In this post I’ll take an in-depth look at the seller feedback, reputation and performance systems on eBay and Amazon. I’ll cover how they work, why feedback matters, and how to be efficient at managing and improving your reputation as a seller.
I’ll start with eBay. Their reputation system is well known and has evolved under the spotlight of publicity, often controversially. The history of eBay’s feedback system provides a good illustration of what marketplace reputation is all about today!
- Feedback, Reputation and Performance
- The Right Mindset
- Improving Your Feedback and Performance
- eBay In Detail
- Amazon In Detail
- In Closing
Feedback, Reputation and Performance
Make your complaints in the open. Better yet, give your praise in the open. Let everyone know what a joy it was to deal with someone. Above all, conduct yourself in a professional manner. Deal with others the way you would have them deal with you. Remember that you are usually dealing with individuals, just like yourself. Subject to making mistakes. Well-meaning, but wrong on occasion. That’s just human. We can live with that. We can deal with that.
Pierre Omidyar, eBay’s Founder, in a 1996 letter to the eBay community
eBay’s feedback scores, stars and percentages are the original and best known marketplace reputation system. The system has become more sophisticated in recent years, but ten years ago it was quite simple:
- The feedback score was the difference between the number of eBay users who left positive feedback, and the number who left negative feedback.
- The feedback rating was the number of eBay users who left positive feedback divided by the total number of eBay users who left any type of feedback (positive, negative and neutral).
That was it! Sellers and buyers were “trading partners” on an equal footing – both could leave feedback under the same rules – and the aim of the game was simple: get your feedback score as high as possible while maintaining a 100% positive rating.
eBay’s system has changed a great deal since then, particularly with the introduction of Detailed Seller Ratings (DSRs) – four one-to-five star ratings covering description accuracy, quality of communication, shipping speed and shipping charges. The feedback score and rating calculations have also changed.
Despite the changes, the feedback score, stars and rating are still present, and still make up the “headline” of a user’s reputation. So why has the system changed? Why does it need to be complicated? To answer those questions, I’ll first deal with a more fundamental one.
What Is Feedback For?
Originally eBay was a community site for hobbyists and collectors to sell by auction. Feedback helped users – both buyers and sellers – check out their trading partner and decide for themselves if they were trustworthy. Buyers would avoid bidding on auctions run by sellers with questionable feedback, and (less commonly) sellers would block buyers from bidding if their feedback wasn’t up to scratch. That was the job of feedback then.
eBay has changed over the years to have more distinct buyers and sellers, mainly fixed-price listings, and a much more conventional retail experience overall. Buyers and sellers are no longer equal trading partners. Many buyers today simply want to make a convenient, fast and trouble-free purchase – they are much less likely to spend time scrutinising a seller’s feedback.
If today’s eBay buyers aren’t spending much time looking at feedback, what is the point of it now? Why has complexity increased while interest has declined? Well, I believe there is a paradox at play here:
- Buyers have higher expectations from sellers than ever, including a wide range of factors such as speed of dispatch and delivery, packaging, returns policy and much more.
- Buyers take high performance for granted – it’s an expectation from their general experience of buying online, not something they will make an effort to seek out.
So buyers expect a lot, but aren’t prepared to go out of their way to find it! The eBay marketplace has adapted to these modern online buyers. The feedback system has changed to more closely match the things that buyers want.
Feedback has become less interesting to buyers, but a seller’s reputation and performance are now of great interest and importance to eBay itself. eBay uses feedback (and other indicators) as part of a sophisticated seller performance and reputation system, and that in turn has an impact on systems handling search, browsing, fees and more.
eBay uses feedback and other data from the site to indirectly, but very significantly, impact sellers’ success. This gives sellers a strong incentive to improve their performance in accordance to what eBay, acting as a proxy for the buyer, thinks is important. eBay prioritises and promotes listings from sellers who they calculate are doing the best job of meeting buyers’ needs.
Some sellers feel that eBay is unfair or manipulative in doing this, but I think the reality is simpler. eBay is a technology company, and to them it’s all data – huge amounts of data. eBay has to automate how they handle all that data to satisfy demanding buyers and grow their revenue. To be successful, sellers need to understand what eBay expects of them and how their systems determine if they are meeting those expectations.
What About Amazon?
