bright shiny 100% badge with pride. It can seem a very public set back. Suddenly, eBay can seem a much less friendly place.
Don't despair, help is at hand.
USING FEEDBACK AS A TOOL
The best way to avoid receiving unfair hostile or retaliatory negative feedback, is to avoid dealing with people who abuse the feedback system in the first place.
This means looking closely at the feedback record and you may have to do some digging. Often, the negative feedback is buried under layers of positive feedback (whether genuine or otherwise) making it harder to find.
It is important to look at the % feedback score, but that is just a starting point. It is also important to look at the number of different people who have left negative or neutral feedback.
The % score can vary wildly. For example, someone with a 100% record and a score of 9 who receives one piece of negative feedback from one person will plummet to 90% whereas a well-established trader with a high turnover and a score of 1000 or more might not even notice the effect.
But even looking closely at feedback received can only tell half the story. It is just as important to take a look at the record of feedback the person has left for others - especially where the transaction did NOT go smoothly.
The problem with only looking at the feedback received is that many eBayers - anxious to protect their precious 100% feedback record - are reluctant to leave negative feedback - even when it is thoroughly deserved. They fear retaliatory negative feedback.
However understandable this fear may be, they are not playing their part in helping to protect other eBayers. Worse still, they often get the retaliatory negative feedback anyway!
Leaving hostile or retaliatory negative feedback can often be a deliberate tactic because it can discourage people from leaving negative feedback for that person in the first place. It can also be part of an unscrupulous policy of feedback blackmail, so be wary of requests for mutual feedback withdrawal (see below) and have a good look at the number of mutual feedback withdrawals that have taken place.
If a buyer or a seller has regularly left retaliatory negative feedback in response to constructive feedback - whether positive, negative or neutral - it is a pretty good indication of their likely response should problems occur - including, for example, after-sales service or willingness to offer a refund.
"AFTER YOU"..."NO, AFTER YOU"...
So who should leave their feedback first...buyer or seller?
I believe the seller should always leave their feedback as soon as possible after payment is received because that is the point when the buyer completes their part of the transaction. If all sellers did this, it might significantly reduce the amount of retaliatory negative feedback left.
The buyer can only be expected to leave their feedback after they have received and checked the item.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
If you are unlucky enough to receive hostile or retaliatory negative feedback, contacting other eBayers who have been in the firing line can help. As well as helping to gather information that might help your case in the event of a dispute, contacting others affected can also give you a feeling of solidarity. It is unlikely that you will be the first victim.
Taking a closer look at the feedback record will provide the names of other eBayers affected and brief details of the problem with the transaction. I have found that most eBayers are very willing to respond to requests for more information and very keen to help where they can.
The only practical difficulty can be the measures used by eBay to cut down on the number of "unsolicited" messages. However, there should be no problem provided you target your messages at the people whose situation appears to have been most similar to yours and use legitimate mehods of contacting them.
For example, if an item never arrived, it may well have been lost in the post through no fault of the seller or the buyer. However, if you look at the person's feedback record and see a pattern of items not received, you might be suspicious - especially if it regularly leads to hostile or retaliatory negative feedback. It might then be worthwhile contacting some of the people most recently affected to find out more.
A good seller would take all reasonable steps to resolve a problem - not just because that is the right thing to do - it also makes good business sense.
HELP FROM eBAY
The eBay Feedback Forum (see below) includes links to various tools - such as replying to and following up on feedback comments and eBay policies on feedback removal.
However, the criteria for removal of feedback comments by eBay are very specific (see below) and most hostile negative feedback may not be bad enough to meet those criteria.
Don't let this stop you complaining to eBay. Why not let eBay decide whether they can take action? Who knows, your complaint might just give them the ammunition they need.
Even if you receive untrue and spiteful feedback comments, I totally endorse the advice to remain polite at all times. Don't let yourself be dragged down. For one thing, that won't help you in the event of a dispute.
