eBay's Seller Trust Problem

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


UPDATE: This letter was also sent to Jamie Iannone's official eBay email address, and I invited him to cc VP Seller Community Andrea Stairs, Sr. Manager Seller Advocacy Brian Burke, Director Community & Engagement Rebecca Michals and/or other relevant leadership on his reply.

No reply has been received either publicly or privately as of 11-16-2021.


Open letter To CEO Jamie Iannone:

Dear Jamie,

It was a year ago this month that EcommerceBytes published an internal memo you wrote to address ethics and company culture in the wake of the cyberstalking campaign against them.

In that memo you said, in part:

Since I rejoined eBay earlier this year, and particularly over the last couple of months, the eBay Leadership Team has frequently discussed how openness, honesty, respect and doing business with integrity drives our success...

And, here's the thing...ethics is everyone's responsibility. We all need to see ourselves as being personally accountable for our commitment to doing business ethically. That's why I strongly encourage you to join me, Marie Oh Huber, Chief Legal Officer, and Molly Finn, Chief Compliance Officer in conversation with Rob Chesnut, an eBay alum and highly-regarded ethics and integrity expert.

...Our focus will be on bridging the insights Rob offers in his book with past events here at eBay and the respect he has for our culture and our team...We'll also record the session and share it with everyone.

As always, I want to hear from you as much as you do from me. Good ideas come from many places. So please continue to share your ideas on our strategy, our business execution and additional actions we can be taking to ensure we all live our values every day.

I called on you to apply Rob Chesnut's insights not just to past events, but current and future events as well, and to demonstrate your commitment to do so by taking the bold step of inviting sellers into the conversation, even if just as observers.

It was disappointing, but not surprising, that challenge went unanswered.

eBay Internal Memo on Ethics - Conversation with Rob Chesnut August 24th
eBay CEO Jamie Iannone sent employees a message about ethics this week in light of recent events. He told them that if they see something, they should say something. He also invited a former colleague, Rob Chesnut, to speak to the company about ethics. Chesnut, who ran eBay’s Trust & Safety divis…

I sincerely hope the Steiners receive justice and restitution through the various court cases currently winding their way through the system, but here's the thing Jamie - eBay has a longstanding seller trust problem that runs far deeper than this scandal. If you weren't aware of it from your previous time at eBay, you certainly can't claim to be unaware of it now.

When I first started actively participating in the eBay community, even before the scandal came to light, other sellers would confide in me they agreed with many things I said but were scared to say so publicly.

I'll admit this baffled me at first. My 15 years of experience with eBay has mostly been through the lens of working for larger ecommerce companies in various positions. While I may have been frustrated at times with eBay policies, business impacting technical glitches, and lack of support, it honestly never occurred to me I was doing anything particularly brave by posting those thoughts publicly.

As I've gotten to know other sellers and heard their stories, I understand a bit more now where that fear comes from.  It might be tempting to dismiss it as "noise" or hyperbole, but much of it isn't and eBay continues to ignore that at its own peril.

Over the last year, I've also had several opportunities to speak with journalists about various eBay related topics. The first question they usually ask is if I fear possible retaliation from eBay for speaking on the record.

My answer to them, to other sellers and to you is no, I'm not afraid, but I understand why many others are and it is absolutely unconscionable that eBay has ever made any seller feel that level of fear. You can and must do better.

There are also sellers I speak to who are not scared of eBay in that way, but they're simply exhausted, Jamie - worn down by dealing with technical issues with your site that cost their businesses tens of thousands of dollars a day, fraud and scams on the platform or simply trying to make their way through the complex maze of eBay policies and "gotcha" traps that can trip them up along the way.

Far too often it is impossible for those sellers to reach anyone at eBay who is empowered to actually help them. You can and must do better for those sellers too.

So where do you go from here? In many ways I think you've put the cart before the horse, hoping if you just introduce new seller tools and say magical words like "tech led reimagination" and "trusted partner", you'll be able to avoid dealing with the baggage foisted on you by your predecessors.

Unfortunately, it's not that easy. You and the rest of your leadership team need to own the history that has led to this strained relationship with sellers, and the responsibility for making it right, if you really are serious about being "the seller partner of choice."

You keep using words like "transparency", "openness" and "integrity" and stressing the importance of "feedback loops" but in practice, eBay under your leadership still displays a lack of transparency and integrity on far too many issues and is still very closed off to exactly the kind of feedback you most need to hear.

eBay continues to turn a blind eye to listings that violate both your written Presale Policies and FTC 30 Day Mailing rules. In instances involving some of eBay's "top brands", such as the Funkopop Funkoween event, eBay even goes so far as to actively promote these listings both on site and across social media.

I reported those listings for 6 weeks and eBay refused to remove them, despite clear evidence they violated policies.  Many of them were never taken down, even though the actual release dates would put them far past the time when buyers would be eligible for eBay's Money Back Guarantee protections.

