Monday, January 8, 2007

More Lessons in eBay

Recently a signed copy of my book, Sex~Kitten.Net Presents: The BDSM Issue, was listed on eBay ~ only to have the auction pulled a short time later. Per eBay's usual, the auction is not only pulled, but actually removed from the site's data base. The seller can't find it, members who are 'watching' the auction cannot find it ~ it has vanished.

Perplexed as to 'why' the listing was pulled, a reply to the notice was sent to eBay ~ including yet another request/plea for information as to why eBay completely deletes the auction preventing a seller from relisting easily (or at least saving their information and photos/images ~ which can be quite extensive especially in the collectibles area.)

This is what was received (minus the general eBay notification babble):

Thank you for writing eBay in regard to the removal of your auction listing.

BDSM items are strictly prohibited on eBay. All adult-oriented items must be listed in our Mature Audiences categories. However, because we place limits on the types of adult material that can be listed in our Mature Audiences categories, adult items such as you have listed would not be permitted on eBay at all, even in our Mature Audiences categories.

It is against eBay policy for sellers to reference BDSM, S & M or other terms that directly imply sadomasochism or related sadomasochistic activities in either the title, description, or images within an auction. eBay policy places strict limitations on the types of sexually-oriented material that can be placed in our general categories and in the Mature Audiences section of the site. It is very important that you review this policy thoroughly before listing these types of items in the future.

And of course they provided the link to said policy.

Forgetting that at any given moment one can and will find BDSM items on eBay (it's not that I'm being overly generous in mood; I'm just too lazy to point out the obvious and debate their ability to police all items on their site), let's look at the policy itself.

First of all, eBay like any other business has the right to define and limit the scope of their business. They can limit themselves to only being the marketplace and platform for medium sized navy blue sweaters, entirely and exclusively. (I am too full of myself not to mention that this is what they are close to becoming anyway.) Any business has this right to determine product or service such that these do not discriminate against race, gender etc. So this discussion is not going to be about their rights to do so.

What I'd like to look at is the following:

A) Nowhere on their mature audience policy page does it state the ban on BDSM.

B) A search for BDSM policy yields only the following results:
Sorry, no topics were found for "bdsm policy".
Did you mean "bids policy"?

C) A look at their Prohibited and Restricted Items page doesn't list BDSM or any other words/categories which would seem to apply here ~ other than the afore mentioned "Mature Audiences" section (which fails miserably to cover the topic).

All of this is frustrating, to say the least. How is a seller to know policies if they do not exist on the site and there are other similar (if not identical) items on the site? Why would you have a 'customer service representative' cut and paste a policy including a link to back-up the claim when none of this information is available on the site?

But there is more. Or should I say less...

Because, as you'll notice, there was no comment regarding the reasoning for permanently deleting the auction listing. This was the second part in out (only) two point email. So half of the concerns went unaddressed.

Now it is at this point that a determined client will try to make contact. They will want a human being to explain and address all of the above. But at eBay this is not possible. Unless you are a PowerSeller you have no point of contact, save for some generic help policies or FAQs and a "did this answer your question" link. Eventually, if you wish to read oodles of info which does not apply to your situation, you may end up with a contact form. Or you could try the "live Help' which is when a real person cuts & pastes into a chat screen rather than an email.

If you go either of those routes you will only end up with more cut & paste that you've already received ~ and still have your second question (half of your concern) unaddressed because it's not part of the canned response possibilities.

At some point during this mess you ironically ~ or perhaps in a calculated move on the part of eBay to make you frustrated enough to leave eBay ~ you receive another message from eBay:

On 01/04/2007, we replied to an email message you sent to customer support. As part of eBay's commitment to excellence, we want to make sure our response met your needs. Would you please take a few minutes to answer some questions about your overall experience and the specific eBay Representative who responded to you?

Please respond to the survey by clicking on the following link; or copy and paste the entire web address into the address field of your browser.

If you contacted eBay from your registered email account, this invitation will be sent to both your email address and to My Messages. NOTE: This invitation will expire after five days.

Thank you for your help!
eBay Customer Support

If this isn't a 'last straw' move, wait; you'll soon be getting another of these for the useless exchange you had via the contact form or chat.

And if you fill it out, it seems to make no difference in eBay's operations. People still just cut & paste away with gibberish that doesn't address the issue. And don't get me started on their help forum.

So aside from allowing me to bitch about eBay some more, why do I tell you all of this?

Because eBay is currently one of the Big Boys yet they make foolish mistakes. Mistakes perhaps they can afford (lord knows no one's yet beat them out at the auction platform); but can you afford to make them?

Take a look at your site:

Are your policies easy to find and understand?

Do you make it easy or difficult for folks to contact you? Even non-members?

Do you offer good customer service?

Do you define good customer service as cut & pasting the same canned info into an email? Do you think the time you save is worth the loss of members or sales?

If you don't pay attention to these issues than you must be as sure of your position as eBay is.

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