eBay Seller Dilemma: Sacrificing Free Speech For Executive Access

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


Comments

Should online sellers have to give up their right to speak freely and publicly about their experiences in order to have their voices heard by marketplace executives?

At eBay, it appears the answer may increasingly be "yes."

Several prominent YouTube resellers have recently been grappling with how to effect change and get business-impacting issues addressed by eBay when regular support channels have failed, issuing public appeals to executives and attempting to open up good faith dialogue.

Josh Galt issued a public invitation to CEO Jamie Iannone to chat about the many technical issues and algorithm changes that are impacting resellers on the platform as well as where eBay is going strategically and where resellers fit in with that plan.

...whether deserved or not there is a brand problem with not only sellers but also with eBay and there is a very adversarial relationship...

...That's not good and I think most of that comes from sellers feeling that their voices are not being heard, that it's falling upon deaf ears...

...I think it's very important, and this is me speaking directly to the CEO, that that relationship is repaired and I think it can be done quickly...

...there needs to be a conduit between the sellers and eBay where the sellers are feeling as though their voices are being heard and their problems are being worked on, even if it's "look we understand the problem, we see it, we don't want you talking about it on YouTube, but we are working on the issue and here's what we're planning on doing but you got to keep it to yourself." Have them sign an NDA or something. It would go a long way for the brand...

...the whole network is there of these sellers on YouTube. They can be brand ambassadors for eBay if eBay were to take advantage of that but instead they're feeling like they're not heard they're moving to other platforms and then they're telling 30 or 40,000 other sellers which are eBay's customers to do the same because things are broken...

...what I would like to do as part of the solution is, I would like to sit down with you Jamie, the CEO of eBay, and just have a candid conversation...

...this is a risk on my part...at any minute they could just say you know what just shut this guy up, but I am concerned longterm because it affects my business as well and my friend's businesses...

...eBay's tried it already, they've done seller Spotlight, but it all comes from HR, from the corporate side of things and it just doesn't get traction because it's not real and genuine...

...it has to be organic...it's got to be a grassroots thing and I think it's not even costly. Someone's got to reach out, see these people, see their businesses, what are your grievances, what are your problems...so it doesn't feel like this Dark Horse corporation that has this umbrella of fear and terror over all these sellers who feel like everything they say is a risk because they're afraid of getting canceled or whatever the case may be...

...so Jamie if you are watching...it doesn't have to be adversarial. It can be a dialogue and it could be the first step to repairing a relationship which I think has to happen...

...eBay has a lot of ambition and things they want to roll out and they need the support of what is otherwise a fanatical community that loves the platform.

Josh made a follow up video discussing his ideas further and explaining why he would be willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement to have the chance to speak to eBay executives in an effort to advocate for the reselling community and help build a bridge with eBay.

It's truly heartbreaking that years after the shocking eBay cyberstalking scandal that forced a change in leadership and a supposed new commitment to ethics and transparency at the company, so many sellers still fear retaliation for speaking out about issues they face on the platform.

One of the many issues that has gained recent traction (and eBay attention) is resellers who are reporting an increase in items being incorrectly flagged as counterfeit or policy violations.

Sellers are not just frustrated with the damage these reports, and subsequent account restrictions, have on their businesses but with the lack of support from eBay and the inability to get answers or a fair warning when they have had an account in good standing for years.

After multiple recent problems resulting in account restrictions, a reseller/YouTuber known as Commonwealth Flipper was surprised when eBay reached out and offered him a chance to speak directly with VP GM US, Adam Ireland.

Importantly, he has said in comments that he was not required to sign an NDA for this conversation.

I kind of hinted..that I was able to speak to somebody at eBay. As a matter of fact they contacted me...

...this is part of the problem right...there just isn't clarity and there isn't communication and I hope that some things can change going forward...

...I guess I can tell you who it was with it was with the senior vice president and general manager of all of eBay US...

When I had this discussion I didn't even really talk about my specific issues that I've been going through over the last few weeks. I thought this opportunity was much greater than that and I thought I could present some different ways of looking at things from the seller perspective especially from the normal reseller perspective...

...absolutely everything is on the table and it seemed to me the point of the conversation that they wanted to have with me was about eBay relationships with this type of seller, Mom and Pop Sellers, and to me...that means that they realize there are serious issues and serious disconnects.

When I started to have the conversation, it became apparent to me that this was a one-way conversation of them listening to not just me but listening to what you guys tell me...and...no matter what I said, no matter how animated I got about serious topics he didn't flinch, not one time. He didn't make an excuse and quite literally started writing down notes.

