As most of you will already be aware, eBay have recently released their Autumn 2015 Seller News update. And for once, there are some pretty big changes announced.
The reason for this is simple – eBay and PayPal split up in to two separate companies earlier this year, which means eBay can no longer hide behind the performance and results of PayPal.
And so far eBay are struggling! If you take a look at the recent August Same Store Sales (SSS) graphs on Channel Advisor, you’ll see that August was a bad month for eBay, especially in comparison to Amazon:
To me, this is the main reason why we’re seeing some fairly substantial changes being announced, as eBay really do have to take action now.
And overall, this is a good thing! A lot of the changes are in areas that people constantly ask for (and things that I receive a lot of emails about).
Probably the most important changes are to do with eBay’s Defect Rate, the current seller performance measurement, which you can read more about here: eBay’s New Seller Standard – The Defect Rate.
We’ll delve in further to the exact changes a bit later on, as for now I want to give a quick overview of everything that’s been announced, which can really be grouped in to four main areas:
- Changes to seller performance measurements – in eBay’s own words, “this means relying more on objective data instead of subjective buyer inputs” (sounds good!).
- Delivery and returns improvements – eBay are merging the current returns request procedure and their managed returns process in to one simple, single returns process.
- Expansion of product identifiers – exactly as I predicted earlier this year, eBay are rolling out product identifier requirements to further categories.
- Changes on international sites – there are also some additional changes being made on eBay US, Germany, Australia, France, Italy, and Spain. Of course if you don’t sell internationally these changes won’t affect you in any way.
So on the whole some fairly important and impactful changes. Let’s now go through them one by one, in more detail, so you can see exactly what is being altered and how that will affect you and your business.
eBay have basically completely re-worked the way they measure seller performance; buyer’s feedback and opinion now mean very little and eBay will instead rely on objective data – namely the updated defect criteria as well as the newly introduced on-time delivery metric.
One thing to bear in mind though – these changes only come in to effect on February 20th 2016. Although disappointing, this is probably a good thing as we don’t want teething problems and all the other usual issues with implementing changes to affect us in the most important months of the year, September – December.
So from February 2016, the following criteria will no longer count towards your defect rate:
- Buyer Feedback
- DSRs (detailed seller ratings)
- Return requests that are successfully resolved with your buyer
- Item not received requests that are successfully resolved with your buyer
There are only two remaining criteria for determining your defect rate:
- Seller cancelled transactions
- Cases that are closed without seller resolution
Now I know what you must now be thinking – “amazing”, right? I mean, this is pretty much exactly what people have been begging eBay for… you are no longer at the mercy of your buyer (being blackmailed in fear of negative feedback) and a sale will no longer be counted as defective even if you do everything right (provide returns, re-send missing items etc.).
BUT, it’s not all sunshine and roses, as eBay have of course adjusted the maximum allowed defect rate to take in to account the more lenient requirements.
Previously it was like this:
Whereas now it is:
This means that while although the defect criteria has been made a lot easier on sellers, eBay are also expecting a lot less defects as a result.
The changes for non-top-rated sellers aren’t actually that bad, as you can still have 40% as many defects as before, but for top-rated sellers it’s a little harder as the maximum allowed defect rate has been cut to one fourth of what it was previously.
And that’s not all – there is also the new on-time delivery metric! We all know just how important delivery time is for online buyers, and the standards in this area are becoming increasingly high, with Amazon recently introducing 2-hour delivery in certain areas!
So it comes as no surprise that eBay have created their new seller performance measurements with delivery time as a big consideration.
But once again eBay have actually tried to be extremely fair in how they are going to measure “on-time” delivery, supposedly basing it on what you control – dispatch time.
Basically, an order will be counted as being on time as long as at least one of the following criteria is met:
- Item tracking shows as ‘Accepted’ within your stated dispatch time
- Item tracking shows as ‘Delivered’ within your estimated delivery time
- The buyer confirms that the delivery was made on time
Point no.1 means that if you claim 24 hour dispatch and an estimated two day delivery time (so a total of three days from the point of order) then as long as you post the item within 24 hours, it won’t be considered a late delivery, even if your courier takes three days to deliver, and not two.
Point no.2 means that if you make the same claims in your listing as above, but only post the item after two days, if your courier delivers in one day (meaning it has taken 3 altogether) then it won’t count as a late delivery.
Of course both of these points rely on you using a tracked delivery method, which won’t always be the case, and that’s where point no.3 comes into play. Simply put, if you post using a non-tracked method, then as long as the item is delivered in your stated time frame then you’re fine as well.
