Saturday, February 12, 2005

The ebaY Boycott and Other More Direct Acts of Aggression

Ethical Consumerism Meets Economic Civil Disobedience

Since ebaY announced the fee increase that goes into effect 18 Feb 05, TAG has observed an ongoing outpouring of anger and frustration against ebaY. This was further fueled by ebaY North American President Bill Cobb posting on the Marketing Announcement Board, and sending an email to ebaY users, trying to calm the furor, and tossing a few crumbs to the multitude, while he (figuratively) feasted on cake. (Cake being that he cashed out approx 9.5 Million in ebaY stock in 2003 and 22.5 Million in 2004 and as of Oct 04 owned 17,000 more shares he received from ebaY, not counting stock options which he tends to execute and immediately sell)

ebaY’s stance is that the users would not be making such a fuss if they really understood the price increase. Sellers don’t appreciate ebaY assuming that sellers are too stupid to understand what a fee increase is or what it entails. ebaY also appears to be shrugging off the furor, as shown by a recent quote by CEO Meg Whitman, “This is not the most upset the community has been,'' Whitman said. “They have a lot of issues they'd like us to change, and Bill has done a good job of reopening the dialogue. So, we'll see. But this isn't the first time they've been this mad.” And from Bill Cobb, “It's not the loudest [outcry]. But it was loud. Some of it is fair. I'm not going to comment [on the planned strike].” In fact implying, the sellers have been mad in the past and done nothing about it, they are not going to do anything now either.

From all that TAG has observed, read on the online auction and trading industry (OAI/OTI) boards, and hears from subscribers, the price increase comes on top of endless problems, months of double billing, sellers closed down by “mistake”, items not indexing, slow page loads, ebaY sponsored mediaplex double click and ebaY toolbar spyware infecting computers, and other problems ad infinitum. The site does not work and ebaY wants to increase fees, despite their record breaking profits every quarter the company has been in business. ebaY claims their users are part of the great ebaY community, but the only ones who get rich and fat are ebaY insiders, and sellers say they are going to act.

So what are ebaY users saying they are planning on doing to show ebaY they are serious about their objection to this latest slap in the face, on top of all the other breaks, bangs and bruises dealt out by ebaY? To start, they have a petition objecting to the increase at -
ebaY sellers say they have closed stores, and there are currently 124850 stores on ebaY, down from 132,050 on 12 Jan. More sellers say they will close their store once the old fees are replaced by new ones, which can be up to 180 days after 18 Feb, if the seller lists all their inventory prior to 18 Feb (though the higher monthly rent will be in effect).
They are also calling for a Boycott of ebaY from 18 to 25 Feb 2005 -

In the past, Boycotts have been less than useless, but with ebaY investors on edge, and the press panting for any movement they think they can pounce on, a good showing might gain some real attention and possibly even help move ebaY stock to the downside, something to which ebaY WILL react. Sellers have also put up several protest auctions on the site, some of which ebaY has ended. In the past, users have also suggested more aggressive acts, such as flooding ebaY with complaint emails, though with autoresponders, this has no real effect. This time around a few even more active and pugnacious ideas are floating around on the OAI/OTI chat boards.

There is an idea that sellers put information in their current auctions that would normally cause ebaY to close down the auction, with the hope that ebaY will have to end a few hundred thousand, or even millions of listings. Suggestions for information to add are links to the sellers website, links to other auction and trading sites, messages telling buyers where else the seller has merchandise listed, information about the Boycott, and information about the fee increase and how it will cost the buyer more as a result. Unless a significant number of sellers do this, ebaY will target the sellers that do, and punish them.

Another idea is to have everyone add their phone number to the feedback they leave. This is also something ebaY does not allow users to do.

One other idea was actually suggested by coments made by Bill Cobb, when he talked about all the ebaY sponsor link advertising ebaY does on search sites such as Google and Yahoo. Mr Cobb said that ebaY is the largest consumer of such advertising, and Mr Dutta (the ebaY CFO) said that 33% of ebaY ad money goes into this type of advertising. The idea is that in an aggressive movement of protest, hit ebaY in their pocket book. Go to Google or Yahoo search engine, search for a term such as ebaY, auction, or any item, and click on ebaY’s paid sponsor links at the top or side of the page. Every time someone clicks, it costs ebaY money. If thousands and thousands of links are clicked again and again, it will use up ebaY’s advertising budget and remove their ads from these search engines until the funds are replenished. An act of aggressive economic civil disobedience, but one that has the advantage of an inability on ebaY’s part to target perpetrators. There would be no way to distinguish a legitimate click from a civil disobedience click, and if, let’s say, all 26,000 of the folks that signed the petition clicked on 1000 links each over the course of the Boycott week, it would be a very significant action for little effort.

The action that we condone and that TAG still holds is the most effective and permanent action sellers can take, is for seller to take back control of the OAI/OTI. To move listings in 3 million item chunks to other sites, build their own websites to act as a hub for all the seller’s marketing, and merely USE ebaY as one tool to build a seller’s customer base, rather than letting ebaY use the seller as a cow that ebaY milks until it is dry and then sends to slaughter. This is really the action ebaY fears most.

Quotes -

Info on insider trades -

13 Feb - After writing this, we heard from some TAGnotes subscribers who suggested the following -

Contact all the Businesses who buy banner advertising on ebaY, and tell them you will no longer buy their products because they are supporting (quote from the email) "a greedy, lying, outfit" and if the business continues to advertise on ebaY, "then they are no better than the corp they are advertising with". Follow through and let your friends and associates know so they will do the same.

Close your ebaY account - as another subscriber put it, "After being a registered eBay user and auction assistant since December of 1998, I have closed my ebay account. I have paid the increases often enough!" This is the ultimate act of ethical consumerism.

No comments: