How Feedback + DSR Are Destroying Seller Reputations...

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...or The Hazards of Defective Seller Ratings and Why eBay Feedback is Failing Sellers

Feedback, Some Background Information:

As it stands at the moment a buyer can leave 3 types of feedback for a seller: positive, neutral, and negative; whilst a seller can only leave positive feedback. This, in turn, is complimented with the addition of DSR (Detailed Seller Ratings), which are only displayed once a seller has at least 10 buyer ratings and cover four key areas of a seller's interaction with a buyer: Item as Described, Communication, Dispatch Time, and Postage and Packaging Charges.

When a transaction is completed on eBay both the buyer and the seller are expected to leave feedback for each other, with the buyer rating their experience with a comment and DSR scoring. The seller's overall feedback score and DSR are then used in calculating whether they are eligible for various Powerseller (soon to be Top Rated Seller) bonuses and search standing (how visible their listings are on eBay).

In theory this sounds like a good method. In practise it's a nightmare.

Take this scenario, for example:

Buy an item from a seller (a nice cheap item with low postage, so total cost less than a couple of pounds).

Decide (either before or after you receive the item - it doesn't matter which) that you don't want the item and raise a PayPal dispute (as would actually be recommended by PayPal in the event of a buyer not being happy with something).

Insist on a refund on the grounds that you have not received the item. - It is unlikely that the buyer will have used Recorded Delivery or some other form of trackable delivery ( note: eBay are planning on phasing out insurance as an option in listings within the next couple of months, making it even more unlikely that trackable delivery will have been used!) unless you requested it or paid for it in with the cost of your purchase, so the seller won't be able to prove that you have the item regardless of whether you have actually received the item yet or not.

Now leave negative feedback for the seller and all 1s or 2s on their DSR.

Congratulations! - You have just grievously damaged the seller's standing in eBay (including the visibility of their listings) and there is not a thing they can do about it, save trying to have your feedback comments removed (this can usually be done if the seller is prepared to spend an hour of so submitting a Notice of Defamation to eBay detailing why they believe the feedback was unfair and why it should be removed, etc. and can often take at least a couple of days before the comment is removed); but even then the damage inflicted on their feedback score or DSR will still remain, as will any damage to their search standing (and there is absolutely nothing to prevent this from happening several times, even if the seller sensibly adds those buyers leaving negative feedback to their blocked bidder list).

In fact, a buyer does not even need to raise a PayPal dispute to damage a seller's standing on eBay and neither do they need to have paid for an order - negative feedback and bad DSR scores can be left right from the moment that a buyer confirms a Buy It Now purchase or becomes a winning bidder on a listing.

...and they could do this to hundreds, if not thousands, of sellers and even if eBay stopped them it is highly unlikely that there would ever be any attempt to undo the damage they had done unless it was to become a major publicity issue for eBay.

So why publish this? - Is this some kind of vendetta against eBay?

No, this is not some kind of vendetta against eBay.  Aside from the above scenario speaking for itself on the potential problem of feedback and DSR abuse, increasingly over the past few months I have been seeing other sellers, many of which have previously been very successful, being hit by high levels of negative feedback and adverse DSR, where the basis of the negative feedback has been questionable to say the least.

Indeed, I, too, have found myself facing a similar situation and one that has been getting progressively worse to the point where I have been forced to scale down sales activities on my main *litez* account purely to enable that account to recover sufficiently to restore my search standing to a normal, as opposed to lowered, level.  In the last 5 months alone I received 6 negative feedback comments on that account that illustrate the situation perfectly:

defender-locksmiths raised a dispute and left negative feedback on my account because of a listing error. - There was an error in the number of units per order in the listing details at the top of the listing, although the item description was accurate.

Had the buyer made it clear where the error was I would have considered sending an additional unit; instead they refused to clarify where the mistake was and used that and the dispute as a means of forcing a refund before going on to leave negative feedback (PayPal also failed to ensure that the original item was returned to me, so I ended up making a refund on an item that the buyer subsequently kept, and taking the usual double hit on feedback and DSR).

scot-bot was another buyer who decided to leave negative feedback many weeks after I had sorted out their grievance.

dlormston left feedback following an order delay. They were advised of a likely delay and were given a partial refund on their original payment, in line with our  Selling Policies, for the delayed order (a full refund on the goods would also have been an option), but did not even take the time to contact me before raising a dispute and leaving negative feedback.

authenticlabelsguaranteed left negative feedback based on their order being the wrong colour, and that their colour preference had been specified during the checkout process (despite there being no details on either the eBay order details or the PayPal transaction detailing such a preference).

rickhondar interpreted only having 3 reels of bell wire in stock with more on order, when he was wanting 4, as having no stock and then left negative feedback following a full refund on his order. He did not even contact me prior to raising the dispute or leaving the feedback and left it two days following my update on the bell wire situation before bothering to even do that, despite knowing that I needed to know if the update was OK or not.

lil.1985_2008 responded to finding the light bulb damaged in a lamp I sent by leaving negative feedback three weeks after receiving the lamp, again not even bothering to contact me first.

defender-locksmiths is clearly a case of a buyer being intentionally duplicitous, whilst scot-bot and lil.1985_2008 were clearly being downright vindictive. authenticlabelsguaranteed is an outright malicious cretin or their feedback was a purely contrived attempt to damage my account, and rickhondar was simply being totally unreasonable. - All the complaints by these buyers could, and indeed should, have been left as neutral comments - none of them had any real justification in leaving negative feedback, and this is the kind of activity that I have been seeing a huge increase in since eBay introduced DSR and modified feedback to prevent anything but positive comments by sellers.

