Friday, 20 May 2011
Hooptedoodle #26 - Why I Grew Out of eBay
I've had some excellent value out of eBay. My wargame armies have grown dramatically as a result of my constantly trawling the listings looking for vintage figures, I've obtained a load of books at decent prices and I've even made a few good friends from the people I've had dealings with. It has also been useful for selling off things I no longer needed, and, of course, eBay and PayPal have made a silly amount of money out of my involvement, which is what it is all about really, so I can feel that I have paid my way nicely. Most of all, it has given me a lot of fun.
I am beginning to grow very tired of it. For a start, the economic situation means that, like everyone, I have to watch what I spend, and eBay can be a bit dangerous at times. My armies now are pretty much complete anyway, but I am beginning to dislike some aspects of eBay. I do not like the standardisation of listings enforced by the Turbo Lister software, I do not like the restrictions placed on shipping values - many of them are poorly thought through (example - certain categories of item will try to force free shipping on the seller, regardless of the weight of the package, and regardless of the destination), I do not care for the growing preponderance of professional dealers, and in particular I do not like what has happened to the Feedback system.
I was always very partial to the Feedback - it gave an overtone, however illusory, of old-fashioned trust. If someone had a large 100% feedback record, they could pretty certainly be relied upon; in more practical terms, they would be unlikely to risk spoiling that hard-earned record by messing me around over a £5 pack of toy soldiers. It worked nicely, though there was a regrettable tendency for some sellers to hold off with feedback until they themselves had received good feedback from the buyer - the "second snowball" principle, clearly aimed to discourage any expression of dissatisfaction. Feedback has become very specific now, and the 5 Stars system by service category (accuracy of description, quality of communication, speed of shipping and level of P&P charges) seems to be too detailed an instrument to place in the hands of your average eBayer. There are a few people who will never give anything full marks, on principle, or possibly out of embarrassment - who knows? There is an even larger number of people who will always give full marks for everything, because they feel it is expected, and because it's not worth the hassle of doing anything else. I am faintly mystified, for example, to reflect that my rating for shipping charges has never been higher than 4.8 out of 5. OK - it's a good pass mark, and it doesn't trouble me at all, but I have always charged postage at cost, try to use recycled packing materials where possible, and will make PayPal refunds if I have over-estimated the shipping cost. In other words, I regularly lose small amounts of money on shipping, so I can't understand how I have disappointed my customers. Maybe they are just unhappy with Royal Mail's tariff of charges? Who knows? No matter - the point remains that the Feedback, despite attempts to bring more science to it, no longer reassures me as it did.
Recently I bought a book from an eBay seller and was surprised to have it delivered by Amazon. I worked out that this is an eBay dealer who lists books at prices a few pence higher than Amazon's, arranges for them to be sent direct from Amazon and pockets the change. Not exactly entrepreneurial, is it? Apart from my grinding irritation with portal-type industries which milk money out of a system to which they add no value whatsoever, I cannot afford that kind of pointless waste. Now I always cross-check on Amazon and Abebooks before I bid for a book (or a DVD, or a CD) on eBay - in about 60% of cases I end up buying from Amazon.
Last week I bought a small item from a large eBay seller. Last time I dealt with them, they left feedback along the lines of "Perfect eBayer - a delight to deal with", which I was quietly pleased with until I realised that their other 32000 customers all had the same comment. This time, acknowledgement of my purchase included mention of the fact that if I give them positive feedback, an automated system at their end will respond by giving me positive feedback in return. Something not quite right there - something has slipped a little. Although it all helps perpetuate the lovely Facebook world in which we can all gush at each other and bask in the warm, meaningless glow, that little old trust thing just fell off the table. Not a big deal, but another of the accumulation of small niggles which have gradually made me an occasional, marginal user.
There are some things I'll miss - my all-time favourite daft feedback comment was "In days to come, they'll speak in awe of this transaction", though you don't often get that kind of quality now. I'll miss the Jurassic struggles when two superheroes simultaneously place a Really Silly Bid on the same rare Hinton Hunt figure, and I'll miss that lovely guy who keeps listing 25mm white metal Napoleonics - "maker unknown" - although they have obviously come out of the same Prince August moulds he used last week. Perhaps he has problems with short term memory retention.
So do I - what was I saying?