This means that the only way you can get a late delivery is if:
- You don’t upload tracking information AND your buyer states that the item arrived after the estimated delivery date;
- Tracking shows that the item was posted after your estimated dispatch time AND tracking shows the item arrived after the estimated delivery date AND your buyer doesn’t confirm that the item arrived on time.
And here are the maximum allowed rates for the on-time delivery metric:
My initial reaction to the on-time delivery metric was that eBay are being fairly reasonable, as if you’re posting 10% of your items late, then you’re doing something wrong – no two ways about it.
BUT after digging a little deeper and thinking about it more, there are actually a few worrying aspects about the whole idea.
Firstly, while in theory the tracking integration with My eBay (more on that later) is a good thing, I certainly don’t want to be relying on it for my Top-rated seller status!
What happens when there’s a glitch and the tracking information is uploaded incorrectly or not at all?
How often do you post something recorded, then check the tracking information on the day of delivery and it still says “being sorted at the national hub”?
It goes without saying that there will be issues with the tracking information being recorded correctly, and to me it’s very unclear what’s supposed to happen then… am I expected to contact eBay and manually show them proof?
One, I simply don’t have time to waste on that and two, will they even take the evidence in to consideration? Past experience suggests they won’t.
And the second big problem I have with the new delivery metric is for items that are sent without tracking. As we went over just now, if I post an item via Royal Mail 1st or 2nd Class, but not recorded, then as long as it’s delivered on time I’m fine and no defect will be recorded.
Sounds good, right?
Well, not quite! Royal Mail themselves set a minimum service standard of 93% for First Class post, which means 7% won’t arrive in one day (and that’s IF Royal Mail meet their standards!). That is nearly DOUBLE the maximum allowed rate to maintain Top-rated seller status.
To me, this is a big problem that eBay need to address. The whole on-time delivery metric idea is good in principle but once again the execution and specific details are lacking.
We’ll have to see how this plays out but at the moment the best thing I can think of is to offer two day dispatch time, and then always post within one day.
Of course that’s not ideal as one day dispatch time is a good selling point for prospective buyers but losing Top-rated seller status would be a lot worse, so in this case the old business maxim of under promise and over deliver might be your best option.
Last but not least, there is one final change in eBay’s seller performance measurements, and that is in regards to the offered return period. From May 2016, you will need to offer 30-day returns in order to be a top-rated seller.
All in all I am happy with these changes, as I think they do a good job of removing the “buyer element” of defects, and you’re now wholly responsible as the seller. We just have to wait and see how On-time delivery works and how precise it will be.
Let’s move on to the next major change point:
Changes to Delivery and Returns
The main idea behind eBay’s changes to the returns process is fairly simple – they are trying to unify all sellers to a single system.
At the moment there is the usual return request process as well as the managed returns process and this is causing some confusion, which is why eBay have combined them to one single system – which already take effect from 16th September 2015.
Having read over the information in detail, it seems to me that the main change is introducing basic customisation and automation features to all sellers (previously this was only available to sellers using managed returns).
To take a look at the customisation options, head to My eBay > My Account > Site Preferences > Return Preferences.
From there you can create some basic return rules to automate your return process, such as:
- Automatically sending a refund for items of a certain price and for certain return reasons – for example if you know that it’s not worth your time to process a return for a £3 item, you can just automatically refund your buyer. Or if the return reason selected means that you have to pay the return postage, and you know that’s not worthwhile for you.
That covers automatic refunds, and the second automation tool is for approving returns:
- Approve returns automatically for items under a certain price or for certain return reasons. This basically works in the same way as for issuing refunds, except that rather than sending your buyer their money back, eBay will instead send a return label that they can use to send the item to you, at which point you will need to manually refund them.
It may sound slightly complicated, but in actual fact it couldn’t be simpler, so just head over to Return Preferences and take a look for yourself:
I would really recommend that you sort this out now, as these changes are already LIVE!!!
Also, when you’re setting your automation options for providing refunds or approving returns, keep in mind that the return reasons for buyers are also changing.
Previously when requesting a return or refund, a buyer would have to choose between one of the following options as their reason:
- It’s the wrong size or doesn’t fit
- I don’t need it anymore
- I found a better price elsewhere
- It’s defective or doesn’t work
- It doesn’t match the listing
- It’s missing parts of accessories
- It arrived damaged
- It’s counterfeit or fake
These options have been replaced with:
- Doesn’t fit (e.g. clothing)
- Changed mind
- Found a better price
- Just didn’t like it
- Ordered by mistake
- Doesn’t work or is defective
- Doesn’t match descriptions or photos
- Wrong item sent
- Missing parts of accessories
- Arrived damaged
- Doesn’t seem authentic
eBay claim that these new return reasons are more specific and will therefore save sellers from being penalised unfairly or having to pay return postage when really the buyer should cover it.