I’ve talked about eBay, because the way their feedback system has adapted helps show how expectations of online retail have changed.
Amazon has never had the community feel of eBay. Third-party sellers are hugely important to Amazon but they are largely anonymous on the site. Amazon buyers are even less likely than eBay buyers to assess a seller’s feedback themselves – they rely on Amazon to do that for them. It shouldn’t be a surprise that feedback is left for only 10% – 20% of Amazon sales, but closer to 50% of eBay sales.
Amazon buyers have long had high expectations from sellers, being used to Amazon’s own “gold standard” of customer service. The interesting thing is that while Amazon’s feedback and reputation system hasn’t changed drastically, eBay’s has. And the way eBay are using feedback has moved a long way towards Amazon’s approach.
On Amazon, seller feedback has never been particularly well used by buyers – they are much more likely to spend time poring over product reviews than seller feedback. Seller feedback, and other indicators of performance, are mainly for Amazon to use themselves, automatically, as part of their systems for prioritising and promoting items.
So both Amazon and eBay use feedback in the same way – to assess sellers and push them to perform in the way they think buyers want.
Essentially, the whole area of customer feedback and seller metrics – the marketplaces monitoring sellers – is designed to protect the reputation of the marketplace and ensure that buyers, when they come there, get a universally good experience. Amazon, being a seller, have spent a lot of effort, and time and money, building up a reputation for providing a good quality service. They want their customers to be happy when they buy something.
Dan Burnham, Head of Account Management, eSellerPro
The Right Mindset
Online sellers sometimes feel like they inhabit a completely different world to businesses that trade offline, locally, face-to-face. While that’s true in many ways, when it comes to feedback, reputation and customer service, I don’t think the difference is all that great. Online sellers can learn a great deal about customer service from their offline counterparts.
Selling Online vs Running a Gym
Let me tell you about my family’s business. They run one of the few types of business that can never go completely online – a health club. When new customers come to the gym they have a workout, grab a drink, and if they like it they come again. Some keep coming back for years, even decades. Customers aren’t badgered for feedback, in fact they are rarely even asked.
Instead, the business focuses on satisfying customers. Equipment is regularly upgraded, kept clean and maintained in good working order. Staff are friendly and helpful (most of the time). All comers are made to feel welcome, and a genuine community spirit emerges from the shared hardship of a tough workout. And they give feedback, sometimes in person and sometimes online, but they don’t give feedback in droves. It’s a minority activity, like on Amazon.
Positive feedback, and other indicators of good performance, are a natural side effect of doing a good job as a business. Getting good feedback should never be a goal entirely in its own right, somehow sitting apart from the real purpose – having happy, satisfied customers who want to buy from you again.
Policies and Practices
By all means, study the benchmarks, policies, rules – even the algorithms – of the marketplaces you use. Incorporate them into your overall strategy for achieving great customer satisfaction. Then when you run your business and deal with customers every day, you will naturally get positive feedback and good performance metrics.
You use the statistics to inform where you’re weakest. You need to think like a buyer. The temptation for a lot of sellers is to analyse complaints they get from people, and there are certainly shoppers who will take advantage. But in the greater scheme of things, I think you win by providing the best quality service you possibly can. That should, by itself, take care of the metrics. If you provide a good quality service, the numbers will follow.
Dan Burnham, Head of Account Management, eSellerPro
So it’s not that shouldn’t try to meet the standards set by the marketplaces, you absolutely should. They just shouldn’t be your primary goal.
Why not? Because the standards exist not because the marketplaces want you to live up to arbitrary benchmarks, but because they want you to provide a great service. The benchmarks, policies and rules are there so they can consistently and automatically identify good service – they are a means to an end, not the end itself.
There’s no doubt that the standards imposed by marketplaces can be tough to achieve – even impossible for some businesses. Businesses have to be creative about how to raise the bar on their performance, to delight their customers and meet the marketplace standards. I think it’s a question of mindset, and there are two very different philosophies that sellers tend to have.
Mindset One: The Letter of the Law
Sellers who think this way will focus their efforts on the literal meaning of marketplace rules. They view the policies like legislation, so it’s OK to do whatever you want as long as you don’t “break the law”.
In my opinion this is a high risk and low opportunity approach. These are the downsides:
- If the rules change you are more likely to fall on the wrong side of those changes, because you were sticking tightly to the minimum required.
