After the recent article I wrote on the new eBay return center received so many extremely emotional responses, I started doing a lot of thinking about the eBay seller community.
While I was shocked at the hatred and venom that came through so strongly in the comments from some readers, I was not at all surprised by the emotional response. That was consistent with what I’ve seen in the last five-plus years of eBay announcements related to policy changes.
I’ve been a seller on eBay since 1997, from a standard level up to a Gold PowerSeller at one time. I’ve also been a seller on Amazon since around 2004, again, from having very small sales to having sales in excess of $10,000.
All along, I have been involved in the seller community on eBay—from participating in eBay boards, Yahoo mail groups and Facebook groups, to attending many of the live eBay events in the last few years. I wasn’t as involved in the Amazon seller community until last year, when I started producing the Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) Radio Show. But since then, I’ve been enmeshed in the Amazon community for as many as 20 hours a week.
It has always interested me how people react to change. However, the fact that these two seller communities react so differently in many ways has been extremely fascinating—and I have a reasonable thesis for why there is such a dramatic difference. I’d really love to hear your take on it, whether you are an eBay seller, an Amazon seller or both, as I am.eBay began with the idea that the eBay sellers had some ownership of the site, and that is where many of us began
eBay’s grass roots
When eBay began, it was all about community. That is the way Pierre Omidyar set it up. The sellers had a huge impact on how the site grew. They helped choose what categories would be added, they even had some input early on in determining the fee structure.
Many early eBay sellers actually came on board as employees. Case in point: our beloved “Uncle Griff” (Jim Griffith), who first came to the site as a seller. If you’d like to learn more about eBay’s early days, I highly recommend reading The Perfect Store, a book full of great information and stories.
My point here is that eBay began with the idea that the eBay sellers had some ownership of the site, and that is where many of us began. We thought of eBay as a friend and mentor, and believed we’d travel this road of business together. A very high percentage of eBay sellers began as the typical “accidental entrepreneur.” We were just learning all this business stuff through eBay, so that view of the marketplace as a partner and mentor was easily incorporated into how we did business.
Through the years, however, as eBay grew, and grew, and grew and… (well, you get the idea), eBay had to change. You can’t run a multimillion dollar business the same way you run a small business&mash;at least not the way eBay had been running things.
eBay, the corporation, was born when the initial public offering was held in 1998, and then there were stockholders to consider. So now, in reality, a group of stockholders from afar was running the company and making decisions affecting the many sellers who still felt they “owned” the site. That was a recipe for the deep anger that I see today in the community, in my opinion.
For Amazon, business is businessWe understood that this was Amazon’s business, and we were welcome to come and sell our wares on the site, but only if we abided by its rules
Amazon, on the other hand, never talked much about its seller community. Most of us who signed up understood clearly through the way Amazon interacted with us that this was Amazon’s business, and we were welcome to come and sell our wares on the site, but only if we abided by its rules. We also understood that it was at Amazon’s whim that we were even allowed on the site. It was, from the outset, a very businesslike arrangement.
I believe that is why you just don’t see the vitriolic venom and incredibly emotional reactions among Amazon sellers that you do in the eBay community—although you do see the angst and frustration among both groups of sellers when either marketplace makes major changes to their seller agreements.
Your thoughts are appreciated, and I wonder: Do you think there is a way for eBay to move past this issue in the future?