RealTime IT News

A Picket Line in The Sand

The eBay sellers' boycott has been extended another week. I say "has been" extended because I'm coming up a little short on what entity, exactly, is leading the protest action against the e-commerce giant.

There is a site, Powersellersunite.com, that gives the disgruntled sellers something of a unified Web presence, but they're not exactly a labor union. It's unclear what, if any, leverage the boycott will exercise over eBay.

At issue are the fee adjustments announced last month and, of greater pain, the fact that come May, sellers will no longer be able to leave negative feedback about buyers.

"Some people think it's more about the fees, but it's really more about the feedback policy," said Ina Steiner, an expert on all things e-Bay who runs the site Auctionbytes.com.

Incoming CEO John Donahoe said the feedback changes were needed because eBay found that sellers were leaving retaliatory comments against buyers at a much greater rate than buyers were about sellers, and that that was creating an inhospitable shopping experience. Instead, Donahoe said that eBay would provide recourse for sellers dealing with the proportionally small number of deadbeat buyers by ramping up its behind-the-scenes monitoring. Steiner said she pressed him on how, specifically, eBay would protect sellers after stripping their right to speak out against bad buyers, but that he offered no specifics.

While third-party tracking firms have claimed that sellers' listings on eBay have dropped 13 percent since the auction began, the company said that it has seen no discernible dip in seller activity.

Short of keeping the issue in the media, the real impact of the sellers' strike will be marginal, Steiner predicts. For one thing, the largest sellers probably aren't the one participating. They would be the ones who are also selling on Amazon and through their own Web sites. Those are the ones that eBay wants to keep, according to Steiner.

"eBay doesn't mind losing some of the unique items that they have right now," she said. "The way that they rolled out the fees, it favors high-volume commodity sellers."

The more expendable sellers -- the ones who are manning the virtual barricades -- are the ones who can ill afford the work stoppage, Steiner suggests.

"The biggest thing about boycotting as a seller it that it comes right out of your bottom line," she said.

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