Friday, April 9, 2010

eBay DSR's: Dumb, Stupid and Ridiculous!!

For those who sell on eBay, a sequel to the unfolding feedback nightmare was served up in 2009 that was supposed to enhance the feedback system. Detailed Seller Ratings ("DSR's") were introduced on the heels of the hugely idiotic change in feedback policy that prohibited sellers from leaving meaningful feedback for buyers. While on it's face, it couldn't be seen as anything but a titanically unwise move, some excuses were provided, and sellers continued on. But after something so utterly ridiculous, how could anyone imagine anything worse?

Apparently, eBay's feedback guru, Brian Burke, was already busy, not just (mis)using his imagination, but engineering the silly DSR's for his boss. But while Burke is mostly blamed for this nonsense, let's face it, he is NOT one of the Big Four (who fancy themselves the "Fantastic Four"!), but is further down the ladder. Obviously, he is far enough down to be a major ass-kisser, so when CEO Donahoe gave the order to come up with something to make eBay more like Amazon, such as a "Five Star" ratings system, Burke got to work, and handed his boss what he wanted. Sure, Donahoe is completely insane, and everyone knows it, but did that stop all his sniveling underlings from licking his boots? No doubt, Burke had to have suspected that things couldn't possibly be screwed with, so massively, without literally risking eBay's future. But, when he thought about his raises, and bonuses, all long-term considerations obviously went out the window. And besides, what if the new changes really did work? Wouldn't he get big credit, and maybe one day be seen for the (evil) genius that he really wanted to be?

Well, Burke may have been between a rock and a hard place, and maybe we would have done the very same thing after all. He had to give his boss what he wanted. But there's always risk in following lunatics. Dickahoe is famous for taking all credit for all that goes well, while at the same time casually sacrificing some poor schmuck who gets selected for blame when things go wrong. And besides being such a total dick, the bastard has such incredible chutzpah, that his track record even includes blaming old Meg Whitman, who gave him his big chance to fuck the universe in the first place. Yes, he does bite the foolish hands that feed him. Listen up Board of Directors: Stop feeding the maniac! Duh!

So, back to the DSR's. How Dumb and Stupid are they? On the surface, they sort of seem rather tame. The buyer gets to "rate" the seller on some important transaction issues (such as communication, shipping charges, etc.), basically taking his purchasing experience, and putting it into "numbers" for all to see. Further, the buyer gets to do this "anonymously" (sort of), which is theoretically supposed to ensure that an "honest" set of detailed ratings will be left. In addition, maybe it's nice that if something "small" goes wrong, the buyer has the chance to mention it, without feeling the need to leave a negative feedback. And it all happens with a simple to use, visual "Five Star" system, that any second-grader can figure out. It's all good, right?

Well, before answering, let us see how eBay actually uses this system. Since the DSR's come down to a number ultimately, composed of the buyer's ratings, this number can theoretically be used to help determine who the "bad" sellers are, at least based upon the buyer's opinions (which should be the only thing that matter, right?). Ebay actually takes this info and uses it to severely penalize the sellers that fall beneath some average, which is in fact a "moving average", based on comparisons to all sellers, somewhat like grading on the curve. It almost seems "fair", doesn't it? And if you read what some of the business school academics are saying, it seems as if they are mostly convinced too, how wonderful this ingenious system is. Even it's obvious Achilles Heel (purely subjective opinions drive it) doesn't matter as much, because the system is virtually self-adjusting, as it compares all the sellers, making for a "standard of seller excellence" (if you will), that can theoretically never be too far off. My goodness, Burke has done it! He has managed to put together the ideal system! Or has he?

So why do so many sellers hate DSR's? It must just be the "bad sellers", whining out of all proportion, as you would expect them to do, right? And you can also read about many happy "eBay cheerleaders", who constantly post their bull-shit on the eBay Discussion Boards, with their nauseating mantra, "Adapt!" Hopefully, no one is so gullible that they actually believe such idiocy. And no, you can't really get a feel for true seller dissatisfaction by reading the dumb-ass discussion boards. Sellers are very cautious these days, knowing that the eBay "thought police" are out there, and can arbitrarily shut them down, if they appear to be causing too much trouble. Some may recall that not too long ago, eBay actually had blogs, but they were outlawed, because too many rebels seemed to be congregating there, and that just won't do! If you are a naive seller, be careful, don't get too crazy, stay as PC as you can, and maybe The Man (affectionately known as "Massa" by sellers) will let you sell another day!

OK then, so what is the deal with DSR's? How bad can they be? First, let's not forget what started the whole thing off (besides the chief-maniac that is). Ebay thought it might be nice to destroy the existing feedback system by making sure only "positive" feedback could be left for buyers. Stop and really think about the implications of that, other than nullifying the entire system. A buyer now has no responsibility? Seriously? The buyer pays, and in the official words of eBay, they have therefore "fulfilled their obligation to the eBay community, and can deserve only positive feedback". Really? By simply making a payment, that's it? Surely, no one can be so foolish as to imagine it can be so simple?