- You aren’t thinking as much as you could about how to provide a better service to customers. Your first concern is about how you can appear to be doing that.
- You could fall into the realm of cheating or “gaming” the system. Even something that starts innocently could become a manipulation in time.
If you make the marketplaces’ performance metrics your primary goal, you can make your situation precarious. And you’re also doing little to improve your competitive position – opportunities are not taken advantage of.
Mindset Two: The Spirit of the Law
The marketplaces have many rules around seller performance. Trying to understand them all can really make you dizzy. But they all have the same purpose – the same spirit – which is to push sellers to provide great customer service.
Sellers who think about the spirit of the rules will plan their actions to maximise customer satisfaction, rather than just to meet the standards. It may appear that there is little practical difference, so I’ll illustrate below.
Letter and Spirit: An Example
Amazon like sellers to respond to emails from buyers within 24 hours. Here’s the detail of that policy on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk (there’s no difference between them now, but that might not always be the case).
Amazon give no additional allowance for questions sent outside office hours, at weekends or during holidays. For many businesses that presents a problem, and sellers regularly discuss how to handle some of the issues that emerge.
This is a mockup of a Customer Metrics dashboard in Amazon Seller Central.
So how can you stay within the 24-hour policy without giving up a personal life entirely? Most sellers will need to think creatively about it. But two creative thinkers can take completely different paths, if one is driven to follow the letter of the law and the other is more concerned with the spirit.
A seller with a “letter of the law” mindset might set up an auto-responder with a standard “we’ll get back to you later” message to help achieve the response time.
There’s nothing at all wrong with using fast, helpful and informative automatic responses to customer emails. But Amazon automatically detects auto-replies, and doesn’t count them towards the 24-hour policy. A determined and creative “letter of the law” seller might then make the automatic replies more sophisticated, so they aren’t detected. This is now leading into the area of trying to cheat the system, and can lead to severe penalties.
What would an equally determined and creative seller with a “spirit of the law” mindset do differently? First they would think about what Amazon are trying to achieve with this policy. Do Amazon think customers are happy if they get any kind of response to an email within 24 hours, even an automatic standard response? No, they don’t. They want you to actually answer the customer’s question!
We always say that auto-responders do not replace your communications, they’re just something to help you out, to inform the customer. So they know you’re not in the office, or you’re out that weekend.
Jodi Gaines Pereira, Co-founder, ReplyManager
How can you genuinely answer buyer’s emails out of office hours? One approach is to document how to handle the most common questions, then outsource out-of-hours customer service, perhaps offshore. The out-of-hours rep might not be able to answer every type of question – and they can tell the buyer that – but if they handle the majority that could have a huge impact.
There are companies who specialise in ecommerce customer service outsourcing, so even the burden of training can be minimised. These providers already know their way around eBay and Amazon seller pages, as well as many third-party tools.
Outsourcing customer service, even a portion of it, is not something to be taken lightly. But it illustrates the difference between the mindsets: it genuinely addresses the problem rather than just giving the appearance of addressing the problem. Sellers who have the commitment and imagination to think that way can find themselves, in time, beating the majority of the competition. Because many sellers are just trying to improve their statistics without really improving their service.
Improving Your Feedback and Performance
There are many tools and tactics for enhancing your reputation and raising your performance. But bear in mind that reputation and performance aren’t separate from other parts of your business – whatever you do to work on your performance has to fit the business as a whole. Don’t cherry-pick ideas that look attractive then try to force them to work.
Instead, choose approaches to test. Give them a fair trial, then stop and reflect on what they have achieved for you. If the results are positive and you can see a good fit with the rest of your business, then push ahead. Otherwise, be satisfied that you’ve learned something and move right on to the next idea.
Good feedback is a side-effect of good customer service, not a goal in its own right. But there are scenarios where it makes sense to work on feedback directly – one is that of high-value, low-volume sellers. These sellers can work on their feedback volume to dilute the effect of occasional negative feedback.
If you sell high-ticket items – say jewellery that goes for £500 a pop – you are not going to sell large amounts of those every single day. If you are processing a hundred orders a month, and only 40% of those are leaving you feedback, a single negative feedback hurts a lot. Buffer in a safe cheap profit-neutral item that you can ship every single day, and keep the wheels turning.