Now that doesn't mean things are going to change and...they're never going to make everything better but certainly there has got to be improvement in two or three specific areas and I think I hope over I don't think I hope over the next couple of years at least they start this process because it really needs to happen.

While it's great to hear that conversations like this are happening, it's concerning the lengths these sellers are having to go just to get anyone at eBay to engage with them.

It's also very curious that this conversation was conducted by US General Manager Adam Ireland.

From an optics and operational standpoint, if the goal was to actually turn seller feedback into actionable insights, it would make much more sense for VP Seller Experience Xiaodi Zhang to be taking these calls.

In her role, Zhang should be in a position to understand how sellers actually use the platform and be empowered to directly impact the decision-making process for critical aspects of the selling experience versus the more general role of a General Manager.

Oddly, Zhang has been much less hands on than her predecessor Harry Temkin.

Harry used to appear on monthly real-time virtual seller check-ins to provide live demos of new features, answer seller questions and listen to feedback. So far in the year since she came back to eBay, Zhang has not participated in a single now quarterly seller check-in.

Apparently the only people she has time for are eBay-friendly media contacts, sponsored content interviews, and the few very carefully selected sellers eBay chooses to feature in marketing campaigns or at events like eBay Open.

Does eBay Compete Against Its Sellers?
VP Seller Experience Xiaodi Zhang says eBay doesn’t compete with sellers - but is that really true?

This is just one of many examples of how eBay has become more insular, less accessible and less transparent under Iannone's leadership - and that is not a problem that can or will be fixed by simply applying some NDA-backed grease to a few squeaky wheels on YouTube.


Personal note from Liz:

In August 2021, I wrote an open letter to Jamie with many of the same themes you'll still hear sellers on YouTube, across social media, and in eBay's own community forums expressing today.

eBay’s Seller Trust Problem
An open letter to eBay CEO Jamie Iannone on transparency, integrity, feedback and gaining seller trust.

Spoiler alert: No one at eBay ever responded directly.

But that doesn't mean they aren't listening, or that issues which are raised publicly by sellers don't make their way to those who are in a position to improve the platform.

As many sellers have pointed out, there have been multiple attempts by eBay to increase seller engagement over the years through various programs that have all failed for the same reason - they were a corporate box-checking exercise rather than genuine efforts to establish real trust and open, transparent communication.

Does eBay Really Care About Seller Engagement?
eBay says they value seller feedback & engagement - are they living up to their commitment or is it just lip service?

Ultimately, executives at eBay all the way to the top are, in fact, very much aware of many of these issues and have been for a long time. The problem isn't a lack of awareness, it's a lack of action and accountability.

Since founding Value Added Resource in 2021, I've become more and more convinced that the changes eBay urgently needs are not going to be driven through siloed internal channels or carefully controlled feedback loop echo chambers - they will come from public scrutiny and pressure from stakeholders.

I have personally seen how effective this approach can be and would encourage any seller with a public platform to think long and hard before agreeing to allow your voice to be stifled by an NDA.

Scrutineering 101: How To Win Friends & Influence Corporations
Reflections & observations on the power of sellers to effect positive change in the eBay marketplace.

Remember - if eBay reaches out to you about a video or social media post you've made, it means they are already listening. Your voice has power precisely because of your willingness to share your thoughts and experiences.

An NDA should only come into play if/when there are legitimate trade secrets or other material issues being discussed that eBay would understandably need to protect.

But signing away your right to speak freely should not be required for eBay to have the kind of "one-way" conversations Kevin at Commonwealth Picker described, where sellers are simply providing feedback and eBay is supposedly "listening."

I would encourage these sellers to keep the dialogue open and by all means engage with eBay positively at every opportunity, but know you do not have to sacrifice your voice to do so.

eBay says they want to be the trusted partner of choice for sellers and it is up to us to hold them accountable for what being a partner truly means. eBay does listen, whether they publicly acknowledge it or not, and your voice can make a difference.

Value Added Resource is committed to encouraging and amplifying seller voices across many platforms and helping to shine a light on precisely these types of issues.

My Twitter and Facebook messages are always open, as is my email. If you have a story to share, drop me a line any time - requests for confidentiality are always respected, no NDA required.

eBay

Liz Morton Twitter

Liz Morton is a seasoned ecommerce pro with 17 years of experience in online sales & marketplaces, providing expert commentary, analysis & news about eBay, Amazon, Etsy & more at Value Added Resource!