In less than a week’s time, eBay faces another boycott from its customers and store partners over fee hikes, changes to search listings and a growing number of rogue sellers.
But even before the protest kicks off, its organisers have serious doubts about whether their demands will be met.
“I don’t think eBay will back down,” says a spokesperson for the Campaign Of Rebuffed eBayers (CORE), a UK-based group which is promoting the strike. “They are a monopoly, and they know it.”
Starting on Thursday next week, CORE’s ‘Clean Up eBay’ protests centre around fee increases introduced by the auction giant in August, which impact its store partners’ cost of sales. They are also annoyed by the influx of Far Eastern ‘scam listings’ onto the site, reducing their visibility when buyers perform searches.
In a message released on Google Video this week, the group is calling for users – including buyers and sellers – to stop all activity until Monday 18th, and to report all ‘bad listings’ they see on the site. Having organised a smaller demonstration last month, they are also calling for CEO Meg Whitman to go.
“The protests are a reaction to eBay’s decision to dramatically increase the fees, while at the same time dramatically reducing shop visibility,” says the CORE spokesperson. “We wouldn’t be happy with one of those, but to have both is a real double whammy.”
Although eBay has played down the protests, they have struck a chord.
CORE claims its petition has attracted over 1,000 signatures, while buyers and sellers in the US and Australia are demonstrating against the web auction giant. It has also lost hundreds of store partners in both countries since the fee rises were introduced.
The CORE spokesperson says: “There have been a lot of shops that have been crippled. The larger sellers don’t really mind about the fee rises, but there have been a lot of members who have had to shut their shops down. We’ve had a lot of letters from buyers as well, who want eBay to clamp down on scammers.”
In the UK, though – where eBay has little noticeable competition – there doesn't seem to be any kind of material exodus away from the firm.
According to listmystore.com, the total number of eBay shops in the UK and Ireland has actually gone up by almost 1,000 in the two and a half weeks since the fees were increased. By contrast, its North American stores have decreased, perhaps reflecting the greater number of alternative marketplaces.
Although the figures are by no means a concrete guide to selling activity, they “clearly show that there has been no significant shutting up of shops, which some predicted,” says Trevor Ginn, Head of Consulting at Auctioning4u, one of the top specialist eBay service providers in the UK.
eBay also seems to be happy to play down the fee increases’ impact. Speaking to Web User, a spokesman said: “The changes have made it easier for buyers to find items that they want to buy on the site. While it is too early to give conclusive feedback, many of our sellers have said they are experiencing better sales since we introduced the changes."
He continued: “The previous boycott had no tangible affect on buying and selling activity: as far as we are aware, only a few dozen of nearly 70,000 business sellers on eBay.co.uk took part. The protestors are a small group who do not represent the majority of eBay sellers, most of whom understand and agree with the changes we introduced.”
Although the damage to eBay appears minimal so far, some of its rivals are in line to benefit. Amazon and Google are two. Ebid, eBay’s nearest UK rival, which also has other international sites, has also seen a jump in activity. Between 17 and 24 August – the week of the fee hikes – the firm says its number of auctions increased from 231,000 to 260,000, and they have continued to rise. The previous week, they increased by just over 5,000.
But those figures aren’t a patch on eBay’s – and despite the protestors’ creativity and annoyance, things aren’t likely to change.
According to protest group Power Sellers Unite, eBay has over 13.5m listings in the US, dwarfing its nearest rival Yahoo’s 1m. At the last count, it also had US$4m in cash – more than enough to stop any huge churn of users away to alternative marketplaces if a serious challenge was mounted.
In the UK, as Ginn told e-consultancy last month, the main competition is essentially over: “There are actually 300 online auction sites in the UK. However, combined, these get less than 1% of auction site traffic. Any threat to eBay will come from auction sites which focus on niche markets, or categories for which eBay does not cater.”