Matthew Ogborne, Co-founder, UnderstandingE.com
A high-end jewellery seller could sell storage boxes, for example, or a kitchen appliances retailer could sell cleaning products. The more regular feedback received on those orders helps reduce the impact of infrequent negative feedback, that could otherwise be very damaging.
Another approach to increasing feedback volume is to encourage buyers to leave feedback. Care should be taken not to demand or plead for feedback – it’s always optional, and direct approaches can easily backfire. A soft approach is to send an email a few days after dispatching an order, asking the buyer if they are happy with their purchase. Feedback can then be mentioned in passing.
I use Feedback Pro which shoots out an email asking for feedback after a buyer purchases from you. At the bottom I have links to “add me as a favourite seller”, “subscribe to my newsletter”, “receive exclusive offers for subscribers only”. It’s all in the wording, always use a positive tone. It’s not a good idea to beg for feedback!
Danna Crawford, Founder & CEO, PowerSellingMom.com
Sellers who receive negative feedback can ask for it to be removed. There are two ways negative feedback can be removed, available through both eBay and Amazon:
|Feedback Removed by the Marketplace||Broad policy:
|Feedback Removed by the Buyer||Narrow policy:
Amazon like sellers and buyers to come to their own agreement over negative feedback, and will remove feedback themselves in very few circumstances. eBay takes the opposite approach – they have a tight limit on buyer feedback removal, but provide many reasons why they will remove feedback themselves.
Data on eBay’s top sellers shows that around 16% of the highest-volume eBay sellers request removal for 0.5% of their feedback or more (high volume sellers are given a higher allowance).
Many online customer service issues are due to poor communication. That’s not usually down to any particular shortcoming of sellers, but rather the restrictions of online customer support compared to its real-world equivalent.
Physical retail has many disadvantages, but for customer support it generally wins hands-down. It offers real-time communication, the nuances of tone and body language, and near-immediate resolution of problems. There are still disputes, but calm handling from an experienced and reputable retailer will normally resolve them quickly.
In comparison, online shopping offers a poor experience when it comes to communication. Most online customer support is written, typically using email. A wait of several hours between emails is normal, even good! And it takes considerable skill to avoid the notoriously blunt tone of email. Yet subtle communication is also best avoided, because misinterpretation is common.
With such a weak foundation, how can sellers ever provide good online customer support? I think there’s three main areas to give attention to: process, delegation and attitude.
Process is important because it enables speed, consistency and reliability.
The first thing you need to do is establish a workflow. Put together a plan of who’s answering what and how, and come up with a list of standard replies for frequently-asked questions. You have to address their specific question, but those standard replies can help you. Come up with a way to organise the messages as well. Those are really some of the most important things regardless of what tool you are using to help manage your email.
Jodi Gaines Pereira, Co-founder, ReplyManager
Many sellers reach support volumes that would overwhelm an owner-manager, so they have to hand customer support over to others. But it’s hard for sellers to completely let go of the reins. If depending on staff for order fulfillment is difficult, letting them communicate with customers and make refund decisions will be really painful.
I said to the team that if the value of a decision is £50 or less, I don’t want to hear about it any more. Then they realised they could make decisions themselves. I’ve been able to leave the customer service department to carry on, all of our accounts are always Top Rated – they’ve never been in a better condition. So it’s allowed me to completely trust the teams. The worst case is they make a bad decision but because we’ve limited it we’ve controlled the damage.
Tayyab Akhlaq, Managing Director, My1stWish and Genie and the Geek
Genuine delegation is liberating, and enables staff to do a better job. They’ll be able to respond faster, because they won’t have to wait for a decision to be handed down from above. But more importantly, the autonomy will help them feel a sense of ownership and pride in what they do. For many, being allowed to make their own decisions is more motivating than a pay rise.
Finally, it’s crucial to have the right attitude towards customers. For me, the right attitude is to believe that every buyer is a decent person acting in good faith, even if they are unreasonable, belligerent or just plain wrong. If sometimes you can’t believe that, then just behave like you do! It’s easy to get into an argument, and having to read and write instead of speak and listen is frustrating enough for many buyers.
Believing that all buyers have the best intentions, or are just having a bad day, will help you respond sensitively and increase the chance of an amicable resolution. Ideally, find customer support people who naturally assume the best of people – not everyone does.