During my research into this subject, I have come across many examples of "feedback rage" with insults being hurled backwards and forwards like custard pies. Some people seem to think this is acceptable behaviour and some seem to treat it as a game, but things can take a sinister turn and some of the worst examples I have come across include offensive and even racist remarks.
We should all condemn this unacceptable behaviour. The extreme examples should be removed by eBay but they can only act if the person receiving them takes the time and has the courage to complain.
MUTUAL FEEDBACK WITHDRAWAL
There is a simple procedure available for the withdrawal of feedback comments made by both parties.
There may be good reasons to consider this option - especially if your feedback score is relatively low and the harm done by the negative feedback you received was significant.
However, think very carefully before using this option. One of the most decent eBayers I have come across so far has a policy of never agreeing to mutual feedback withdrawal without a very good reason in order to leave a permanent warning to other eBayers - and I think they have a good point.
Even if mutual feedback withdrawal appeals to you, remember that the actual comments made remain on both feedback records.
The number of mutual feedback withdrawals could be a useful indicator of past problems - but take the time to look closely because there can be genuine reasons for mutual feedback withdrawal.
TOP TEN TIPS
- Carefully check both feedback received and feedback left for others
- Look for evidence of regular hostile or retaliatory feedback
- Look for significant numbers of mutual feedback withdrawals
- Avoid trading with people who abuse the feedback system
- If you do receive hostile feedback, try to remain polite
- Report feedback abuse to eBay
- Contact other eBayers who have been in similar situations
- As a seller, try to give your feedback promptly - don't save it for retaliation
- Consider mutual feedback withdrawal carefully
- Remember most eBayers are decent people
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE?
It was reported in the news on 5th February 2008 that eBay will be changing their policy regarding negative feedback and that sellers will no longer be able to leave negative feedback for buyers. I welcome this news and will be watching with interest.
The BBC Watchdog report broadcast on 5th December 2007 certainly helped to publicise the subject of feedback abuse on eBay.
By sharing information about the people who bring the feedback system into disrepute, we can help eBay to improve the system.
One of my objectives has been to encourage eBay to change the policy on the removal of feedback.
I identified two main areas:-
- A change in eBay policy is required to include effective sanctions where it can be demonstrated that a person habitually resorts to hostile retaliatory negative feedback - even where each individual comment may NOT breach eBay policy.
- Where a person is suspended from eBay for feedback abuse, there should be an automated facility to remove any feedback left by that person.
USEFUL eBAY LINKS:-
Feedback Abuse & Removal - http://pages.ebay.co.uk/help/policies/feedback-abuse-withdrawal.html
BBC Watchdog Report 05.12.07 - http://www2.ebay.com/aw/uk/200712051138432.html
Feedback Forum - http://pages.ebay.co.uk/services/forum/feedback.html
Feedback Policies - http://pages.ebay.co.uk/help/policies/ia/feedback.html
Other useful eBay guides (please note these are written by other eBayers - but I have found them very helpful):
Researching a person's Feedback Record: http://reviews.ebay.co.uk/Finding-those-Negatives-Neutrals-amp-Feedback-Withdrawns_W0QQugidZ10000000004857735
A LAST WORD?
If you still have your 100% feedback record, treasure it and long may it remain with you!
If you have lost your 100% feedback record unfairly, complain to eBay. The more people who complain about an abuse, the more likely it is that action can be taken. Try not to let the setback make you bitter. Most people are intelligent enough to make up their own minds.
I wish all eBayers who are trading fairly and in good faith all the very best and in the words of the old TV show Mr and Mrs: "Be nice to each other".
I would be very pleased to hear from you directly if you have been adversely affected by unfair, hostile or retaliatory negative feedback or if you want further information.
Thank you to all those eBayers who have given me their support and encouragement and who have reminded me that the vast majority of eBayers are decent people.
I would be very grateful if you would rate this guide using the link at the bottom of the page.