April 23, 2010

Boycott Ebay?

Maybe it's me?
On the heels of a terrible economy, and my age being a real factor in the job hunting world - I decided to open an Ebay store several months ago. Offering several lines of home textiles and decor, as well as Le Creuset cookware - I quickly jumped to become a Power Seller and a Top-Rated Seller. For a new and fledgling business, things were going fairly well and I had hopes for using this as a launching point to open a brick-and-mortar location which might actually create a few jobs here in New Jersey where so many suffer from unemployment.

In February of this year Ebay announced sweeping and site-wide changes. On the surface, some of these changes seemed like they would be advantageous to sellers. For example, there would no longer be three categories of listings – Store, Fixed Price, and Auction. All store listings would become Fixed Priced listings with full search exposure. Sellers would no longer need to list the same item twice, once as a store listing and then again as a fixed price listing to get noticed. All fixed price listings would move to one price for insertion, based on the level of the store - basic, premium or anchor.

Sounded good, but turned out it is a disaster. Ebay looks more like a cheap dollar store and has created chaos for anyone who is not extremely specific in their keyword search. Example, search "jeans" and the buyer sees over 500,000 results - too overwhelming for most buyers to narrow down and wade through.

While Ebay's profits have risen for the first quarter, expectations for the second quarter are poor. The rise in the first quarter, in my suspicious opinion - is due to new store owners such as myself who received emails threatening much greater costs if they did not upgrade to premium stores (at twice the price of basic stores) and quickly upgraded - which brought, I am certain, a nice windfall into Ebay's coffers.

Many sellers with real experience on Ebay report no sales since these changes took place. I can certainly say my own sales are suffering. I have gone from an average of 10-12 sales a day to 1 or none.

Ebay's changes - put in place by CEO John Donahoe - truly "put the screws" to sellers. Changes in the feedback system have done great damage to sellers. For those not familiar with Ebay, feedback is the communication left from buyer to seller and seller to buyer on each sale and was designed to highlight good sellers to potential buyers - or to let the buyer beware when a seller turned out to be a scam artist.

Additionally, buyers can rate a sale (and the seller) with what is commonly known as the "DSR" system. A series of markers where the buyer can rate a sale from 1 to 5 stars. These markers include the accuracy of the item description, the fairness of the shipping charges, the speed of shipping, the sellers communications. Buyers are allowed to leave the DSR ratings anonomously and these DSR ratings can not be revised - even if the buyer wants to. Sellers are completely at the mercy of buyers in this rating system. Regardless of whether or not the information left in these DSR's are fair or even accurate - Ebay offers no protection at all to the seller.

Here is an example: Seller offers free shipping on all items sold. Buyer leaves less than 5 star rating for shipping charges. The 4-star rating counted as a negative against the seller. I defy someone to tell me how one can do better than free. Buyers often assume that prices are raised when a seller offers free shipping - and surely sometimes this is true. However, savvy sellers are careful with their pricing in order to stay competitive. Free shipping in one zone is hardly the same cost as free shipping from end of the continent to another - the seller always assumes the risk of shipping cross-country.

Buyers do not have to - nor does Ebay bother to - take any extenuating circumstance, such as the many snowstorms seen in the northeast this winter - into account on the DSR ratings. When factors outside of the sellers control, such as weather or shipping service errors affect the speed of moving goods sellers are "punished" with low DSR ratings. This often results in the loss of their Top Rated Seller status and over 20% higher fees. For those not aware - if you do not receive a perfect 5-star rating Ebay counts this is negative feedback - even if 100% of all feedback comments left for a seller are positive.

In the list of the many changes, Sellers are no longer allowed to leave anything except Positive Feedback for buyers - regardless of the time it takes for buyers to pay for their purchases or unreasonable expectations. Sometimes a buyer may just be having a bad day - and takes advantage of the abilty to anonymously take it out on someone else.

As a footnote to this, be aware that buyers pay no fees to have an Ebay account or to use the Ebay system. It is the seller, and in particular the Ebay store owner that drives Ebay's business. Seller's pay for their store accounts - and pay all listing and final value (sold) fees.

