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Some sellers on EBay frustrated with rule changes

Moves meant largely to expand the ranks of buyers have been bad for the bottom lines of some merchants.

August 21, 2008|Rachel Metz | The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Some people who sell things on EBay are fed up with new rules the company has imposed in hopes of making the auction website more attractive to online shoppers. Now even more changes are coming in the next few weeks, but this time EBay Inc. hopes it can cool tempers.

Already this year, EBay has tinkered with its fee structure, search results and feedback system. These efforts might be meeting EBay's aims of improving the experience for buyers, but several sellers say their relationship with EBay is worse than ever, and some have left the site entirely.

Jonathan Garriss, executive director of the Professional EBay Sellers Alliance and head of Gotham City Online, which sells shoes on EBay, said his group's members were seeing fewer of their listed items sell and lower average prices for things that do sell.

EBay has been rejiggering its vast Internet marketplace in hopes of turning around a troubling trend: Its number of active users is barely rising. In the most recent quarter, the figure rose 1.4% to 84.5 million.

One big change came in January, when EBay altered its complex fee structure and said it was trying to encourage sellers to offer more items for sale, which in turn could attract more buyers.

Generally, EBay cut the fees it charges for listing an item but raised its commissions on completed sales of products auctioned for less than $1,000 or sold at fixed prices lower than $100. Meanwhile, the company began taking a smaller bite out of higher-end fixed-price sales -- as much as 4% instead of a previous maximum of 5%.

Still, many sellers were unhappy that unlike in the past -- when EBay consistently talked of a level playing field for brand-name companies and weekend attic-raiders alike -- a new top tier of vendors seems to have an easier time flooding the marketplace.

Under a new Diamond PowerSeller plan, the highest-volume merchants may be eligible for reduced fees. One Diamond PowerSeller, Buy.com Inc., is offering so many goods on EBay that many sellers question Buy.com's listing practices.

Buy.com's listings also emphasize EBay's move toward sales with set prices rather than its traditional auction format. EBay says auctions are not going away, but fixed-price sales are the fastest-growing part of the company's marketplace, increasing 60% a year.

And more changes are afoot. EBay announced Wednesday that starting Sept. 16 it would let U.S. sellers pay 35 cents to list an unlimited number of identical items at a set price, for a month at a time. Previously, fixed-price listing fees could run as high as $4 per item, and the listings were good for a week.

For some sellers, like Michael Knight, who dismantles motorcycles and sells the parts on EBay from Garland, Texas, the sheer volume of recent adjustments has been frustrating.

"I have no control. I have to comply with anything they choose to do and I have no voice in the matter," he said.

Knight would like to move off EBay but says it's difficult to transfer his listings to another site. Other sites will not easily accept the photos embedded in his item descriptions, and modifying every one of his almost 4,000 listings "is just not practical."

"I'd be giving up a month's income to get that done. That's the only thing that's keeping me on EBay -- the inconvenience of leaving," he said.

Bruce Hershenson of West Plains, Miss., had spent 10 years selling vintage movie posters on EBay. He now does that on his own site, EMoviePoster.com, using technology offered by AuctionAnything.com Inc.

"I talk to other people who have done what I did, and they're happy with their decision. They've been able to get their business to the EBay business levels or beyond," Hershenson said.

Sellers have also bristled at changes in EBay's feedback policy, one of the site's hallmarks. In the spring, the company removed sellers' ability to leave negative or neutral feedback for buyers, though buyers can still offer negative assessments of sellers. EBay also adjusted its search engine so that items being hawked by people with poorer feedback ratings come up lower in search results.

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