While I don’t specifically do web hosting (meaning it’s not my main business), on occasion I have put together web sites for a handful of friends. Sometime I get special requests from people who equate “computer network security and infrastructure consultant” with “I bet you could do a web site for me”, and aren’t shy about asking me to do something for free or very near it. I guess it’s like being a doctor. You can’t go anywhere without people asking you about their aches and pains. Once people learn you work with computers for a living, you’re going to have to answer tech questions. Often to people who don’t really understand what the word “desktop” means in regard to their computers.
One recent development is the number of people who are asking me about how they can sell their stuff on eBay. Because, of course, if you know all about computer network security, you must know all there is to know about eBay. Much to my shame, I do actually know a little bit about the evils of eBay, so I don’t even have plausible deniability anymore. I’m just not sure why so many people are so late getting to the game. That probably annoys me more than anything. Not answering questions, per se, but the timing of it all. It’s like answering questions about America Online. I mean, does America Online really matter now?
Okay, a little background (just so this’ll all make sense). My Auntie Victoria makes most of her living from eBay, and has done so for years. Her Floozees Doozees store has never become a global powerhouse that directly challenges the JC Penny’s of the world, but she’s done alright. I have, on occasion, helped her with her web site, and because of it have absorbed more knowledge about eBay than is probably healthy. I’ve seen how they’ve changed through the years. I’ve seen how they dick around their sellers. And I’ve never seen much of anything that would lead me to have any kind of respect for them.
Which is why I tell people now, for the most part, to avoid eBay. It was an interesting idea in its time, but its dying a slow, painful death, and it will never be what it once was. If you want to sell stuff online, there are better options than eBay.
Now, obviously this has touched a nerve, or I wouldn’t be writing about it. I suppose the reason the very mention of eBay now makes me a little angry is that I’ve watched how my Auntie Victoria has struggled with the company. eBay seems to hate its sellers. It disregards the people who have made them what they are, and has rammed so many arbitrary, unfair rules and regulations down those people’s throats that I don’t know why anybody in their right mind would want anything to do with eBay.
Here’s a few of my favorite pet peeves.
1) Forced Shipping Times – The only way that you’re going to be seen on eBay is if you have good rankings. One of the ways you get that is by maintaining an shipping window that, realistically, only brick-and-mortar companies with inventory and plenty of staff can pull off. In other words, eBay thinks you should ship an order within two days, even if what you’re selling is a one-of-a-kind item that will be crafted by hand when it is ordered. Clearly, this does not favor individuals who create unique items, but rather brick-and-mortar companies who will take inventory from a shelf, pop it in a box, and send it on its way. So, basically, if you don’t have a warehouse stocked full of ready inventory, eBay expects you to meet shipping requirements as if you do. No exceptions. eBay doesn’t care. eBay doesn’t have to care. All you hippies out there making custom jewelry should get a real job.
2) Negative Reviews – The feedback system on eBay is among the most tortuously unfair of any business I’ve ever seen. In effect, any customer can leave you negative feedback for any reason, irregardless of the situation. eBay’s attitude is that if a customer wants to leave you negative feedback, you must be an asshole who isn’t living up to eBay’s arbitrary standards. Again, eBay doesn’t care. eBay doesn’t have to care.
By way of example, let’s say that some dumbass orders a t-shirt that is only available on white (and is clearly marked as being available only on white), but said dipshit didn’t read the description and gets upset when she finds out she can’t get the shirt in a color of blue that matches her husband’s eyes. You’re screwed if she’s not happy. While eBay’s guidelines state that she’s supposed to contact the seller before ordering with any questions, eBay doesn’t really care if she does or not. While eBay’s guidelines state that she’s supposed to contact the seller about any issues before leaving feedback, eBay doesn’t really care if she does or not. So, in essence, any knuckle-dragging idiot who comes along and doesn’t read a seller’s description, doesn’t contact the seller about any issues, and doesn’t respond to the seller’s attempts to resolve her problems, is free to leave negative feedback about the seller (which damages the seller’s rankings and can make their products harder to find in searches).
The worst part? eBay has rigged the system so that seller’s can’t leave anything but positive ratings for customers. So the worst customer in the world cannot be spoken of by sellers as the worst customer in the world to warn other sellers. Assholes are given free rein on eBay, and sellers can do nothing but grin and bear it.
3) Retention of Income – The worst aspect of eBay’s abusive policies comes into play for the very people who often ask me about selling on eBay. The company made its bones by making it easy for people to sell their stuff on eBay. But now, unless you have an established store, eBay has 100 ways to screw you until Sunday. For one thing, if you are a new seller, when you sell something eBay will not release your money until the item has been delivered and delivery is confirmed. Think about that. When an item sales, you do not get paid. You don’t get the money for the item. And you don’t get the shipping fees. You are expected to ship your item at your own expense, with the dubious promise that you will be paid once the item has arrived and the customer has confirmed delivery. This, my friends, is cash-on-delivery. eBay forces sellers who do not have an established track record, or those who do not opt for the expense of an eBay storefront, to sell all of their goods and ship them C.O.D. What could possibly go wrong? I mean, it’s not like a customer would ever say “I never received it”, would they? That’s never happened before, I’m sure.
Clearly, eBay’s current policies favor companies. Corporations. You, as a little fish, are no longer welcomed at eBay. Oh, they’ll let you in, and they’ll gladly take your money. But you’re clearly not their target audience. They’d much rather serve as a storefront for JC Penny, Sears and any of the other corporations. And why not? I’m sure there’s plenty of money to be made that way. But the reality on the ground is that average Americans and small businesses cannot hope to compete in an environment in which every aspect of the experience is tailored for big businesses, who can ship items from their warehouse inventory the same day of an order, absorb the withering reviews of asshole customers by swamping them in the sheer volume of sales, and who can afford to risk shipping items at their own expense without being paid up front.
Basically, if you don’t own a corporation, eBay is not for you. Many of the businesses I have helped have learned that the hard way, and have struggled to keep up with the increasingly arbitrary demands of a company which has clearly forgotten where it came from and who its customer base used to be.
Worst of all, eBay simply doesn’t care. I’ve dealt with customer support at eBay on behalf of some of my customers, and their support staff are universally rude and dismissive. I’ve yet to have a positive experience with either the eBay system, support staff or infrastructure. It’s long past time for eBay to limp off to the dustbin of history where it rightly belongs. The true irony is that eBay’s changes over time have largely been attempts to compete with the Amazon.com juggernaut, but they’ve never truly comprehended that Amazon.com is an entirely different beast altogether. What eBay used to bring to the table was unique. But if they’re trying to transition into an alternative to Amazon.com, I have to say I’d much rather just go to Amazon. Sure, Amazon.com is a behemoth and their rules and regulations can be arbitrary, but generally speaking they are fair. And believe it or not, you can still sell your stuff their without much of a headache.
Okay. The rant is over. In summation, all I really wanted to get off my chest was my belief that you’re insane if you deal with eBay when any number of other companies would serve you just as well. That is all.