Calling eBay: Negating Negative Feedback

Negative feedback is every eBay seller's nightmare. We outline how to get an actual person on the phone to help, and provide tips for removing negative feedback from your profile.
EBay is truly a wonder of the cyber world. With 83 million users in the U.S. alone, and millions of sales opening and closing everyday, the company handles a staggering amount of data and yet remains a viable, functioning monolith of e-commerce. That is, until something goes wrong. Shackled by its size, the company would face a formidable task in assigning live phone help to handle every user problem or complaint that erupts.

So, apparently, eBay made a choice: cater to the money. Silver level Power Sellers — those who sell $3,000 a month or more, get "priority support" and a toll-free number, while those selling $10,000 or more a month are assigned an "account manager" who can address problems and affect changes. Everyone else, unfortunately, has to travel the site in steerage — unable to pick up a phone and spill their woes into the ear of an actual person empowered to correct problems. Instead, these lower volume sellers must petition eBay through an often slow and bewildering e-mail and "live help" system.

At the June eBay Live annual convention in Boston, we found many eBayer's complaints involved the difficulty in contacting the company by phone, removing unwarranted negative feedbacks and dealing with high maintenance-to-crazy users. Here, we will try to offer some hints on cutting through eBay's Byzantine help system to achieve problem-resolution.

Yes Virginia, eBay DOES have a Phone Number
For non-Power Sellers, there is good news and bad news regarding contacting eBay by phone. Though the company hardly makes them easy to find, (reps may ask how you got their phone number,) eBay has four working phone numbers: (800) 322-9266, (888) 749-3229, (408) 558-7400 and (408) 376-7400. The first two numbers are toll-free, and all will land the caller at an automated menu, with choices that include customer support. To get a human, however, the calls must be placed between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Pacific Coast time; depending on the call volume, the caller will generally be connected to a rep in a reasonable amount of time.

The bad news is that if you are not a Power Seller, the rep cannot do a single thing to redress problems. Instead, they will answer questions, explain company policy and mainly steer the caller to the company's online resources. In my experience, I've found that no amount of wheedling, cajoling or begging will change this.

Still, the reps can give useful advice and direct you to the site's help resources, which are very difficult to find otherwise. These begin with eBay's e-mail help accessed through various 'contact customer support' links on the site. The problem here is that it is slow. Depending on the volume received, eBay's response can take up to several days, sometimes longer; and if there is a misunderstanding of your problem the process will likely stretch out further.

A much quicker route is the "Live Help" link located at the top of the Home Page and on the "Sell Your Item" form. This allows the user to speak to an eBay rep empowered to investigate and affect conflict resolution in real time. Here too volume influences response time. Sometimes, the caller may be directed to "try again later," but even with delays, the Live Help process tends to be quicker than e-mail, and communication misunderstandings can be immediately rectified.

Live Help reps may address issues later via e-mail after investigation, but the turnaround time is still much quicker than direct e-mail contact. With Live Help having all the details, such as item numbers and user IDs on hand, this speeds things along.

Negotiating Negative Feedback
In today's competitive eBay selling market feedback is scrutinized by potential bidders more than ever. Due in part to the reports and experiences of scamming on the site, many shoppers will not bid unless a seller has 100 percent positive feedback, or very close to it. Conversely, sellers, particularly those offering high-ticket items, will remove bids from potential buyers with little or bad feedback.

A critical aspect of feedback to keep in mind: Negative feedback is a nuclear deterrent in that if you give one, you can expect one back. This dynamic works to limit the use of negatives among most, but not all, eBay users. However, they still happen, with new users who do not understand the ramifications being a major source, as well as highly demanding bidders who seem impossible to please.

So how do you avoid the pitfalls of negative feedback? The first preventive measure is to be careful in doling out negative feedbacks. For sellers dealing with the increasingly frequent dilemma of late-paying or reneging bidders, an alternative to leaving a negative is to file an unpaid item "reminder" by opening an "unpaid item dispute" with eBay. While this does not lead to the "scarlet A" of a negative in the user's feedback rating, it usually gets the bidder to cough up the money, and it has some teeth to it: users who accrue three "unpaid item strikes," (not responding to the dispute and paying the seller) are suspended from the site.

Unpaid item disputes can be opened seven days after the end of a sale and closed 10 days later, resulting in the seller having his closing fee reimbursed and the reneger getting an unpaid item strike. In this seller's experience, 90 percent of those given such a reminder respond with payment.

But finding the "unpaid item dispute" page is a chore in itself. You will arrive there by this method: click on "Site Map" in the upper right hand corner of a sale page, scroll down to the bottom of "Seller Services" and click on "See All Selling Activities," the second choice will be "Report An Unpaid Item." Type in the item number, select the reason for the dispute, and a notice is sent by eBay to the user.

