300! It Is A Numbers Game – or – We Are Not There Yet

300! Woohoo! Coffee on me!I actually could have done some very valuable things in my life, but somehow I actually decided to start writing a blog about what my personal opinions are in the world of media and IT. And somehow I ended up writing already 300 long posts. I mean, I know I can talk a lot, but this is a lot. Every posting can add up to about three pages or a regular book, if not more. I would have outdone the Lord of the Rings by now. Of course, Peter Jackson would not make a successful trilogy about my blog, but hey, I have to give myself a pat on the shoulder for something, no?

Anyway, there is a solid Segway from the number 300 to the concept of large numbers. And I am talking about the size of an audience here and their relevance to the quality of the product or service that audience is related to.

This weekend my wife, who runs a small but successful Antiques business in the town next to ours, mentioned how she is making almost half oh her income through the use of eBay, but what an incredible amount of pain it can be. Closing up of accounts during investigations (to check if the antiques are actually always correct or not containing materials like ivory), or when a person files a complaint about shipping.

Seeing her point of view, but also understanding how these systems work, I do understand why a company like eBay, but others too for that matter, has to deal with it the way they do. One company servicing a huge part of the world, and dealing with people trading on there, is carrying a lot of responsibility. And they have to abide by the law, so they have to make sure their service doesn’t allow any illegal trading of anyone on eBay, or using the service for any other illegal activities.

eBay actually still takes care, and some of the actions they have to take cause stress and in the end might appear to have been a little drastic, even locking legit merchants or people to be locked out of their source of income for sometimes weeks at a time. Sometimes even locking their accounts that prevent them getting access to their own funds.

I do understand it technically, but I have to side with the users here. Both merchants as buyers. When I buy something, and it appears not to be what I paid for, or something went horribly wrong, just like in a store I want to have my money back. On the other hand, when I complain about a product arriving at my door all smashed up, but the merchant has shipped it properly and during shipping this had happened, the Merchant also wants to make sure that they are not responsible. And, whoever is responsible for shipping, should take the blame. In this case, eBay takes the role as mediator, and will try to find out where things went wrong.  Which is a very noble role, but, it is not a role they are destined to fulfill.

Craigslist takes a complete other approach. They are not responsible for anything, and simply mention that whatever you do on Craigslist is all at your own risk. They make sure they are covered taking care of not allowing illegal things to happen on the site – but only by their ability to do so in a legal point of view. They just make sure that you know you are not allowed to do or post anything illegal, but they do minor moderation. They even mention that the moderation of the site is completely in the hands of the audience. Which is even worse, because anyone can flag anything from any user, even if it is completely allowed. Enough flagging of an advertisement will automatically take the ad offline. And there is no way of making sure that this flagging is not happening by someone who is a competitor or simply doesn’t like you.

Both scenarios, what goes for the majority of these kind of sites, do not work yet. Having a huge audience is very nice in terms of revenue and reach, and providing an audience for your members. But it is also coming with a huge responsibility. Although most people trading are legit, honest people, even if a tiny percentage is causing trouble, it already delivers a staggering amount of work. If only one in a thousand transactions causes trouble, even if it is a perfectly good transaction but something like a shipping is going wrong, that still means a thousand cases a day if you have a million transactions happening each day. These transactions need to be checked, both parties need to be heard, and decisions need to be made.

The problem is, a company like eBay can’t. It is a very noble concept, but there might be a lot more at play that someone who does not know the deal, cannot help out with. eBay cannot be the judge. And worse, eBay should never have the right to block access to your account. When I return a product to Target, even if it is not a Target brand, it is simply between them and I. They take the responsibility, but also make the judgement if an item can be returned. They check the item, decide if the return is acceptable, and make a decision right away. Even if I have to wait for a decision to be made, nobody is locking my credit and debit cards, nor blocking access to the store. And if Target and I don’t get out of the deal, I can always decide to make it a legal issue. Even then, I will still have access to my funds. Will I go to court over returning something at Target? I won’t, someone else might, but that is a decision between the parties who are actually involved.

eBay is very good at their service, probably the best in the world, but still they are not able to deal with it as adequate as regular brick-and-mortar stores can. Why? Because they are not part of the deal. eBay doesn’t know what is being sold on their site. They don’t know their customers and they don’t know their transactions.

And being as successful as they are, they have to deal with millions of transactions. And because they have to carry their responsibilities, it happened in the current conditions as they do. It is understandable. But they still forget one thing; eBay cannot make a decision. When I arrive at Target, they can inspect the product, see if I used it, and they can ask me multiple questions right on the spot. There might even be multiple solutions to the problem as well that can both parties happy.

eBay doesn’t know if the person claiming that their china ware arrived all smashed up is actually smashed up. Or that the merchant selling it actually shipped it already broken. There is no way of them to prove anything, so how can they make a decision? They can only do that on second-hand witness’ accounts. It simply does not work that way.

And then blocking anyone’s account for the time being, that can go up to weeks for cases a brick-and-mortar store would do it in minutes, is unacceptable.

But, maybe that is right now the situation that has to be dealt with. Maybe that is why you could argue the fact that if you don’t want to carry those risks, don’t trade on eBay. To be honest, that is actually the answer that I would offer right now.

The Internet gives us all access to audiences so large that we actually cannot really comprehend how large they are. And dealing with a target audience that wide and diverse, is bound to cause some trouble, especially if you are new to this all. It will definitely get better, but at this moment, I would still take my hat off to companies like eBay at least trying hard and put some sort of protection online for their users.

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