Those who buy on Ebay are often unaware of how the Ebay system works. They are not educated in the DSR system - and some would probably be shocked and dismayed to know that they are causing real harm to small business people simply trying to earn a living. People with bills to pay, people with families to feed.

Of course, it goes without saying, that there are those buyers on Ebay who make impossible demands - free shipping and get it there in one day - etc. Some buyers are simply guilty of not reading the information provided within a listing and then having unreal expectations as a result.

But I am a true believer that most people are essentially good at heart and simply don't understand the Ebay policies and systems.

There is a wave - growing louder by the moment - of Ebay sellers seeking to force reform and a policy that is fair for all - buyers and sellers. Yesterday, a discussion thread received over 1400 comments. Many sellers are looking to leave Ebay all-together. Those of us with small businesses can not afford the increase in final value fees - as much as 66% in some cases (this fee is the percentage Ebay takes from the seller and is based on total price the item is sold for) - the increase on what were formerly Store-based listings as approximately 12%. Nor can the sellers afford increases in fees veiled as a decrease for listing items, hidden fees charged to sellers for "beta testing" Ebay's new software, etc. Some will open their own e-commerce sites, some may move to Amazon - others are seeking advice from one another as to how to leave Ebay and where to take their businesses.

As someone who first came to Ebay as a buyer - and was thrilled to find savings that could help my own family - or to find that rare item you'd looked everywhere for and could not find - I think that this is a crying shame. The death of Ebay is being brought about by Ebay. Another great idea corrupted by greed and run by those who only take their own profit into account.

But maybe its me.

February 5, 2009

But I Don't Think it is...

In A letter posted on Facebook, Bruce Springsteen writes:
A Letter to Our Fans:

We know there was much confusion regarding Ticketmaster and TicketsNow during last Monday's on-sale dates. We were as confused as you were, as we were given no advance notice of the major changes in the Ticketmaster-TicketsNow world. (Bear in mind that we are not clients of any ticketing company, and that all those arrangements are between venues and ticketing companies.)

Last Monday, we were informed that Ticketmaster was redirecting your log-in requests for tickets at face value, to their secondary site TicketsNow, which specializes in up-selling tickets at above face value. They did this even when other seats remained available at face value. We condemn this practice.

We perceive this as a pure conflict of interest. Ticketmaster is there to ensure that we have a good, fair sale of our tickets at their face value plus normal ticketing charges. TicketsNow is supposed to be a secondary site where people who already have tickets may exchange, trade, and, unfortunately, speculate with them. We have asked this redirection from Ticketmaster to TicketsNow cease and desist immediately and Ticketmaster has agreed to do so in the future and has removed its unwanted material from their and our site.

We know the many cynical arguments some make in favor of the Ticketmaster system: There are rumors that some artists or managers participate in Ticketmaster charges--we do not. There are rumors that some artists or managers are receiving a percentage of the amount above face value at secondary outlets like TicketsNow--we do not. Some artists or managers may not perceive there to be a conflict between having the distributor of their tickets in effect "scalping" those same tickets through a secondary company like TicketsNow--we do.

While many of you have sent notes to us and your local promoters, you may also send accurate informational letters to Albert Lopez of Ticketmaster [Albert.Lopez@ticketmaster.com] and he will try to address your questions.

A final point for now: the one thing that would make the current ticket situation even worse for the fan than it is now would be Ticketmaster and Live Nation coming up with a single system, thereby returning us to a near monopoly situation in music ticketing. Several newspapers are reporting on this story right now. If you, like us, oppose that idea, you should make it known to your representatives.

The abuse of our fans and our trust by Ticketmaster has made us as furious as it has made many of you. We will continue to do our utmost now and in the future to make sure that these practices are permanently curtailed on our tours.

Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau and the entire Springsteen Tour Team

To view this go to: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?topic=6551&post=26462&uid=7401700249#/topic.php?uid=7401700249&topic=6551&ref=mf

This fan replies:

To Bruce and Jon -

Thank you for your letter and for taking a stand against the abuse of your fans. I too was shut out of Ticketmaster and forced into TicketsNow - who also sent me an email offering me a 5% discount off tickets raised, in some cases, more than 10 times the face value.

