Some eBay Sellers Frustrated With Rule Changes

NEW YORK - August 21, 2008 - Now even more changes are coming in the next few weeks, but this time eBay Inc. hopes it can cool tempers.

Already this year, eBay has tinkered with its fee structure, search results and feedback system. These efforts might be meeting eBay's aims of improving the experience for buyers, but several sellers say their relationship with eBay is worse than ever, and some have left the site entirely.

Jonathan Garriss, executive director of the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance and head of Gotham City Online, which sells shoes on eBay, said his group's members are seeing fewer of their listed items sell, and lower average prices for things that do sell.

EBay has been rejigging its vast Internet marketplace in hopes of turning around a troubling trend: Its number of active users is barely rising. In the most recent quarter, the figure rose 1.4 percent to 84.5 million.

One big change came in January, when eBay altered its complex fee structure and said it was trying to encourage sellers to offer more items for sale, which in turn could attract more buyers.

Generally, eBay cut the fees it charges for listing an item, but raised its commissions on completed sales of products auctioned for less than $1,000 or sold at fixed prices lower than $100. Meanwhile, the company began taking a lesser bite out of higher-end fixed-price sales: as much as 4 percent instead of a previous maximum of 5 percent.

At the time, eBay said more than 60 percent of its sellers would save money under the new rules. But plenty of complaints poured in. EBay responded by cutting listing fees by as much as half for items in its "media" category, such as books and DVDs — that sell for under $25.

Still, many sellers were still unhappy that unlike in the past when eBay consistently talked of a level playing field for brand-name companies and weekend attic-raiders alike, a new top tier of vendors seems to have an easier time flooding the marketplace.

And more changes are afoot. EBay announced Wednesday that starting Sept. 16, it will let U.S. sellers pay 35 cents to list an unlimited number of identical items at a set price, for a month at a time. Previously, fixed-price listing fees could run as high as $4 per item, and the listings were good for a week.

EBay's president of marketplace operations, Lorrie Norrington, acknowledged there has been "a lot of change" this year. But she said the company carefully considered the moves and believes they are improving buyers' experience because "the best values from trusted sellers become better and better."

For some sellers, like Michael Knight, who dismantles motorcycles and sells the parts on eBay from Garland, Texas, the sheer volume of recent adjustments has been frustrating.

"I have no control. I have to comply with anything they choose to do and I have no voice in the matter," he said.

Knight would like to move off eBay, but says it's difficult to transfer his listings to another site. Other sites will not easily accept the photos embedded in his item descriptions, and modifying every one of his almost 4,000 listings "is just not practical."

"I'd be giving up a month's income to get that done. That's the only thing that's keeping me on eBay, the inconvenience of leaving," he said.

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