Jody Wilner's Sterling Silver Jewelry business, Beyond Expectations (eBay User ID: thejeweler1), had a sterling feedback history, with thousands of positive reviews. That changed when he and his partner, Glenn Unger, 42, moved the business and their families from Wantagh, New York, to Lutz, Florida. Out of touch for a few days, Beyond Expectations quickly racked up a batch of negative feedback comments, mostly for nonresponse.
"We lost a lot of e-mails. People couldn't get in touch with us. There was no way to post an explanation. It was the biggest batch of negatives we've ever had," Wilner recalls, adding that if he had it to do over again, they wouldn't have planned any listings for the period when they moved. "There's a lot of back-and-forth that has to go on when you have 200 [listings] a week. We should have stopped the [listings] and restarted when we were set up." Luckily, they moved past the situation-and now make about $14,000 per month selling on eBay.
Feedback is important to the eBay user, according to Joseph Sinclair, author of eBay the Smart Way: Selling, Buying and Profiting on the Web's #1 Auction Site: "If a buyer is purchasing an expensive item, maybe over $100, they'll definitely look at the feedback of the seller first. If it's not good, many people won't bother bidding."
Sinclair believes that a few good business practices can really safeguard your feedback rating. He offers these tips:
- Avoid surprises. Use your listing description to disclose all relevant details about the item, especially if it's used or has any sort of defect. Photographs can be very helpful in showing features or damage. In addition, mention in your ad if there will be any sort of delay in shipping or communication-whether it's a policy of not shipping until payment is received, or using a lower-cost shipping method such as third-class or media mail, which could take several weeks to arrive.
- Ship right. Ship your items securely to ensure that they arrive in good condition. Larger items, like the tractors and farm equipment sold by Allen Bishop and his wife, Jeanette, both 56, need other arrangements. The Bishops (eBay user ID: harley1983), who live in Chadwick, Missouri, make arrangements to transport each piece of equipment themselves, arranging a date with the buyer at the time of sale. Even though they've sold 26 tractors over the past year, they have no negative feedback to date.
- Check buyer feedback. Just as buyers check your feedback, you can use buyers' feedback as insurance, says Sinclair. If you see that someone doesn't have feedback or has a string of negative feedback, be cautious. Be sure that you have payment for the item, and protect yourself by shipping it with insurance and requiring a signature guarantee.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you receive negative feedback, you may have an opportunity to work it out with the seller. eBay recently instituted the new Mutual Feedback Withdrawal policy, which allows members who mutually agree to withdraw their feedback to do so. While the rating, which can impact the member's score, is withdrawn, the text of the comment remains in the member profile; and member profiles include the total number of times a member has withdrawn feedback.
Protecting Your Payments
Something didn't seem right about the highest bidder on Chad Savage and Joseph Berger-Davis' latest listing. Their Los Angeles company, Play Angry (eBay User ID: squirmal), a startup with a projected revenue of $20,000 for fiscal year 2005, has a policy of not shipping its sportswear until payment is received. It had been weeks since this overseas customer had been in touch. Finally, after several months, the customer responded that the shipping charges were too high and that he wouldn't pay for the item.
"eBay has a reporting site, and they sent him a notice that they'd be keeping an eye on him for nonpayment," recalls Savage, 38. "He sent me an apology, and I let it go."
While the majority of online buyers are honest, nonpayment issues and conflicts still arise, says Donny Lowy, author of Secrets of eBay: Strategies and Tips Used by the Most Successful eBay Sellers. Protecting oneself, he says, requires setting good practices, developing good instincts, and keeping on top of the latest requirements of PayPal and credit card companies.
- Start at the listing. Lowy says that having clear descriptions and photographs of items is a must. Invite prospective buyers to call with questions. If it's a low-cost item that he expects to sell in quantity, Lowy will offer a sample: "I do whatever I can to make sure that people know what I'm selling them upfront."
- Check out suspicious customers. If Richard Hect, owner of Golden berry.com (eBay user ID: richardseller), a $1.25 million purveyor of Anglo-American foods, collectibles and gift baskets in Ridgefield, Connecticut, hasn't dealt with a customer before and notices an odd or unusually large order, he'll ask the buyer to call before processing the order. Hect is especially careful to do so if the individual doesn't have a strong feedback history. "We've had trouble with overseas buyers not paying," says the 37-year-old entrepreneur. "With eBay, you have the added issue of feedback, which does do a lot to keep people better behaved. But at the end of the day, you have to decide whether this is a person you trust or do not trust."
- Get paid the right way. Know what PayPal or credit card companies require to help protect you from fraudulent charge-backs for non-receipt of merchandise. "PayPal offers protection to the seller if the item is going to the same address where the credit card bill is sent, but you still have to have confirmation of delivery. Some credit cards require the CVV2 [identification digits on the credit card] to be included in the payment process," says Lowy. "It's all in the name of trying to combat fraud, but it puts a big burden on sellers."
- Ship promptly and properly. Items should be shipped as soon as possible after payment is received. Any delays in shipping should be disclosed, and expensive items should be insured. "But remember that you're only compensated [by the insurer] for the cost of the item," says Lowy. "If you got a great find at the flea market but didn't get a receipt, you may not be reimbursed."
- Deal with problems immediately. If a customer expresses dissatisfaction, work quickly to address the problem. "Sometimes, people just want to be reassured," says Lowy. "And sometimes, they have a complaint. On a $100 order, I may say, 'Will you be happy if I send out [another] $15 worth of merchandise and you pay for shipping?' That will usually work to salvage the relationship."
If a problem does arise, try to contact the buyer directly to work it out. Those who can't work out their disputes can also turn to SquareTrade, a fee-based third-party arbitration system. SquareTrade acts as a mediator in situations where negative feedback has been given and will help resolve conflicts, often resulting in negative feedback being removed.
GWEN MORAN is a writer and consultant specializing in marketing.