ebay's feedback system is one of the marketplace's foundational elements, allowing buyers and sellers to establish visible histories of successful transactions, which builds a community of transparency and trust. The system has evolved to include nonpublic means of providing feedback to improve its accuracy, including an Unpaid Item report introduced in 2004, which helps hold buyers accountable for poor behavior.

In recent years, however, eBay management realized that buyers were becoming increasingly afraid of leaving honest, accurate feedback due to the threat of retaliation. eBay data indicated that sellers leave negative feedback after receiving negative feedback eight times more frequently than buyers do, a figure that has increased dramatically over recent years. This dynamic caused a number of frustrated and angry buyers to leave the community, reducing opportunities for all sellers.

"The marketplace has evolved over the past 12 years, and we've seen behavior change," explains Brian Burke, director of global feedback policy. "When I started nine years ago, there was less automation of feedback, as many larger sellers [automate feedback] today, and feedback is often left in a way that doesn't reflect the transaction honestly."

To increase trust and confidence in the system, eBay management turned to Pierre Omidyar, the company's founder and the creator of eBay's feedback system, for advice. Working together, the team made the momentous decision to allow sellers to leave only positive feedback for buyers.

While this change may seem one-sided, it's paired with a number of measures that increase seller protection. In addition to holding buyers accountable via nonpublic seller reporting tools, such as Unpaid Item reports, eBay has introduced the following systems to protect sellers against inaccurate feedback:

  • Feedback left from buyers about sellers will be removed entirely when a buyer doesn't respond to the Unpaid Item Process.
  • When a member is suspended, all negative and neutral feedback ratings and comments they've made will be removed--meaning that whatever the reason for suspension, all negative and neutral feedback that individual has ever given will be eliminated, rather than just unscored. The rule also calls for the removal of negative and neutral feedback from both buyers and sellers who are currently suspended, even if their suspension occurred prior to the change.
  • For seven days after the close of a listing, buyers are not allowed to leave negative or neutral feedback for PowerSellers who have been on eBay for at least 12 months. The goal of this change is to facilitate communication that will prevent negative feedback.
  • Buyers may only leave Feedback within 60 days of the listing closing as opposed to the previous 90-day time frame.
  • Sellers can now block up to 5,000 User IDs from bidding vs. the previous capacity of 1,000.
  • Feedback percentages are now based only on the previous 12 months. While the total count remains for a lifetime, any negative or neutral feedback left more than a year prior will not affect the user's percent-positive score.

eBay has also upped its enforcement, increasing monitoring and taking action based on seller reports of buyers behaving badly, says Burke. Sellers can block buyers who have had two Unpaid Item disputes in the previous 12 months, as well as those who have had other violations. This puts more power in sellers' hands and further reduces risks created by unscrupulous buyers.