Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2007 Issue

Abe Institutes Seller Ratings

How an Abe listing may appear once seller ratings go public.


By Michael Stillman

Abebooks announced the soon-to-come launching of their long-anticipated seller ratings on May 29. This will undoubtedly be controversial with some booksellers, but one suspects it is a fait accompli. eBay has long provided such a system and Abebooks believes it is important for reassuring buyers, particularly first time ones.

The news arrived too late for us to look into the plan in any great detail, but the basics are a five-star system, with rankings based on completion rate. A seller will get five stars if their completion rate is 95%-100%, four stars for 85%-94%, three stars for 70%-84%, two stars for 60%-69%, and one star for 0% to 59%. Completion rate is determined by taking total number of orders minus unfulfilled and returned items, divided by total orders. If you have 100 orders, cannot fulfill eight and two are returned, you will have a 90% completion rate, good for four stars. Cancellations or returns based on the buyer changing his mind will not be counted against the seller. Partial refunds will not be so counted either. In a few early searches, we found some dealers with five stars, none with fewer than three stars, most with four. If a dealer has three or fewer sales during a rating period, they will get a default four-star ranking.

The default rating customers will be shown is based on the past six months. However, customers will be able to view them based on 1, 3, 6, or 12 month intervals.

In announcing the program, Abe stated that "Happy buyers are more likely to become frequent buyers..." They believe customers will be happier if they are more confident, and ratings will increase confidence. Even buyers with low ratings, Abe says, will benefit, as they will have "the opportunity for improvement." Abe's release stated that, "Buyers often ask us to implement seller ratings," a request to which they are acceding. It is worth noting here that Abe's ratings are based strictly on fulfillment rates. Unlike eBay, buyers cannot trash Abe's sellers with unpleasant, and perhaps slanderous, comments. The most they can do is return a book and thereby lower the completion rate. This should greatly reduce any controversy in instituting this program.

Abebooks has asked sellers for their feedback before the rankings are made visible to buyers. No public launch date was stated, though Abe requested their sellers to "spend some time over the next week with the Ratings Tracker." One would suspect, from that amount of time, that a launch is planned sooner rather than later. While Abe sounds open to comments and suggestions, we imagine that they have fairly well made up their minds, and that changes are more likely to be tweaking the program than anything major like discarding it. Abe does have a history of following through on its plans, even if they are not entirely popular with every bookseller.

We imagine this change will engender some controversy, but perhaps not so much as it once might have. This has been brewing for a long time, so it is hardly a surprise, and it is a fairly benign system, being free from potentially nasty critiques and smears. Besides which, Abe sellers by now well know that Abe can be determined once it decides a change is for the best.

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