Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2005 Issue

Some Feedback on Feedback


Feedback for an eBay seller

by Renée Magriel Roberts

Internet bookselling may be the wave of the future, but before engaging in the practice, read this notice: WARNING: You can get Internet bookselling heartburn on a regular basis by selling on a site (eBay or Amazon, for example) that offers optional and permanent customer feedback.

What's the problem with feedback? On the surface, it seems very reasonable. Amazon itself is a major player that prides itself on its A-to-Z guarantee. They are understandably concerned that negative reactions to vendors operating under their "umbrella" might affect their credibility in the marketplace. For this reason, it seems to them that it's a good idea to allow customers to leave a feedback rating and comments that are attached to a seller's every listing and are also available at their Z-shop. After all, many of these shops do not identify the individuals or companies who actually run them, have no physical location, and are available only by email. Unlike a bricks-and-mortar store, which will quickly lose business if it doesn't provide good service based on word-of-mouth, an Internet store may have many, many unique customers, who do not know each other.

On Amazon, buyers have 90 days to leave feedback and 60 days to remove it. Amazon will not delete feedback, even if any issues have been resolved, even if they are requested to delete it by the customer, and even if no transaction occurred (i.e. the book was out of stock, the order was cancelled, and the customer fully refunded). Any customer who buys a book --whether it is $1.00 or $1,000-- is entitled to leave feedback, and all feedback is equally weighted. Feedback entries remain posted for one year on a seller's account.

Here's a recent example of feedback gone wrong. A customer in Hawaii orders a book to be shipped via surface mail to save on priority mail charges. Surface mail to Hawaii takes about two months to arrive from the East coast. After a month, the customer gets anxious about her book, tries to call the seller and misdials the telephone, getting somebody who does not answer her in English. Instead of re-checking the telephone number, or using the US mail, or trying to email the seller, the customer posts negative feedback, citing a lack of communication from the seller, and including a comment about someone not speaking English. She leaves the negative feedback on the Amazon site for two months, until her book arrives, then removes it.

There is no way to compensate the seller for lost revenue during the time in which this negative feedback was prominently posted right where he is selling. Similarly, it is not uncommon to get negative feedback from foreign buyers whose books are too large for Global Priority Mail and who do not read their email frequently enough to see notices on approximate shipping times.

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