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Word Gets Around

John Federico

During the past few weeks, I've been giving my eBay reputation a lot of thought.

A couple of times a year, I get rid of the stuff laying around my home office that might be of use to other people and that I can turn into cash (for more gadgets, of course). Mid-November of this year was one of those times.

I sold an original Gameboy, a 1U Rackmount Server, an Atari Lynx, a couple of cordless phone systems and a couple of cell phones. One of those cell phones sold for only $1.99 (really).

Just before the auctions closed, I rolled onto a last minute project that required that I work on-site at my client's offices, so my eBay shipping was delayed a few days. Plus, keep in mind that by the time the auctions closed, the holiday season was in full force. As a result, it took a few days longer for things to arrive.

Without warning, I got an email from eBay informing me that I had received negative feedback in my eBay profile - from "$1.99 Phone Guy", of all people. I was aghast. The guy never even contacted me to see what might be wrong. His knee-jerk reaction was to tell the world that I'm not worthy of their financial transactions.

Now, you might be wondering why I should take this so seriously. After all, it's just eBay, right?

Think about this: imagine a customer bought a product from you. They were having problems getting it to work properly, so they called into your service center and they were kept on hold for hours and ultimately didn't get the answer they needed to solve their problem. When the whole situation ended, you suddenly found that your sales had begun to decline, but just as oddly, your credit rating was lowered.

Welcome to the eBay economy.

You see, on eBay, your feedback rating is everything. In addition to creating skepticism among potential buyers, a negative feedback rating may bar you from making purchases. It's not uncommon for sellers to plainly state that "buyers with negative feedback need not bid on this auction."

So, back to $1.99 Phone Guy. I have no idea where his phone is and I don't really care. What I care about is this negative feedback rating I now have. I want to get rid of it.

How can I accomplish this? Well, your feedback rating is based on a percentage of your total transactions. So, I could buy more stuff or sell more stuff and effectively decrease the weight of the negative transaction on my feedback rating. I don't know about you, but I don't have that kind of time.

However, in the real world, that's the kind of effort you need to put into repairing the effects of a poor transaction and the ill will it creates - before the story of that transaction spreads. And in the real world, the actions required to complete the repair are not always as clearly defined. There's just as much qualitative effort as quantitative.

Unlike the hard work required in fixing your reputation in the real world, eBay offers a somewhat faster remedy: the "Mutual Feedback Withdrawal."

Basically, you and the other party agree to mutually withdraw the negative feedback that you've left for each other. The feedback still appears on your feedback page, but it's no longer weighted numerically in your rating and is clearly marked on the page as "withdrawn."

So, after some dialogue (all by email) I'm just waiting for $1.99 Phone Guy to accept my withdrawal request before I refund his money.

And the phone? He can keep it with my compliments. My reputation is worth more than $1.99...