Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Problem With Feedback

eBay's feedback system is akin to a primitive social media platform.  And we know how flawed those are!

The bidding on the camper is going well - up to $6900 which is about what the camper is worth.  It may climb to close to $8000 by the close.  Anyone who pays more than that should think carefully - newer campers can be had for not a lot more.

One problem with eBay, of course, is that you do get people who bid and then decide not to buy.  They bid on something as a lark, and then discover they won the auction and get cold feet.   It has only happened to me once or twice, but never with a vehicle.  Fortunately, eBay has a "second chance offer" feature than you can click on, to offer the second highest bidder a chance to buy, if the highest bidder backs out for some reason.

You can learn a lot about a person through the eBay feedback system, although over the years they have tried to make the system less and less useful.  eBay doesn't allow users to use their real names anymore, not because of privacy concerns, but because they are worried people will consummate transactions outside of eBay and thus eBay will not get paid.    So my old user name robertplattbell was flagged.  For some reason, my new username, robert_platt_bell is acceptable.   I prefer to use a real name, as it shows that I am not hiding behind some nom de plume and thus am more trustworthy.   If more people used real names on the Internet, 99% of the world's problems would be solved - well, at least reduced somewhat.

The fundamental problem with eBay feedback is the same problem with consumer surveys.   When we bought the hamster, the salesman said, "please leave all fives on the survey - otherwise we get into trouble with KIA!"   I reviewed their ratings online and realized why they wanted all five stars - they had a lot of ones and twos, which is typical of any dealer - even a good one - and they wanted to counteract that.   Of course, the people leaving one or two stars were folks with marginal credit who bought cars on onerous terms and now have buyer's remorse.  One way to avoid that problem is to simply stop selling cars that way.    But in America, that ain't about to happen, I guess.

So on most surveys, its five stars or nothing.   And five stars should be only for truly outstanding service, not for a typical transaction.  In America, we have rating creep - everything is five stars and fantastic.  There is no mediocre or average or "meh" anymore.   It is either scorched earth or the heavens.    And eBay is no different, other they they eliminated the middle stars and have only three levels of rating - positive, neutral, and negative.   And some people take "neutral" as an insult.   A typical transaction is deemed to be "positive" and only if there is a problem can "neutral" be even considered.  Negative, of course, is the "with hell's heart I stab at thee!"

(For "power sellers" they do have multiple ratings with one to five stars, but that is for people who are selling things for a living on eBay, not for schmucks like you and me).

eBay also changed the feedback system so that it shows a percentage of positive feedback for the last 12 months only.   You can still see older feedback, and you should, if you have any qualms about a user.  For example, one bidder had a 99% positive feedback, which in our era of perfect or go-fuck-yourself, a problem.  Worse yet, the one negative feedback in the last 12 months was for bidding on a car and then not paying for it.   The excuse given by the bidder was odd - "I wasn't the highest bidder until the auction ended" or something like that.  In other words, a higher bidder cancelled their bid, and they won an auction they thought they had been outbid on.

Scrolling down through over a dozen pages of feedback (feedback as buyer, seller, left for others, 200 hits per page) finds a few similar situations - where the bidder bid on a vehicle and then decided not to buy, often claiming the vehicle was "misrepresented".  The seller, of course, claimed otherwise. This is a bit troubling, as a no-pay bidder can screw up your auction.   You have to give them time - nearly a week - to pay, and only then can you make a "second chance" offer to the second-highest bidder.  And by then, often the second-highest bidder has moved on to something else.

eBay recommends that a deposit ($500) be paid within 24 hours, and this is a good way to shorten this time window.   But if the second chance bidder has moved on, you have no choice but to re-list the item, and you have to start over with another seven or ten-day auction, but only after petitioning eBay for your auction fees back because of nonpayment by the bidder.   It is a bit of a pain-in-the-ass and one would rather avoid it.

As I noted before, some people bid on a lark.  Others use this as a negotiating strategy.  They bid on a vehicle with no intention to pay that price, and then show up and claim the vehicle has "undisclosed defects" but of course, they will consummate the deal if you lower your price - sometimes by a substantial amount.  If you refuse, they threaten you with negative feedback and all sorts of trouble.    This particular bidder did something like that to one seller - the negative feedback of course was cancelled, once the seller filed a non-payment complaint.

But the issue doesn't end there.  If you have to re-list the item, it now has a patina of failure around it.  Someone bid and won and didn't want it, and people then ask themselves, "Hmmmm.... must be defective merchandise or something!" and as a result, your repeat auction will be less successful.

Of course, there really isn't much you can do about this.   People will do weird things and try to be too clever by half.   You just have to suck it up and move on.   But the feedback system can at least prepare you for this.  Fortunately for me, the bidder was outbid (and let's hope it stays that way).  I don't want to deal with someone playing non-payment games or thinking that winning the auction means you won the right to inspect and make an offer on the item.

And from the more detailed feedback, you can look for and see patterns of this, if you are astute.  While this won't prevent a deadbeat bidder from bidding, it can at least alert you to the pattern, and you can be proactive about filing a non-payment complaint, rather than waiting for stories about "family emergencies" preventing payment (and yes, I have heard that one from a bidder, and it appears to be quite common on eBay).

But like I said, you can worry about these things, or just move on with life.    I have only run into this problem once or twice on eBay, and never with a vehicle.   And if it happens, it happens.   You can't worry about it, crawl back into your cave, put your hands over your ears and hope the world goes away.