How many times have you bought something on eBay and the sale didn't go quite according to plan? What did you do, just bite your lip and say nothing or make use of that eBay tool called the feedback system to leave a negative for the seller so that other potential buyers would be aware of the problems you encountered? For the first few years I would imagine the majority of people would have left the negative feedback. Then, it seems to me, more and more people stopped doing this because it resulted in tit-for-tat negative feedback being posted about them for no good reason.
Then eBay brought in a change to the system which prevented sellers from leaving any negative feedback about buyers. This has prompted some to ask if eBay is fed up with the auction business. It's a good move as far as dealing with that juvenile tit-for-tat negativity stuff is concerned, but a bad one when you look at the bigger picture. That picture includes the fact that just as many buyers are bad people, trying to rip off the sellers, as the other way around. Yet now there was no way to warn other sellers that a buyer was a problem.
I guess it was only a matter of time before sellers started taking matters into their own hands, as it were. Although, rather like innocent eBay buyer Chris Read, I was not expecting what happened to this chap. Apparently Mr Read used eBay UK to purchase one mobile phone but receive a totally different model, in a totally different condition to that as advertised. He ordered a Samsung F700 in good condition but got a Samsung F700V complete with a big chip out of the side and many scratches. The unhappy Mr Read left negative feedback which, if the phone was as he describes, sounds perfectly reasonable: "Item was scratched, chipped and not the model advertised on Mr Jones's eBay account."
Mr Jones, a seller dealing in second hand mobile phones, provided a refund. According to The Times he also provided an email demanding that Mr Jones delete the feedback comments which were damaging his business. Failure to comply would lead to legal action.
Unsurprisingly, and one imagines assuming a bluff, Mr Read told Mr Jones he was prepared to go to court considering his comments were an accurate account of the transaction. Surprisingly, Mr Jones appears to have responded by sending another 'pre-court letter' giving seven days for Mr Read to agree the comments were unfair or face a libel action and substantial legal fees.
In his argument to the Times reporter, Jones says that he is being punished by eBay as sellers with negative feedback end up lower in search results than others and he is losing money as a result. He further complains that the feedback comments are "unreasonable and damaging" because he had provided a no-quibble refund for the item.
Although I have some sympathy with the seller, who did provide a refund, I tend to have more with the buyer who only used the feedback system in the way it was intended, to warn others about transactions that did not go according to plan. He was not malicious in any way, he was not inaccurate in any way. My only criticism of the feedback was that he could have said that a full refund was made which would have explained things fully. Jones has been left with a none-too-shabby 98.7 percent positive feedback rating, hardly the end of the world as we know it.
eBay, meanwhile, is about to introduce yet another change to the feedback system which will enable sellers to ask buyers to remove negative feedback if a dispute has been resolved, through the normal eBay channels rather than getting a lawyer involved.
Of course, it could have been a lot worse. The chap could have bought a million pound wall.