Today Sees the Start of Protest Action Against eBay in the UK

Today, 14th September 2006, marks the start of a four day protest action against eBay. I’ve discussed the issues behind seller unrest on eBay in a previous AC article HERE .

The protest in the UK is being led by a group calling themselves CORE, standing for Campaign Of Rebuffed Ebayers. Few members are willing to identify themselves fully to the media as they suspect their eBay account listings are being targeted for malicious reports and their postings in the eBay forums censored. Despite this I was determined to find one of the CORE organisers and discover more about the group’s motivation.

It didn’t take me long to follow the clues laid out in eBay forums to find a contact email address and, having explained my interest, I was put in touch with ‘John’, the Administrator of the groups off eBay forum where group policy and plans are discussed and organised.

Having seen inside this forum I can confirm there are more than 160 individual member activists in CORE and, among their number, there are some high volume eBay sellers. A few representatives are also present from North America and elsewhere and it seems likely that future protest plans will be more internationally coordinated.

John sells collectables from his home in Cleveland in north east England and has been an eBay Store owner for over a year. I began by asking him what effect the eBay fee increases will have on him. He replied; “Obviously I will have to pay more of my revenue to eBay now and, to counter this, I will have no choice but pass these costs, at least in part, on to buyers. Ultimately it is always buyers on eBay that will bear the cost of increased fees.”

While obviously not happy at this prospect, John became more animated when I asked if the fees were more important than the decision to remove Store items from most searches done on the site; “Let me put it this way, if you had a high street shop and your landlord put the rent up you’d be upset, yes? But what if he also boarded up your windows so nobody knows you are open or what you are selling?”

I asked if he accepted eBays justification for the changes and he laughingly replied; “Hike your fees and hide your shop to justify what? The message I hear is eBay want us to close our shops because the concept doesn’t fit any more with someone’s plans. I also think it was a panic measure to help their share price. They knew investors would like the simple ‘do less for more money’ message and their arrogance means they didn’t expect a backlash from users. Funny thing is the stock price is still way down to what it was at the beginning of the year. Why?”

We then discussed the protest that starts later today. CORE is asking both sellers and buyers to stop trading on the site for four days over this weekend and donate some of the time saved to seek out scam listings and report them.

John was realistic about their aims; “Yes we’ve undoubtedly enough support to make a difference to eBay but we don’t expect to shut eBay down by this action. Ultimately the sad paradox is that we are all genuinely great fans of eBay and what it does. We don’t want to cause lasting damage to a site we believe in and support.”

His thoughts widened; “We just want eBay to listen to their customers now. We’re fed up with constant changes in pricing, software systems, listing rules and so on. How can anyone build a successful business with eBay as a partner if they don’t know what their costs will be next month, whether their shop will be in the high street or on a piece of wasteland tomorrow or even if they have to update their listing templates today to cater for new listing rules or revised software systems? We need a degree of consistency to build successful businesses.”

After much talk and numerous examples, John summed up his thoughts; “We appreciate eBay has grown and we understand growth causes problems. But customer satisfaction is something every business ignores at their peril no matter what stage they are at. Right now we aren’t being listened to and we are becoming more dissatisfied day by day.”

I came away from this discussion with a feeling that the protesters were actually fighting for eBay. They, more than any shareholder or analyst, know what the real value of eBay is to a user and what it was that made it the king of auction sites. I sense they feel the value is weakening for users at a time when internet trading becomes ever easier and cheaper while eBay itself becomes more convoluted and challenging to its users, not to mention, more expensive too.

I have come to see these widespread protests and complaints as a symptom of a problem that I’m struggling to diagnose.

After all, where do you start examining something so big? At the top or the bottom?

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