In fact, in all our business dealings with people, we presuppose some level of trust, or basic goodwill at least, or else we wouldn't want to deal with the person. This is basic, and it's what the original online reputation system addressed quite nicely, for years. Ebay's feedback system was in fact the world's most studied online reputation system, ever. So, another way to put it, eBay effectively destroyed this ESSENTIAL two-way trust, when they abandoned buyer responsibility. Sure, the "system", such as it is, hobbles along nonetheless, but it does so in spite of the changes, and has been dealt a powerful blow. As it stands now, the seller has been left utterly defenseless against buyers who can masquerade as literally "perfect" (remember, since no negative feedback is allowed, everyone "looks" great!), when in fact they are liars and extortionists, who have incidentally also been given the enormous power to shut down any (small/medium) seller that does not want to cooperate with their schemes.

Before writing this off as some too-tiny percentage of buyers, realize that the size of the fraudulent buyer population is not the biggest issue at all. The mere fact that such a tiny minority was handed such enormous power, THAT is the issue, and eBay committed this inexcusable crime! Now, the unscrupulous few, literally have the power to wreck MANY sellers, with the vast majority of those who are wrecked being small to medium size sellers. Why is this? Because the whole game automatically must revert to statistics. That's right. The severity of this issue is actually something that can be properly apprehended using (not misusing!) the discipline of statistics. More on this below, but if this is the case, then we must ask why eBay perpetrated such a terrible thing, since they must KNOW what the consequences are, and by now, they have solid data that indicates the future all too well.

The answer is simple. What is happening, is exactly what was intended. Enough of the "unintended consequences", folks, they fully intended to do what they have done, but continue to lie about it. Everyone agrees that they want to change the "image" eBay has. No longer will it be the online "flea market". It will be a "mall". New items, up-scale items, BIG sellers only, who eBay doesn't have to worry about. Doesn't that sound wonderful? Well, so does Gorbachev's vision of an Earth with only a billion people, who can all live large, and enjoy the limited planetary resources, with a quality of life fit for kings! Except for the part about how 6 billion people have to die, to realize their Utopian dream. And so it is with eBay. Yes, they can become whatever they want! But most of their small and medium size sellers will have to go!

Back to statistics. For a smaller seller, even a "medium" seller, the number of transactions that you need to do becomes quite large, in order to effectively cancel out the magnified power given to the tiny few unethical buyers. But it's worse than that. That "population" of bad buyers actually is UNDERSTATED, because you need to add the LEGION of utterly STUPID buyers to the few bad ones. You know, the buyers that don't feel they need to read the listing. The ones who looked at the picture only, and thought they were getting something else. The ones who went looking for an apple, but found your orange, and got very pissed when the orange showed up. They also went ballistic when they discovered you actually charged for shipping! No, this is hardly an exaggeration! Real sellers, in the trenches, deal with this nonsense day in, and day out. But they won't for long. Because eBay is using the STATISTICAL CERTAINTY of condemning smaller and medium sellers, as the reason to drum them right out the door. Which, if you recall the above, is what they wanted all along.

You see, Wal-Mart, and Costco, and Sears, etc., they have been dealing with "bad buyers", dumb buyers, buyer's remorse, fraudsters, thieves, etc., for decades or more! But they are big, and they can simply "factor it in", and charge you more. And for those who are now thinking, "Well then, factor this into your business model! Adapt!" First of all, SHUT UP, dumb-ass! Second, tell this crap to the mom-and-pop outfit who used to make a decent living, providing excellent service, honest value, etc., who was unfortunate enough to have a Wal-Mart move in across the street. Sure, just "adapt"! Sure, just raise your prices! And when no one buys your stuff, then what? Shut your doors, you're done. And your customers? Send them to fucking Wal-Mart, where else can they go?!

And that IS a problem. Not just for the mom-and-pop, but for everyone. The issue is huge, too big for this piece here, but look into it. The Wal-Martization of America is one of the reasons we have lost our way. We can complain, but if we buy at Wal-Mart, then it's our fault too. If we buy cheap Chinese goods, it's our fault too. What's our fault? Jobs lost. A declining standard of living. An increasingly dim future for our children, etc. No, this is not easy to sort out, but don't push it aside as irrelevant, it is very important, and may end up being a life and death matter, before it's done playing out.