There are specialized customer support systems for marketplace sellers listed in the Web Retailer directory. They can’t help you have the right attitude to buyers, but are a great shortcut to better processes!
Managing your physical stock is not easy. When you make a sale (through any channel) your inventory data should be updated in your central database, and on every other channel you use. Without that synchronization, it’s easy to start overselling – receiving orders for stock you do not have.
When that happens you have a few options, but they all have downsides:
- Order more stock from your supplier. On eBay, the delay while you restock can lead to negative feedback, particularly if shipping expectations were set high by Top Rated Plus or eBay Premium Service. On Amazon, it can impact feedback and also your Late Shipment Rate.
- Cancel the order. Again, negative feedback may result. On Amazon, it will impact your Cancellation Rate.
- Order from another retailer and ship direct to the buyer. This should keep the buyer happy, but you will almost certainly lose money.
The only real solution is to have find a robust marketplace management solution that synchronizes all your channels in real-time (or close to it).
Buyers value fast, accurate shipping of well-protected packages. So do the marketplaces, and they have a range of metrics including feedback, DSRs, cases and claims that are all potentially impacted by poor fulfillment.
The first decision about fulfillment should be whether to outsource. Amazon’s FBA program provides access to their world-leading fulfillment centres, and also gives sellers a much better chance of winning the Amazon Buy Box. It’s well supported by order management software, and there is also a standalone solution, AutoMCF, that makes it simple to use FBA for sales on eBay and other marketplaces.
Amazon FBA is not the only fulfillment outsourcing service by any means. Fulfillment services are listed in the Web Retailer directory.
Sellers who decide to keep fulfillment in-house should treat at it as an evolving system, that can and should be improved continuously. Web Retailer’s introduction to Systems Thinking may help sellers adopt that mindset. It’s the kind of thinking that has made Amazon so successful.
There is no perfect pick, pack and dispatch mechanism – there’s only a system that works for you and where you are right now. There’s a process which works, and there’s one which also works, and there’s another one which works. Pick out whatever makes sense for you. If you want to pick each individual order separately, that’s OK. If you want to print a picking list and then pack your orders, that’s OK too.
Matthew Ogborne, Co-founder, UnderstandingE.com
Finally, order management software will help manage the data and administration of fulfillment, and support an effective process. Most marketplace management solutions include order management features. Specialized marketplace order management systems also exist, and some integrate with marketplace management solutions as well as with the marketplaces directly.
Customer support and returns are closely aligned – it’s difficult to provide a good returns process without having good customer support. As with customer support, having the right attitude is key. Sellers sometimes see a return request as a failure to be avoided at all costs, but it’s better to accept them as a normal part of business.
Buyers don’t want to argue over returns. A lot of them can be quite volatile and aggressive when they want to return something, because they’ve been stung before. I’d rather someone return an item, than keep it and give me negative feedback or low DSRs, because that’s going to damage the business more. Use eBay managed returns if it suits your product, and add a cost for returns into the price of all your items.
Jane Bell, eBay Specialist Consultant, eBay Anorak
Returns aren’t only a customer support issue – there is additional handling and administrative work to consider. For all high-volume sellers, and lower-volume sellers of clothing and footwear, returns processing should be optimized in the same way as fulfillment.
eBay In Detail
Feedback, including DSRs, is eBay’s measure of reputation – each of your buyers’ personal opinion of you as a seller. But feedback is only one factor that makes up your overall “performance” as a seller on eBay. In the past, many sellers would focus exclusively on feedback. Getting positive feedback was the only performance measure they cared about, and when it was received the battle was won. That time has now passed.
Today, eBay sellers should be thinking about feedback and several other measures of performance. Meeting eBay’s benchmarks helps sellers (and their listings) meet four different performance levels:
- Seller performance standards
- PowerSeller status
- Top Rated Seller status
- Top Rated Plus / eBay Premium Service
eBay Performance Measures
UPDATE: From 1 August 2014, eBay will assess seller performance differently. The feedback rating and DSRs will no longer be used directly, but combined with other factors into a new “defect rate”. This brings eBay’s seller performance measures much closer to Amazon’s.
A transaction will count as defective, and be counted towards the new defect rate if:
- The item is not as described, as indicated by:
- A DSR of 1, 2 or 3 for item as described, or
- A return with a reason of “item not as described”, or
- An eBay Money Back Guarantee or PayPal Buyer Protection case for item not as described (unless resolved in the seller’s favour).