Another important factor to consider when managing feedback is that once it's done, it's there for posterity. The general eBay rule is that once a feedback is left it cannot be edited or removed. Squashing a negative already received ranges from difficult to maddening; but it can be done. EBay will remove feedback and all comments from a user's profile under the following circumstances:
  • The feedback contains links or scripts in it.
  • The feedback contains "profane, obscene or racist language or adult material."
  • The feedback contains personal information on the user such as real name, address, phone number, etc.
  • The negative was posted in error to the wrong seller.
  • The feedback was left by members who are indefinitely suspended within 90 days of registration for providing false contact information or any other offense other than non-payment of eBay fees.
  • Feedback is left by users who bid on or purchased an item only for the purpose of leaving negative feedback for another user, with no intention of paying. (How this is determined, is another issue.)
  • Feedback that makes reference to eBay, PayPal or law enforcement organization investigation.

Further, eBay will remove negative feedback on international sales if the seller posted "Ship to U.S. only" on the sale page. Several years ago I received a winning bid from a gentlemen in Greece who bid without asking if I would ship overseas. He then told me he would pay in "about a month" with a foreign check that would incur a conversion fee. I wound up canceling the sale and he promptly left me a negative with the succinct comment, "No good deal." The buyer had a long history of problems with other sellers, but after mediation via Live Help, eBay removed the negative for the sole reason that I had posted "Ship to U.S. only" on the sale page. The lesson being that it's helpful to have rules clearly stated on your pages.

Failing to meet any of these criteria, there are still several other ways you can get feedback removed. The most difficult method is to take the "neg" issuer to court on the grounds that his or her comments constitute libel or defamation of character. (You cannot sue eBay since they do not edit or investigate the feedbacks for accuracy, and are not legally responsible for them.) Beyond a court order, though, there are quicker and less costly means of having negatives removed.

Call a Truce: Mutual Feedback Withdrawal
"Mutual Feedback Withdrawal" is the easiest and surest way to remove a negative from your rating. After receiving a negative feedback it is a good idea to contact the buyer and try to reason with the person. Usually, once disgruntled customers are able to vent on the phone and realize you care about your customers and reputation, they will back down, according to several Power Sellers who spoke on the issue at eBay Live. However, I recommend calling them after leaving the other party a negative feedback in response. It gives you leverage in further negotiations, and may be your only chance to do so because once you enter the Mutual Feedback Withdrawal process, eBay will not allow you to leave feedback for the transaction.

Once the other party has agreed to the Withdrawal process, the most daunting task is finding the Mutual Feedback Withdrawal page. Here's how to get there: From the Site Map under "Community," click on the "Feedback Forum" page and on the right hand side, click on "Feedback Help," then on the second link, "Can Feedback Comments and Scores Be Removed?" From there, finally, you will find a link to the Feedback Withdrawal Page. After typing in the item number and submitting it, eBay will e-mail the other party. If that person agrees, the feedback comment will remain in your profile in chronological order, however, the negative will be removed from your rating as will the negative icon in your profile log.

Online Dispute Resolution
For more complex cases, online dispute resolution is the last fail-safe method for eBay conflict resolution. It involves a third-party known as SquareTrade, approved by eBay to mediate disputes, including those involving feedback. In disputes ending on or after Feb. 9, 2004, the process can only remove feedback, and feedbacks cannot be withdrawn from non English-speaking eBay sites or

Feedback removal with this method works in a similar way to the 'Mutual Feedback Withdrawal' process in that the negative is removed from the user's rating but the comment remains in the profile. The process begins with a professional mediator contacting both parties and drawing up a settlement that must be approved by both parties. Once this is accomplished, feedback withdrawal occurs within 14 business days of the request being sent to eBay.

If the other party does not respond within 14 days of contact, the case is assigned to a Reviewer who can still get the feedback erased if it was left within the past 90 days, if there were no "technical difficulties" in communication between SquareTrade and the other party and if no other cases were filed for the transaction. All this, naturally, incurs a fee: $19.95 for "expedited resolution service," $29.95 for "standard" and $100 for eBay Motors issues.

The Bottom Line: Prevention is the Best Medicine
In short, nearly all 'negs' can be removed, but the best means of sidestepping negative feedback is avoidance: don't get any in the first place. To this end, bear in mind that e-mail, for all its virtues, is the coldest form of direct communication — bereft of voice and in-person contact, it is easily susceptible to misunderstanding. Regardless of what route you take, avoid a combative attitude whenever possible. Bite your tongue when dealing with rude individuals and remain polite as a professional and communicative attitude will reap better results.

As a buyer, you only have to deal with the individual once; as a seller, you can always add the user to your 'blocked bidder' list. Moreover, for sellers, common sense dictates that you only respond, not initiate feedbacks, particularly with buyers who insist that you post feedback first. Besides surrendering your leverage, it is after all, the customer who should be satisfied in any transaction. In the two-dimensional world of e-commerce, mutual respect is all important.

Frank Fortunato is a seasoned eBay seller and regular contributor to

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