- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sellers on EBay are planning a boycott of the online marketplace to protest a new fee structure and other changes they say are unfair.

The auction site last week announced it is slashing the fee it charges to list items for sale, but is raising its commission rates for goods once they are sold. EBay no longer will allow sellers to rate buyers, and it will punish sellers who receive negative feedback by reducing their prominence in buyer searches.

The changes, which go into effect Feb. 20, sparked outrage among EBay merchants who say they give buyers an unfair advantage.

“I don’t know who they think their sellers are, but we’re not idiots,” said Richard Capria, a Long Island, N.Y., auto mechanic who is a part-time seller of model planes. “There’s going to be no way for the seller to warn other sellers of a deadbeat buyer or a scammer.”

Mr. Capria is one of many regular EBay users calling for a boycott of the site, planned for the week of Feb. 18-25. He already closed his online shop.

EBay maintains the overhaul is supported by internal data, community feedback and user outreach.

“We have a very passionate and engaged community, and they don’t hesitate to tell us how they feel. That’s always been the case with EBay,” spokesman Usher Lieberman said. “Our overarching goal is that we need to improve the customer experience on EBay, and all the changes we are making are aimed at highlighting the best sellers, who have the highest rates of customer satisfaction and downgrading those who don’t.”

As for the removal of buyer feedback, Mr. Lieberman cited instances in which sellers would unfairly retaliate against customers who gave them negative feedback.

EBay now charges a listing or “insertion” fee that ranges between 20 cents for items costing 99 cents or less and up to $4.80 for items priced at $500 or more. Under the new fee structure, those fees are reduced in each price category and top out at $4.

The company also is eliminating a 35-cent fee to display a picture next to an item during the bidding process.

But the fee change that draws the most ire from users involves the site’s commission, known as the “final-value fee.” That fee is 5.25 percent of an item’s closing value if priced under $25; for items costing between $25 and $1,000, it’s 5.25 percent of the initial $25 and 3.25 percent of the remaining amount. Under the new rules, that fee will be 8.75 percent up to $25 and 3.5 percent of the rest.

“If you add it all up, on a small item you’re paying an awful lot of money to sell something,” said Mr. Capria.

For example, a seller would pay $3.37 in fees to unload a $30 item under the new rules, compared with $2.60 under current rules.

Mr. Lieberman said the company last changed its rates in January 2007.

Karen Lynn, a Portland, Ore., seller of Pez dispensers and other knickknacks, objected to the new requirement that sellers of certain items, or those with lower rates of customer satisfaction, include a “safe” payment option like a credit card, which entails processing fees.

“When you’re small like me, you don’t really want to use PayPal, because there are added fees to that,” Miss Lynn said of the online-payment mechanism, which is owned by EBay. “I may as well have a garage sale.”

Miss Lynn said she has never received negative feedback, but said high-volume sellers of hundreds or thousands of items are bound to receive a few negative reports, even if unwarranted, which now will limit their exposure in buyer searches.

“The seller is always at fault, it seems like,” she said.

A group called Power Sellers Unite, which says it formed in response to a 2005 EBay rate increase, is promoting this month’s boycott and urging sellers to look at Amazon.com and other auction sites.

A week-old petition protesting the changes had 1,658 signatures as of last night.

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