- It receives a DSR of 1 for dispatch time.
- There is an eBay Money Back Guarantee or PayPal Buyer Protection cases for item not received (unless resolved in the seller’s favour).
- Negative or neutral feedback is received.
- The transaction is cancelled by the seller due to stock out or item sold to another buyer.
|Measure||Description||Benchmark||eBay Usage (1)|
|Feedback score||Number of positive ratings minus number of negative ratings. (2)||n/a||-||-||-||-|
|Feedback rating||UPDATE: Not assessed from 1 August 2014.
Percentage of positive ratings in the last 12 months. (3)
|Defect rate||UPDATE: Assessed from 1 August 2014.
Maximum percentage of transactions with defects. (6,8)
|Varies||< 5%||-||< 2%||-|
|Transaction volume||Number of transactions with buyers in the same country as the eBay site.||> 100||-||US||Yes||Yes|
|Transaction value||Value of transactions with buyers in the same country as the eBay site.||> $1,000 / £1,000||-||UK||Yes||Yes|
|Registration date||Number of days that eBay account has been active.||> 90||-||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Opened cases||Number of transactions with buyer cases opened.||< 1%||-||UK||UK||UK|
|Unresolved cases (4)||Number of transactions with buyer cases closed without seller resolution.||< 0.3% or 2 (5,6)||Yes||-||Yes||Yes|
|Average DSRs||UPDATE: Not assessed from 1 August 2014.
Average value of all Detailed Seller Ratings received.
|Low DSRs||UPDATE: Not assessed from 1 August 2014.
Maximum number of 1 star and 2 star DSRs.
|< 0.5% or 2 (5,6,7)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Tracking information||Number of transactions with tracking uploaded in last 3 months.||> 90%||-||-||US||US|
|Returns period||Number of days returns are accepted for.||> 14 days||-||-||-||Yes|
|Handling time||Number of business days before orders are dispatched.||< 1 day||-||-||-||Yes|
1 – SP = seller performance, PS = PowerSeller, TRS = Top Rated Seller, TR+/ePS = Top Rated Plus/eBay Premium Service.
2 – excludes neutral feedback, and negative feedback from the same buyer in the same week.
3 – includes neutral feedback.
4 – eBay Money Back Guarantee and PayPal Purchase Protection cases.
5 – whichever is more favourable for the seller.
6 – within the last 3 months, if the seller has 400 or more transactions. Otherwise within the last 12 months.
7 – seller performance and PowerSeller have lower requirements: 1% on item as described and 2% on the other DSRs.
8 – assessed only if there are defective transactions involving 8 or more different buyers (5 for Top Rated Seller) within the period.
Seller Performance Standards
eBay has a set of minimum standards that all sellers are expected to meet. There are “soft” standards such as charging reasonable shipping costs, following your stated returns policy, and being prompt and professional. There are also “hard” standards around DSRs and buyer protection cases, detailed in the table above.
What happens if you don’t meet the standards? Well, you will not qualify for more stringent standards like Top Rated Seller, or will stand to lose them if you currently qualify. You could also be actively penalised if you don’t meet eBay’s minimum seller performance standards. The following sanctions can be put in place:
- Selling volume limits.
- Lower listing placement in the search results.
- Loss of international selling discounts.
- Payments held to allow time for fulfillment.
- Account suspension.
Seller performance standards also state that negative and neutral feedback should be minimized, but don’t specify any numbers.
Before eBay introduced Top Rated Seller, PowerSeller was the status that eBay sellers aimed for, with impressive-sounding levels starting at Bronze and ranging up through Silver, Gold and Platinum up to Titanium. PowerSeller status still offers some benefits, but unlike the new programs it doesn’t affect visibility and sales.
The main requirements for PowerSeller status are shown in the table above.
In the US, PowerSeller benefits include listing upgrade fee credits for unpaid auction items, and discounts on shipping with USPS and UPS.
In the UK, benefits include priority customer support, educational resources, and eBay promotional merchandise! (It’s hard to imagine a seller pushing themselves harder to qualify for an eBay mug.)