And that's a really important thing to note here Jamie - you recently made a big deal about your strategy to focus on high value buyers, which presumably would include someone who just dropped $1000 on a pre-sale of the hottest new gaming console.

3 months down the road when that console doesn't show up and the buyer can't get help from eBay because the MBG timeframe has passed, that "high value buyer" will instantly become one of those "one and done" buyers you talked about. Odds are they will never come back to eBay for anything in the future and you can bet their entire social network will know why.

Allowing these presale violations to continue hurts both buyers and sellers - you can and must do better.

You've also spoken a lot recently about eBay's authentication efforts.  I'm sure many, many of the authenticated transactions go off without a hitch, but there are also troubling reports of price manipulation, items falsely showing Authenticity Guaranteed that don't actually ship to the authenticator, weeks long delays, wrong items/damaged items, shoes that simply just go missing during the authentication process and more.

Even if these problems are only occurring on a very small percentage of orders, they are very real problems with very real negative impact on both buyers and sellers - again, you can and must do better.

On the topic of seller engagement and feedback loops, the recent announcement of the Seller Voices pilot program in the eBay community gave me a glimmer of hope that you really meant what you said, until it became clear eBay was only interested in hearing vetted, pre-approved voices without even the courtesy of disclosure of what criteria might qualify a seller to be approved to participate.

Your community team hosts a weekly chat, which should be a place where users can get answers and assistance from eBay staff, but week after week most questions are replied to with some variation of "I'll pass that on to the appropriate team."

Too often, important business impacting issues that are surfaced in the community go nowhere and there appears to be no accountability when eBay's own staff hit internal brick walls and are not able to get answers or resolution.

eBay has also recently featured interviews with sellers, again on the surface appearing to be making an effort at community outreach, but I have to note many of the sellers selected to be featured also happen to be eBay employees or very closely associated eBay partners.

I'm sure their inside experience gives them some interesting insights and they should absolutely be included in the conversation, but it's important to acknowledge the real risks of bias and operating inside echo chambers and walled gardens.  Remember Jamie - "good ideas come from many places".

Your keynote address for eBay Open Online mentioned how much you depend on feedback from sellers, yet that video and most of the other videos on eBay's official YouTube channel do not allow comments.

I was also troubled by the lack of transparency about the event being mostly pre-recorded.  It was clear from watching the chat sidebar during the event many sellers were under the impression it was live and the executives making presentations, including you, would be actively engaging in the event just like if it was in person in Las Vegas. From what I saw in the sessions I attended, that didn't happen.

By day three there had been a pivot to more transparency, but only after it was called out on social media and the eBay community.

Speaking of social media - I noticed eBay's official @eBayNewsRoom Twitter account had shared a slide on August 11th quoting your words from the Q2 2021 earnings call stating there had been double digit growth in sneakers and then later shared an article from August 20th where GM of Sneakers Garry Thaniel was quoted as saying "we are seeing triple digit growth for the last few quarters here at eBay Sneakers".

Was it a mistake or maybe the interview was conducted weeks in advance before the Q2 results had been released? I don't know, but I asked for clarification about this possible misstatement and instead of engaging, they chose to sweep it under the rug by hiding my reply.

They did eventually unhide it, but again only after it was called out on social media. However, there still has been no clarification or correction offered on the question of double digit or triple digit growth in sneakers for Q2 2021.

In reflecting on these examples and others too numerous to name here, I have to wonder - why is eBay so afraid of real transparency and seller engagement?

What would be the worst case scenario if you went all in on those promises and really committed to transparency and seller engagement across the board, not just in carefully selected areas?

I get it Jamie, it can be scary to step out of the comfort zone and take a risk to effect change.  Last December, I sent an email to an acquaintance with some of my thoughts on eBay's lagging legacy tech. At the time, I never expected it to go anywhere or have any real impact, until the recipient surprised me by asking for permission to forward it to some people at eBay.

I'll admit, at first it was a scary thought, especially in light of the scandal that had been exposed at that point, but after giving it some consideration I made the choice to take your words about that incident "not being eBay" on good faith and said yes.

I'm not sure if that email ever reached you, but I do know it made its way to others at eBay who in turn reached out to me privately and I'm very glad they did. Seeing the impact that had, as well as the impact of helping other sellers in the community, encouraged me to take it further.  That's what this blog is all about.

I initially envisioned this effort as a way to use my professional knowledge, experience, and insights to be a valuable resource for other sellers and that is absolutely still my primary goal, but maybe I can be of some value to eBay in all of this too.

I've been told a number of times in the last year that eBay should hire me, which is both flattering and humbling. The truth is Jamie, I don't want to work for you, but I'd be absolutely delighted to work with you to really address some of the tough, but crucial issues facing many eBay sellers today.

I can't promise it will be easy, and I certainly don't claim to have all the answers or speak for every seller, but if my experience and insights can be of any help to you at all - my door is always open.

Liz Morton ~ Value Added Resource


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

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