From May 2008 eBay sellers will no longer be able to give negative feedback about buyers. The change is intended to eliminate retaliatory feedback. Some sellers delay giving feedback until they have seen how the buyer has rated them. If the buyer is negative they respond in kind, then offer mutual feedback withdrawal to protect the reputations of both parties.
In the new system sellers will be unable to give negative feedback about buyers, though they may still optionally give positive feedback. As a balancing protection eBay will suspend buyers who use the threat of negative feedback to extort changes in agreed conditions.
The aim is to improve buyer trust and confidence. With the fear of retaliatory negative feedback removed, eBay believes that buyers will be more honest and open in their rating and commenting. Consequently the best performing sellers will be able to distinguish themselves.
At the top end of the performance range, it is difficult to see how a store like Colourmart could improve it’s near perfect, and wholly genuine, feedback score. Colourmart is a UK cashmere supplier that combines superb quality, low prices and excellent customer service. Their quality of service can be seen not just in their eBay statistics but also in their Yahoo Group discussions.
While Colourmart’s score could not become more perfect, others may fall further behind. Whether or not an individual supplier has been intentionally gaming the system, any delay in giving feedback after payment can look like a veiled threat to a buyer, resulting in false positive feedback or the absence of negative feedback. With that perception removed eBay’s change should result in a broader spread of feedback scores. Whether the desired results are achieved will become apparent after the introduction of the new system in May.
Meanwhile, with the opening up of the social graph it is now possible to manage and monitor reputations outside of mainstream auction and merchant sites. Rapleaf, for example, collects positive, neutral and negative ratings from buyers, sellers, swappers and friends; making the ratings available through their website, or through buttons that you can embed in your own sites and profiles – though not on eBay where RapLeaf is banned.
Some eBay sellers may rebel and adopt an alternative rating services. Alexa statistics show that RapLeaf has experienced a noticeable increase in page views following eBay’s announcement.
While any system can be gamed, it’s the processes and networks within and around the system that limit the extent of the abuse. At the moment eBay’s feedback system looks more like a round of Prisoner’s Dilemma than a rating tool.