It is my personal belief that much of eBay's laissez-faire attitude as regards negative feedback and DSR is related to a desperate attempt by eBay to counter a growing fall-off of sales through eBay to other online trade outlets and the general slump in online auction activity. - Note, for example, how many initiatives have been introduced recently to tempt the buyer into purchasing (eBay even advertises the fact that sellers cannot leave negative feedback for buyers!) and note, too, how little interest eBay has shown in preventing the kind of abuse outlined in this document.

So there are several issues that need to be addressed here:

feedback should be removable , as in completely removable (the comment and the rating).  In fairness to buyers this should only be applicable when the comment can be proved to be wrong (eg: the buyer claiming that the seller has no stock when the seller can prove they do, or the buyer claiming that they specified a preference for something during checkout or through eBay messages when it can be seen that no such preference was ever made).

buyers leaving negative feedback prior to raising a PayPal dispute should be precluded from being able to raise a dispute, whilst the leaving of feedback following the successful conclusion of a dispute in their favour should limit a buyer to positive or neutral feedback; otherwise, in the event of a dispute that goes against the buyer, they should be able to leave any type of feedback, but this feedback will still be subject to removal should it take the form of something that the seller can disprove.

if a buyer needs to request a certain colour, finish, material, different delivery address, or some other detail not specified during the checkout process, then the buyer should communicate this, or a confirmation of the request, through eBay messages prior to the seller confirming order despatch.  This way, disputes based on the buyer claiming notification for something not specified during the checkout process can be verified even if the disputed detail is not shown on the order details or PayPal transaction details (in the case of orders placed using eBay checkout).

neutral feedback either needs to be removed completely or it needs to be brought into use more. Personally I favour the latter, and believe that this could be achieved with the following feedback amendments:

1: DSR scoring, in the case of a buyer leaving negative feedback, should be disallowed.

2: positive feedback should be disallowed unless the DSR for that feedback is comprised solely of 3s, 4s, and 5s. - If the buyer scores any of the DSR ratings less than 3, that feedback would have to be left as neutral feedback.

these amendments would, thereby, i:) prevent DSR abuse in conjunction with negative feedback (the buyer would need to leave positive or neutral feedback if they were wanting to score the seller through DSR), ii:) encourage utilization of neutral feedback, iii:) reduce the incidence of contrived disputes (and associated feedback), iv:) give the seller some protection from problem buyers, and v:) still enable the buyer to report accurately on transactions.

sellers should be allowed to leave neutral feedback. - It is not something that I would normally use, but it would be useful when needing to leave feedback for some buyers who have left negative feedback or who have been problematic when buying from my listings.

Naturally I have tried to put these suggestions to eBay Trust & Safety, who responded with the following stock reply on why eBay will remove negative feedback comments but not the ratings:

Hello John,

Thanks for your email about the Notice of False & Defamatory Content you
submitted for item 370205461555. I'm happy to help you with this.

I understand you feel that if we receive a valid Notice of False and
Defamatory Content to remove a defamatory Feedback comment, we should
remove the negative rating as well. I can explain why we don't do this.

Your trading partner left you their rating as a measure of their
negative opinion of the transaction. Unfortunately, in the comment, they
chose to describe their dissatisfaction using words that you found to be
allegedly defamatory.

We removed the comment because we received a valid Notice of False and
Defamatory Content confirming your belief that the comment was
defamatory, not because we have confirmed that the Feedback left for you
was unfair or defamatory.

In fact, eBay doesn't review evidence or make judgements about who is to
blame in transaction disputes. If we got involved in Feedback disputes,
Feedback would become eBay's opinion rather than our members' opinions.
Your trading partner's negative rating is not defamatory and therefore
remains on the website.

If the Feedback was left less than 30 days ago, you should contact the
buyer to see if there's anything you can do to resolve the issue. If you
reach an agreement, you can ask them to change the Feedback rating they
left you. You'll find more information about Feedback revision here:

For more information about Feedback removal in the case of defamation,
copy this link into a new browser window:

I hope this answers your question. Thank you for using eBay.

Kind regards,

Sarah Sherry
eBay Trust & Safety

At best the above statement is whitewash, at worst a callous statement of eBay's inept and apathetic approach to dealing with issues of importance and concern to people buying and selling on eBay.

The truth is that a buyer can inflict any amount of damage on a seller's account and there is next to nothing that eBay will do about it, no matter how contrived and no matter how malicious the buyer's intentions are. - As things stand, even an appeal by the seller on the grounds of feedback being unfair, where the seller can prove that such feedback was unfair, cannot be relied on for complete feedback removal.

If there are eBay sellers, or merchants, reading this who feel that they can contribute in any way or who wish to comment on this article and to share their feedback/ DSR experiences, please contact me. - I would, at the very least and with your permission, like to be able to append your name (eBay identity if you wish/prefer) and business name (if any) to this docuement as a demonstration to eBay of the concern that this problem is causing in the seller community.

- Whilst the potential for misuse of information in this guide makes publication of this article something I would rather not do, I feel, on behalf of everyone who uses eBay, that it is in the best interests of us all that we have a sane and sensible feedback/ DSR system that does not allow buyers to freely abuse feedback and DSR at the expense of sellers.

John Barnes,

Litez Design & Wholesale

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