In my opinion, the PowerSeller program is largely irrelevant now. It would be best to retire it and merge the remaining benefits into Top Rated Seller. The greater simplicity would benefit both eBay and its sellers.
Top Rated Seller Status
eBay introduced Top Rated Seller (TRS) in 2009, and it immediately became the status sellers aimed for.
Things have changed again since then, and now the most attractive benefit of Top Rated Seller is qualification for yet another status – Top Rated Plus (US) or eBay Premium Service (UK).
These are the benefits of Top Rated Seller status:
- Improved visibility in search results.
- Qualification for Top Rated Plus (US) or eBay Premium Service (UK) for specific listings, if additional listing-specific criteria are met.
- In the US, lower USPS pricing.
An additional requirement for Top Rated Seller status is following eBay’s selling practices policy. This is a very detailed set of requirements covering product descriptions, photos, terms of sale, availability, shipping, communication, returns, feedback and more. There are differences between the US and UK policies, partly due to differing consumer legislation. It’s common for sellers to violate the selling practices policies – often unintentionally – but eBay have not said if there is a strict limit on violations before action is taken.
The main requirements for Top Rated Seller status are shown in the table above.
In the UK, there is an additional requirement to qualify as a Top Rated Seller: having PowerSeller status. The requirements for PowerSeller are very similar to Top Rated Seller, but a little less stringent on DSRs. Still, UK sellers have the complexity of a three-level progression to the main attraction: eBay Premium Service.
In the US, there are slightly different requirements for Top Rated Sellers in the vehicles category.
Top Rated Plus and eBay Premium Service
These premium listing programs are now the goal for eBay sellers seeking higher visibility – and therefore sales. Listings that qualify benefit from:
- A prominent listing badge.
- A 20% discount on final value fees (15% in the UK).
The listing badge suggests a “seal of approval” from eBay and drives higher buyer confidence – a critical factor in making sales.
The eBay UK guidance also mentions a benefit of “maximum” visibility in search results. What that means is not clear – it could be an indirect benefit from the listing badge driving higher conversion rates, and that in turn driving higher placement in Best Match search results.
Top Rated Plus is the eBay USA program. Sellers first need to be Top Rated Sellers, then there are additional requirements to meet for individual listings: dispatch within 1 business day and returns accepted for at least 14 days.
A lot of sellers won’t commit to doing one-day shipping, and I understand that, but it helps you be a better seller, and helps to get Top Rated Plus status. You’ve got to make a choice: do you want to sell more items, or do you want to not ship every day? If your business is so big that you can’t get orders out within 24 hours, then maybe it’s time to hire someone to help you with that process.
Suzanne A Wells, Freelance Consultant
eBay Premium Service is the UK equivalent. Like the US program, individual listings must offer dispatch within 1 business day and a returns policy of at least 14 days. An additional requirement is that listings must offer a one-day delivery option and a free delivery option.
A final note: It is possible to qualify for Top Rated Plus, eBay Premium Service and equivalent statuses on eBay sites in other countries. Qualifying listings display the badge and have higher exposure in search, but there is no final value fee discount.
Performance and Best Match
Best Match is the default sort ranking for eBay search results. Top Rated Seller (and perhaps also Top Rated Plus / eBay Premium Service) help sellers improve their position in Best Match.
We’ve seen that eBay’s seller and listing programs are complex and overlapping, but what most sellers want is quite simple:
- First they want their listings to be found.
- Then they want buyers to make a purchase.
Good rankings in eBay’s default Best Match search algorithm is the key to listings being found. How that is achieved is a matter of much debate. Some experts say conversion rate – the proportion of viewers who go on to make a purchase – is the most important factor by far. eBay’s own guidance, and sellers’ observations, suggest the algorithm may be more complex. Web Retailer’s guide to marketplace repricing has more detail and links to further reading on Best Match.
Converting viewers into buyers is a softer science than search engine rankings. Here feedback plays a direct role, as the seller’s score and rating (but not DSRs) are shown quite prominently on listings. A seller’s performance also determines if the Top Rated Plus or eBay Premium Service badges are shown.
Many other factors also help win buyers’ confidence: descriptions, photos, terms of sale and design for example.
Amazon In Detail
Amazon provides relatively simple performance metrics and targets, and clearly states the required levels of seller performance. As for eBay, “performance” on Amazon is made up of much more than customer feedback.
