Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The darker side of eBay- Dispute resolution

Anyone who dabbles in eBay knows about their "feedback rating". Every time
you buy or sell something, you get a chance to rate the transaction with a
positive, neutral or negative comment of up to 80 characters (and the other
person gets a chance to do the same).

So far I have an unblemished record, all postings positive. That is because
I am a conscientious trader, I try to treat others as I would like to be
treated myself.

I have left a smattering of neutral postings and two negative ones. The
first negative one was for a buyer who didn't pay and didn't respond to any
emails. After eventually losing patience I relisted the item and marked it
down as a minus. Then an interesting thing happened- I received a number of
emails from other traders sharing their own problems with that person- one
even went so far as to suggest she was a bit deranged. She posted a comment
to the effect of "how dare you!" against my feedback but never actually got
round to leaving any negative feedback for me, which I would have simply
tagged as a tit-for-tat.

My second reason to leave negative feedback arose recently when trying to
buy a replacement printer. Despite winning the lot & them taking my credit
card details, when nothing arrived after the promised date and I chased them
(more worried about failed deliveries during my impending holiday) it
transpired that they no longer had the printer and couldn't offer an
alternative. This was still the case 18 days later when I returned from
holiday and I still had to do the chasing, ringing them up after no response
to my reminder email & no mails in the intervening period. They offered
plausible excuses of course (staff holidays, computer error) but it still
didn't really add up. They had taken the money from my credit card but then
they hadn't. It would be shipped on Monday but on Wednesday it was showing
as zero stock. They showed conflicting Ts & Cs on the lot and on their links
page. They accepted PayPal but they didn't, only credit cards by phone.

After chewing the cud and involving one or two other seasoned ebayers at
work, I decided to leave negative feedback. The experience certainly wasn't
positive as the outcome was simply wasted time- mine. The Company was polite
enough but they didn't seem to grasp the concept of Customer Service &
actually discouraged contact somewhat in some of their Ts & Cs. I was a
little uncomfortable with negative rather than neutral but on reflection, it
wasn't an ad hominem attack, simply an accurate reflection of the
transaction. I looked over the other feedback- mostly positive, one other
negative and a surprising number of neutrals. 80 characters aren't enough to
tell the full story but I honed my string down to two factual statements
like a true wordsmith. ;->

Fast forward a couple of days, and I am clearing out my spamtrap mailbox. In
amongst all of the offers for performance enhancing substances and various
banks wanting me to re-enter my personal details, I found an email from an
outfit called Squaretrade. My first assumption was that it was a phishing
scam based on tricking people who had recently left negative feedback but on
closer examination & a bit of burrowing it is a dispute resolution system
for ebay. The dispute in question was the Company wanting me to withdraw the
negative feedback and offering an alternative. It was a bit late for an
alternative as I had just purchased another printer (also through ebay) and
going straight to this service rather than contacting me seemed a little

I made my case back to the person in question and was surprised to then find
that they had already forked out $20 for a mediator, something the process
suggests is normally adopted when an impasse' has been reached. The
background for this mediation is rather odd- they don't make decisions or
pass any form of judgement, UNLESS the other party (me) decides not to go to
mediation in which case they appear to have the power to get negative
comments retracted (or set back to neutral, the documentation & process is
rather clumsy).

This all seemed a bit quick off the mark, so out of curiosity, I emailed the
other person who had also left a negative comment. It seems that they had
also been squaretraded as well, so the Company seemed to be keen to try to
remove negative comments. This is understandable as I always look at seller
feedback when deciding to buy, although I also take what it says in context
as there are a lot of clueless people on ebay and it shows in the comments
they leave.

Anyway, updates on this story as it develops.

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