However I personally don’t see how this will help; scammers/abusers know how to game the system on eBay and know what options to select so that you, as the seller, are liable for the return postage cost. These new options just aren’t going to help in that regard.
The second part of point no.2 is to do with delivery, and specifically, integrating tracking information to My eBay.
From September 2015 onwards, when you add tracking information to My eBay, it will then display details of the delivery for you and your buyer – including courier information and the status (accepted, in transit, delivered) of the order.
This status check is how eBay plan to monitor the on-time delivery metric that we looked at earlier, so it’s very important that you do upload tracking information when possible.
Although this update is being introduced now, not all couriers are integrated. Here’s a list of who’s currently supported and when other couriers expect to be included:
And that’s it! There’s nothing further you need to do, other than adding tracking information for your courier once they’re integrated with eBay.
Which brings us to the 3rd major change point:
Expansion of Product Identifiers
I’m not going to talk about product identifiers and what they are here again, as it’s something I covered in detail very recently. If you missed that post or just feel that you need a refresher, you can find it here: eBay’s New Product Identifier Requirements
To be honest this is a bit of a non-announcement, at least in terms of the Autumn 2015 update. Why do I say this? Well because eBay really haven’t announced anything new or anything concrete.
They simply state that they’re “moving forward with product identifiers… expanding the list of categories for which product identifiers are a requirement”. eBay then go on to say that they’ll let us know more details soon, but will give at least 90 days’ notice so that we have time to comply.
And that means that the extended category requirements won’t come in to effect until early 2016, so nothing to concern yourself with for now.
Now on to the 4th and final main point from the seller update:
Changes on International Sites
Although, as I mentioned before, these changes won’t affect you at all if you only sell on eBay.co.uk, I still want to very quickly run through them, as I know a lot of you do list on the international eBay sites directly (as you should!).
Let’s start off by looking at an overview table detailing the multiple changes affecting different international sites:
Seller Hub provides a centralised view of your account, including listings, order activity, and detailed sales data. Mainly for sellers who list directly on eBay or use Selling Manager Pro, Seller Hub will be live at the end of September.
New Seller Standard
The same changes we’ve already discussed in detail; eBay plan to launch the new seller standards across all sites simultaneously on February 20th 2016.
The compulsory categories for product identifiers differ slightly, country by country, so make sure you always check the specific requirements for the site you’re listing on after the Autumn 2015 update.
This is actually quite an interesting development, as eBay Plus is something I’ve been keeping a close eye on since first reading about it in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.
It’s basically eBay’s answer to Amazon Prime (a little late, as always!) but as well as providing free, fast shipping and returns to buyers, eBay are also offering some benefits to sellers who opt in.
This includes a 15% discount on final value fees, better placement in search results, free return labels, and the ability to purchase discounted eBay branded packaging materials.
I’ve always said that it’s good to monitor programs that eBay test/roll out on international sites as they’ll often come to the UK later, and this is a perfect example as eBay Plus could be a very important development!
If you don’t sell parts in the vehicles category on eBay, then just ignore this. If you do, then it basically means that buyers can now search by part on their mobile devices, as well as desktop.
These changes mirror what’s happening on the UK site, which we’ve already gone over earlier in this post.
Last but not least, eBay are also introducing some changes to the pricing structure of some listing features on eBay France, Italy, and Spain. So if you sell on any of those sites, head over to the announcement page on eBay itself to get exact details of the changes.
And that brings us to the end of today’s lengthy post!
Overall my feelings towards this announcement are mixed. On the one hand I don’t like the fact that some recent changes are being reversed or reworked, as this uncertainty isn’t good for business. It’s hard to plan ahead if eBay are going to be making changes so often, but then again that is their speciality!
But on the other hand, some of these changes do seem very positive for sellers, even if they are well overdue.
There’s one thing that’s certain – with the uncertainty surrounding eBay after their split with PayPal, it is imperative that you diversify and sell on multiple platforms!
I have talked about this numerous times in the past, but I’m going to keep mentioning it anyway. At least until I can go a week without hearing from someone whose business is in trouble because they relied solely on a single platform.
And on that note – see you on Wednesday when I’ll post an often requested guide on importing children’s clothing & other products to the UK from China.
All the best,