A seller’s performance on Amazon has an impact on the following:
- Selling privileges.
- Faster Availability and Transit Times (FATT – US only).
- Winning the Buy Box.
The targets for retaining selling privileges, and participating in Amazon.com’s FATT program, are fairly straightforward. Winning the Buy Box is more complex.
Amazon Performance Measures
|Measure||Description||Benchmark||Amazon Usage (1)|
|Order Defect Rate||Percentage of orders that have received a negative feedback, an A-to-z Guarantee claim or a service credit card chargeback.||< 1%||Yes|
|Cancellation Rate||Percentage of orders cancelled by the seller.||< 2.5%||Yes|
|Late Shipment/Dispatch Rate||Percentage of orders with shipping confirmed three or more days beyond the expected ship date.||< 4%||Yes|
|Refund Rate||Percentages of orders refunded by the seller.||< 5% (2)|
|Contact Response Time||Percentage of buyer messages responded to within 24 hours.||> 90%|
|Negative feedback rate||Percentage of 1-star or 2-star feedback in the last 12 months on the specific Amazon site.||< 5%|
|Perfect Order Percentage||Prcentage of orders that are perfectly accepted, processed, and fulfilled in the last 90 days.||> 95%|
|Shipping volume||Number of units shipped in the past 30 days.||> 10||US|
|Tracked shipments rate||Percentage of shipments with carrier tracking.||> 98%||US|
|On-Time Delivery Score||Percentage of packages received by the estimated delivery date.||> 97%||US|
|Seller Rating||Score-based rating of seller performance on orders in the last 365 days.||-|
1 – SPT = Seller Performance Targets, FATT = Faster Availability and Transit Times
2 – for media products, not stated for other products
Seller Performance Targets
Amazon expects sellers to consistently meet the following targets, and may suspend selling privileges if they are not met:
- Order Defect Rate – under 1%
- Cancellation Rate – under 2.5%
- Late Shipment Rate – under 4%
Amazon’s Seller Performance Targets focus on “negative” scenarios which indicate if a seller is not providing an adequate service. Each metric can be mapped to probable shortcomings in a seller’s behaviour:
- Order Defect Rate – the seller is not satisfying buyers. Buyers are complaining!
- Cancellation Rate – the seller does not have enough stock.
- Late Shipment Rate – the seller is shipping too slowly.
Feedback becomes particularly important if you start selling internationally, because there’s more feedback problems internationally. If your Order Defect Rate on Amazon goes above 1% your account can get shut down, and it’s hard to get it reopened. You have to be constantly vigilant, and even if your feedback is looking good it can turn quite quickly.
Trevor Ginn, Managing Director, Hello Baby
Faster Availability and Transit Times
FATT is an Amazon.com program which allows qualifying sellers to specify lower handling or shipping times. Specifically:
- Non-media handling can be reduced from 1-2 days to 1 day.
- Standard shipping for media items can be reduced from 4-14 days to 3-5 days.
- Expedited shipping for media items can be reduced from 2-6 days to 1-3 days.
The differences may seem small, but fast dispatch and delivery are attractive to many buyers. The faster times may also help win the Buy Box.
If a seller’s tracked shipments rate falls below 98%, or their On-Time Delivery Score falls below 97%, the handling and shipping times will revert to the standard periods.
Winning the Buy Box
The Buy Box is Amazon’s “Add to Cart” (or Basket) button shown at the top right of product detail pages. Amazon uses a sophisticated algorithm to determine which seller “wins” the Buy Box – the seller who gets the order when a buyer clicks the button and completes checkout.
Winning the Buy Box was covered in detail in our guide to marketplace repricing. Amazon does not make public how their Buy Box algorithm works, but independent research provides a number of useful insights – several performance metrics play a part.
All online retailers, marketplace sellers included, should focus on great customer service. But only marketplace sellers are subject to both public feedback on a massive scale and detailed analytical scrutiny of their performance.
I think it makes it clear that both Amazon and eBay feel that their reputation is on the line when buyers are dissatisfied. By monitoring and measuring sellers’ performance they can remove bad sellers, and push the good ones to meet buyers’ ever-higher expectations.
Sellers have little choice but to comply – there’s no way to opt-out, and they risk falling into obscurity if they don’t stay up to scratch.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide, and found it useful. It would be great to hear your comments below!