Back to feedback, and DSR's. The feedback system was disabled by the criminal "no neg" policy. This stupidity would already place sellers at considerable risk that was not present in the system before the change. Added risk means an automatic reappraisal of business strategy. Certainly, some sellers would not survive such a change. And then, the DSR's. Final nails in the coffin of the loathsome small/medium seller. Because when you relegate the survival of your business to mere chance, it isn't prudent to continue on anymore, even "if" you happen to be lucky for a while. It's not just a sea-change in the risk level, it's a completely unreasonable burden to place upon the seller who is not friggin' Wal-Mart! It's hugely significant, and catastrophic for everything that made eBay great. The writing is on the wall, you negligent Board of Directors. You should all be sued by the shareholders who are getting hosed so badly. No need to worry about the little sellers though. They are surely your victims, but alas, they are too poor these days to pay any legal bills!

No, we haven't even talked about how eBay really misuses the DSR's yet. And since they can be used to put sellers out of business, we best look at them very carefully, especially with eBay's not-quite-stated goal of eradicating all but the biggest sellers. Here's the way it works. A very minuscule number of 1 or 2 stars left for a seller, kicks them out of the "Top Rated Seller" program, and worse, if they can't muster enough "5's", they're in trouble too. It does no good to argue that the difference between a 4 (satisfied) and a 5 (very satisfied) is moronic. When I eat a good meal, I'm satisfied. Maybe I'm given to hyperbole, so I tell my wife I'm "very" satisfied? Fine, but this is eBay we're talking about! They just can't be serious, but they are, because your average rating must exceed "4", or else! Failure to achieve this ridiculously subjective level of "very satisfaction" results in "hiding" that seller's items for sale, since eBay will promote the other sellers above them. Since they aren't seen, they don't sell. Since they don't sell, they're out of business! Of course, none of this affects larger sellers, because their stats are big enough to absorb erroneous, rogue and bogus ratings. And no, the seller pushed aside doesn't even have to be a "bad seller" at all! In fact, a buyer can inadvertently leave a "one" or "two", and the severe consequences to the poor (smaller) seller are still the same! Worse, this empowers the "competition" to intentionally torpedo the small seller, who consistently offered product at better prices, since the smaller seller is now a very, very "easy target". It gets worse! Unless the targeted formerly "good" seller begins selling a LOT of items, the chances of getting past the unintended and fully intended DSR "ones" (easily from the competition), makes it harder and harder to achieve the status necessary to receive search visibility. And yes, it gets worse! The victimized seller, now facing a bleak future, may feel the need to "fight back", trying to damage his competition as well. Worse. Now, when a fraudulent buyer demands to be payed off, the poor seller has an incentive to just do it. They hate the whole game, but what can they do? And it gets worse. The good buyers now have fewer options, and must pay higher prices. They have no idea that eBay has created such an unhealthy business environment to begin with, but they lament the loss of some favorite seller or two, wonder why prices have gone up so much, and are now afraid to leave "honest" feedback, because sellers will block them from ever bidding again on their items if they dare say what went wrong You see, this is the only power left for the emasculated seller, so they do it more than ever before, and the buyer is left bewildered. How has this happened? And worse. The entire unnatural atmosphere begins to breed previously unanticipated temptations. Sellers who used to makes thousands each month on a few dozen sales, must now make hundreds of sales, not just to fight the statistical battle, but because eBay has mandated such a requirement, in order for them to have a small chance at qualifying for the coveted Top Seller status. They begin selling small-dollar, silly items, just to get their number of transactions up. They begin thinking up other "busy-work" schemes, that aren't merely unproductive, perhaps they really do encourage fraud? Now, in desperation, formerly sterling sellers resort to shill bidding, when necessary. Their desperation has caused them to say just about anything to get a sale! They no longer can focus on bringing a great experience to their customers, because eBay has literally placed them on a treadmill! And on and on it goes.

This is what happens when human nature is regarded so little by those in charge. People are what they have ever been. People are rarely noble creatures, and under the right (wrong) circumstances, can descend even lower than animals in their moral depravity. It is essential that rulers, leaders, have a wise understanding of what people are, and what they are not. Otherwise, unintended consequences will surely follow.

Now, worst of all. Please remember, all this mayhem and horror on eBay is quite likely NOT unintended at all! It sounds almost too preposterous, but no, they have their "dark purposes". And I would further submit, that even the idea that Dumbahoe and company are just trying to remodel the company into a better Amazon, that they are just naive, unwise, stupid, etc. No, that is too simplistic of an explanation, and it falls way short. Could be there is a bigger picture here. Remember, for years eBay served as a place the entrepreneur could go to bootstrap to a better life. It was the place the abandoned single mother could go, and still make good for her children. The provider who was suddenly "downsized" out of a job, they could still make ends meet while looking for the next job. And now, in the middle of the worst economy EVER, this last bastion of hope for survival is conveniently GONE?? Just an interesting coincidence?

I would enjoy your comments...

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