In at least one New Jersey paper, The Record of Bergen County, there have been stories that a Paterson Congressman is calling for an investigation regarding Ticketmaster's practices and it's monopoly. It would seem that there is a clear violation of the Federal Trade Agreement as well as an obvious conflict of interest.

As a long-time devoted fan, I can assure you that I did not consider for a moment that Bruce, E-Street or Jon Landau received any profit from this practice. In fact, I reported this to ABC News and told them that while I certainly have not had the privilege of knowing Bruce Springsteen personally, I could not imagine he would support the robbery of his fans.

I have, fortunately, had the privilege of seeing Bruce live several times. For those who haven't, I can assure you it is very near a religious experience. Every show has it's own unique flavor and each show is exhilarating. There is no doubt that it is worth every penny to attend Bruce's shows, in particular when he performs with E-Street. There is also no doubt that Bruce cares for his fans and puts all that he has into giving each and every audience their monies worth. Often I have come away exhausted, with no voice left - and thrilled every time.

Any Bruce fan worth his salt would give you similar feedback on the experience of seeing this legendary artist live. Every fan of Bruce would tell you that there is no chance at all that Bruce would favor or support the actions of Ticketmaster.

All that I can hope for at this point is that Bruce and E-Street will follow recent tour practices and return to New Jersey at the end of the tour. Hopefully, the issues with TIcketmaster will have been cleared up and those of us who were shut out this time will get lucky then.

As a last comment, I can tell you that if I wanted to pay more than $500 for two people to see Bruce from behind the stage, I would have simply gone to Ebay! Plenty of seats there, as there still appears to be plenty of seats on TicketsNow - so long as you have an income similar to Bruce's to afford it.

Thanks again, Bruce and Jon. It is good to have yet another confirmation of your decency and loyalty to those who are so loyal to you.

Eileen Miller

For those who wish to join the fight against this practice, see the story in The Record which also provides contact information for those who actually have the power and ability to put a stop to Ticketmaster's illegal and immoral practices.


This story also points out that TicketMaster is now working to merge with LiveNation, which creates a monopoly that benefits no one save the coffers of TicketMaster.

Maybe it's me, but I think this is a fight worth fighting. Concerts and other entertainment events should not be solely for the wealthy. It has already become nearly impossible for fans to take their kids to a football game, a hockey game - and baseball is on it's way as well. Add the cost of the tickets, the parking, and the outrageous cost of a dog and a soda, and most of us just give up. In every area of our lives, the working class is struggling. A moment comes for a short reprieve from the struggle, a moment to enjoy a legendary artist - and that working class is taken to the cleaners. While that certainly is not a new situation, the Ticketmaster fiasco is.

This is not an event to sit by and be angry - this is a time to make your voice heard. It is a time for Bruce to make his voice heard, and so he has.

January 23, 2009

...But Sometimes Things Just Turn Out Right

It could be me, but sometimes - when you least expect it - something amazing can happen.

In recent days I have seen truly amazing things, not the least of which is America electing a man for who he is and not because of his name or how he looks. This was an answer to my prayers. Finally a leader that I feel I can believe in. Time will tell, and he may not be able to do all the great things he'd like, but I think Barack Obama will mark our history in wonderful ways.

But I digress...

Some of those who know me are aware of the story I am about to share. Some are not. For those of you who may be a little shocked, I apologize. I hope you will understand why I kept things to my self.

I would like to introduce all those who count themselves our friend to Adam Ryan. Adam is my son. He is a wonderful young man, now 22 years old. Adam is a student at Rochester Institute, he is a truly talented guy studying fine art photography. As an aside, I think many would have come to at least know his name through his photos some day. He has a great sense of humor, an amazing view of the world and an astounding open mind. It is my hope that you will all come to know him and welcome him into our lives.

So here's the story:

Some 23 years ago, during my first marriage, we conceived a third child. We were already in financial ruin, and could barely take care of ourselves and Jillian and Christopher, who were still babies. (Let me quickly note here as I have always said, God has a sense of humor, and Adam was conceived despite birth control.)

I had pretty strong beliefs on the issue of abortion and could not consider that notion. But I also had no idea how I was going to be able to care for another baby. It was suggested to us that we consider placing the baby for adoption. Turns out it was a good suggestion.

