Tuesday, March 30, 2010

eBay Begs for Lawsuit: "Real" Auctions Actually PROHIBITED!

You read that right. Recently, eBay rolled out yet another diabolical "secret" policy that effectively prohibits genuine auctions! You may wonder how such a thing is possible, especially from a company that earned it's reputation primarily as an auction site. In fact, millions of people might be very surprised to learn that their search for "real" auctions is already doomed, thanks to a relatively "new" policy that eBay might rather prefer is not made public.

If you sell on eBay, you may already know about this baseless, and quite likely illegal policy. Perhaps you have sold on the site for years, and innocently listed items for a "penny-start", in the obvious hopes that they might do better. In fact, to your surprise, they do rather "well", some of the items selling for twenty or thirty times your cost! It's all good, right?

WRONG. Here's an example of what might happen: You are cleaning out your garage, or closet, or safe, and come across a box of a lot of widgets, hundreds, maybe thousands. You recall that you got them very cheap, in fact, your cost was only a few cents each. As a seller on eBay, you immediately start thinking about how you are going to turn these widgets into dollars. In fact, since you have sold for years, you are quick to recognize how they might well help you move other much more expensive merchandise, that you don't seem to move enough of these days. You're excited! You "get listing", and soon find that your nice little auctions are exceeding your expectations! After all, with such a low unit cost, how can you go wrong?

WHY THIS SCENARIO SHOULD BE GREAT FOR EVERYONE!! Low cost generally means low risk in many business environments. Together with some basic marketing, success can be had by almost anyone who pays attention. And this is just for starters, since the experienced eBayer can take this to yet another level. For example, they will take their listings for the low cost widget, and in each one, they will refer to another relevant or related item that they sell for much more. Often, the buyer of one similar low priced item can be persuaded to perhaps buy a larger quantity. Perhaps they save on shipping, etc. It's all good! The buyer has the opportunity to grab something very cheap. They also are introduced to an opportunity for even more of what they went looking for. The seller's sales are up! eBay's fees are up! Buyers are getting great value. How CAN this be bad??

But there is a big fly in the ointment, because if eBay notices what you're doing, you're going to get some heartburn. You might wake up some morning, after seeing all your efforts from the prior week so nicely rewarded, and...

KABOOM!! You're now in deep poopoo my friend. You see, all your new, "great deal" widget auctions have been taken down by eBay! Outrageous! Further, you've been slapped with a number of "policy violations" that may or more than likely, they just won't make sense.

Being of goodwill, you honestly try to understand what happened. You read the policy violations, "key word spamming", mis-categorization", etc. Since it really doesn't make sense in your case, you call your Account Manager at eBay, confident that it is all just a mistake on their part. After all, you have earned a high status as a PowerSeller, and your rep has been assigned to "help" you, be your advocate, right? But there is a decidedly different vibe going on. The rep informs you that you are guilty of feedback abuse, and worse, "promoting fraud". You're stunned! But it only gets worse. Your eBay rep is extremely serious, and threatens suspension if you continue. His/her explanations fall far short of course, but he underscores the fact that he is all-powerful, and that such a thing is very Verbotten, and since the policy is in fact largely "secret", you must trust him! Of course, even though you are in shock, and wonder if you're simply having a bad dream, you manage to request a chat with the young lad's supervisor. Again, utter shock. The answer is "No, you will deal with ME only!"

Far fetched? Just a rogue rep, out of control? Sadly, this is more an indication of a rogue company, eBay, than a rogue rep. There are those who will not believe it, until it happens to them, but rest assured, this "new eBay", is very bad news, and this latest development does not bode well.

Let's give you a heads-up on what your rep might say, if explanations are given at all. They tell you that since your auctions "obviously" are "too cheap", you can't possibly have a genuine business motive in listing your auctions. Don't bother protesting that you must know your business better than the young jack-ass you're talking to, because you just might get suspended! You might remind the rep that you are a very legit seller, having sold for so-many years, etc., having sold "real" items all along, some for many thousands of dollars. "And besides, if my motive was not making money, why would I do it?"

Get ready. "Because you are promoting FRAUD!" You think to yourself, "Holy shit, the punk is on drugs!", but after gasping, you politely ask how on earth such a thing can be. He explains that lots of fraudsters go looking for "cheap" auctions, in order to build feedback. Once they have so many feedbacks, they will then begin selling, and then promptly defraud the public. Because you dared sell an item for under a dollar, YOU, the pain-in-the-rep's-ass Seller, are part of the fraud game! Shame on you! You WILL be suspended if you dare sell a "cheap" item again!

It get's WORSE!! You pause, you now realize you have indeed entered the Twilight Zone, but you decide to play along. After all, you do eBay full-time! You've got kids to feed. You politely ask, "OK, I get it, suspension for selling cheap items, got it. But, can you at least tell me what 'cheap' is? I mean, what if I sold something for three bucks?" Answer: "Just don't do it!" You now know he just isn't getting your question. "Uh, maybe I didn't make my point well enough. Coul you please give me a dollar-threshold maybe, that way I don't inadvertently sell something too cheap..." Answer: "No, I'm NOT giving you that information!" "But how am I supposed to conduct business if I don't know?" Rep: "Listen! I'm not kidding, I WILL shut you down! I just shut down a guy last week, he's on a 30 Day Suspension! You're NEXT!"

Folks, I would like to venture that this is just about as bad as it gets, but from this company, I won't hold my breath. EBay is doomed, and the evil corporate culture that has evolved is nothing short of fascist, to the point of being ridiculous.

If you know of any attorney's out there who might like to take a crack at these Nazi's, please feel free to have them contact me. From the legal perspective, this can't be OK. This outfit pretends to be a venue for real auctions, and even has the chutzpah to put disinfo on their front page, such as, "Items under $5!" Little does the consumer know that the system is now rigged, and they will look in vain for real deals, since sellers are literally not allowed to provide them!

One final issue. For those who could see eBay's point about fraud, I would hope that it was equally clear that fighting fraud on their site, is THEIR job, and they have tremendous tools at their disposal for doing just that. To shift the responsibility on to the seller is outrageous, ineffectual, and utterly without foundation. I'll more fully address that fact in the next rant!

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