I can tell you that I never discussed this. Giving Adam up was a source of horrible pain for me. I could not bear to think of him through the shame and guilt I felt all those years. I never wanted anyone to know I had allowed such a terrible thing to happen. To be honest, I was also horrified at what people may think of me - that I would not have the respect of those I love and respect.

Of course, my family has always known. I did not share this with my husband's family until recently - when I had too. When my children were old enough to understand I began to discuss this with them. I would never have sought to find Adam, only he had the right to make that contact -- but I wasn't hiding from him either. There was always a possibility that he may want to find me (if he knew that I existed), though I did not dare to hope for that. I think that, despite how hard this was for me, it may have been harder for Christopher. He has longed to know his little brother for many years. Another reason for me to feel badly. No mother wants to hurt her children.

Last September my estranged mother made a bad decision. She decided to make contact with Adam and to put him in direct contact with Christopher. This was not discussed with me. We were not given a choice. It is a shame to say it, but it was done as an act of vengeance against me because I would not speak to her. (This may help people to understand why it is that I am estranged from my own mother.) Unfortunately, the contact was made under a dishonest story told to Adam's adopted Mom. It was a terrible thing to do and it was done at the risk of ruining lives. Ours and Adams life. We had no knowledge of what Adam did or did not know. I was not even sure if he was aware that he was an adopted child. You can imagine that this turned our world upside down.

We were given direct links to Adam's MySpace page. Though I was nearly hysterical, I could not fight the need to see that page. And there he was, pictures laid out before me of a son I never thought I would see again. I began to read about him and was surprised to see a message posted on his front page: Who I'd like to meet: -my biological parents. This was followed by a request:
Also, should anyone run across someone who looks like me, I would really appreciate you asking his name. If his name is "Christopher Duffy," then you've likely found my long lost brother. Please keep an eye out :). So it turns out that Adam was fully aware.

I knew that he was told we were sent that link. I sent him an email through his MySpace apologizing that the right to open this door had been taken from him (and from me). I received an email in return very quickly. I don't think Adam would mind if I share that with you. It will tell you just how amazing he is:

Eileen, mother,

Please don't apologize. There is no need to. I know you made a promise to not contact me, but I had already begun an investigation to find you. Ironically, this saved me a lot of time. I had always planned on finding you, and after I turned 21 I decided to take it more seriously.

I am not unhappy at all by being contacted. I need you to know that I bear you no ill will. In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. I love you. I care about you greatly.

Never once have I felt hatred for you. Never once have I felt that I was abandoned. It has always been my intention to find you, and if possible, have a relationship with you. I have always believed that you feel the same. The letter you wrote to my mom was all the evidence I needed. I still have that letter by the way. My mom was gracious enough to allow me to keep it, because it has been the only piece of you that I've ever known.

My mom called me a few hours ago, letting me know that my biological grandmother called. I learned some of what has happened since my adoption was made final. I have learned that you are not on speaking terms with my grandmother. I know nothing about what has happened in your (my) family, but please do not hold this against her.

I am excited to speak with you. Please know that it brings me nothing but happiness to think I'm talking with the woman who gave me life.

There are many things we have to say to each other.


I think it's easy for anyone who knows me to imagine the tears this letter brought.

We began to email regularly, and that was followed by chatting online. Some months later, when Adam was ready, we finally talked on the phone. Over the Thanksgiving holiday we finally met. Adam, myself, Jillian and Chris spent a long day and night talking, looking at pictures, laughing, and simply getting to know each other.

Those who'd like to see pictures, feel free to check out the albums on my Facebook page.

Adam came again for a visit at Christmas and during that visit met my brothers and sister as well as my parents. I was worried for him that he might feel awkward at first. But if he did, he hid it well. It was a good day to be sure.

Adam is extremely busy at school. We don't get to talk as much as I'd like. Yet I know he will be coming back again in March at his break and look forward to it with happiness.

The point of all of this is to tell you this: even when someone takes your choices away from you, does something designed to hurt you - it just might backfire and turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you.

I am healing well and after all those years, finally at peace. I know that despite how hard it was, it was truly a good thing. Adam has had an incredible, wonderful life raised by a loving and remarkable woman. She has my heart, always, for the gift she has given in sharing Adam with us.