Understanding the eBay Feedback System

Choosing and reporting on your eBay business partners

••• Feedback may seem complicated, but it's the best way to understand how an eBay trader performs.

On eBay, buyers and sellers can leave feedback about one another and their buying and selling transactions. Along the unique eBay bidding system, feedback is one of the basic things you should be familiar with before attempting to buy on eBay, since it can mean the difference between getting a great deal and getting scammed. It's also an important topic for sellers, since a good feedback profile can mean the difference between turning a profit or losing money on a sale.

Every eBay member has a feedback profile that consists of four primary elements:

  • A feedback score. This is the number displayed in parentheses every time an eBay member ID is shown on the eBay website. This number is calculated by subtracting the number of users reporting a poor trading experience with the member in question from the number of users reporting a good trading experience with them. The number is followed by a star that gives a visual cue about the member's reputation.
  • A feedback percentage. Seen in every eBay item listing, this number is the percentage of buyers reporting a positive trading experience with the seller in question over the past year.
  • Detailed seller ratings. These detailed ratings score sellers in four ways (accuracy in describing the item, communication, shipping speed, and shipping and handling charges) on a scale from one to five stars. They appear only for sellers that have been given at least 10 detailed ratings by buyers in the last year.
  • A list of feedback reports from other eBay members. By clicking on a member's feedback score, other eBay members can read reports from those that have traded with the member in question. along with information about each transaction, including its value. You can find such a public list for any eBay member by searching for their feedback profile by member ID.

You can see your own feedback profile at any time by visiting your My eBay page and clicking on the number following your own eBay member ID at the top of the page, next to the words "My eBay."

There are a number of things that you should understand about the way that the feedback system works before you attempt to evaluate the feedback profiles of seller(s) you see in item listing(s).

  • Feedback can't be left by just anyone. In order for an eBay member to provide feedback about another member, the two of them must have done business together on eBay. For each transaction completed, two pieces of feedback can be left: the buyer can leave either positive or negative feedback about the seller, and the seller can choose to leave positive feedback about the buyer if they feel that the buyer has earned it.
  • Feedback doesn't show the results of all transactions. Because buyers and sellers can decide whether or not they wish to leave feedback about their trading partner, most eBay feedback profiles aren't a complete record of everything a member has ever bought and/or sold. There may be many transactions completed a member that don't appear in their feedback profile, simply because their trading partner(s) didn't leave feedback for those transactions.
  • Feedback is serious. Feedback impacts a member's ability to buy or sell successfully, since nobody wants to buy from or sell to someone with bad ratings from other eBay members. Because of this, eBay takes feedback seriously. False, abusive feedback, or obscene feedback are not tolerated.
  • Feedback is generally non-negotiable. Because feedback is an "open forum" for buyers and sellers to report on their experiences with others, feedback cannot generally be removed or hidden simply because someone is unhappy with the feedback they receive. Buyers can also revise negative feedback left about sellers, should their opinions subsequently change.
  • Negative feedback can only be left by buyers. Though at one time both buyers and sellers could leave negative feedback for their trading partners, since 2008 only buyers can leave negatives about sellers and not vice-versa. A very high feedback percentage or score may not indicate that someone is a good seller if most of their positive feedback comes from buying, rather than selling activity.

If you can keep these things in mind as you view another eBay member's feedback profile, you'll be able to more objectively evaluate their feedback rating using the guidelines given in the feedback evaluation quick guide.

As the quick guide shows, it's one thing to understand the basic mechanics of feedback, but it's another to have a good sense for what to focus on in a feedback rating. Here are some tips and things to look for:

  • Percentages are important. Some eBay sellers have done a lot of business—enough to generate a feedback score (the number next to the star icon) that numbers in the tens of thousands. Don't let yourself be impressed by a very large feedback score alone, however. Remember that the score is simply the number of negatives subtracted from the number of positives. A feedback score of 20,000 may be someone that has completed 22,000 sales but left 2,000 people unhappy!
  • Look for very high percentages. The seller just described would have a "91% positive" rating, which sounds great until you realize that it really means "9% negative," or nearly 1 of every 10 transactions with a poor result. For best results, seek out trading partners that very closely approach, or maintain, "100% positive" feedback percentages.
  • Low scores aren't necessarily good or bad. Because all new eBay members begin with a feedback score of zero (no transactions completed, therefore no reports from other eBay members), it's not uncommon to see buyers and sellers with very low feedback scores on eBay, but very high percentages. After all, a member that has only ever completed one transaction earns a 100% feedback percentage if they receive positive feedback for it. Be careful when trading with low-score members. Everyone needs to start somewhere, it's true, but users very new to eBay are less likely to be skilled at delivering on their responsibilities.

If you're new to eBay, limit yourself to buying from sellers who have feedback scores of 100 or higher and whose feedback percentage is 99 percent or higher. This will tend to ensure good results for you as a new eBay buyer. Once you've got a few transactions under your belt, then you can feel free to expand to a more diverse trading clientele.

Remember, too, that even with these guidelines in mind, you should always be sure to study an item listing carefully before you buy.

If you have completed an eBay transaction and have formed a strong impression of the transaction, whether good or bad, it's time to leave feedback. Keep the following in mind:

  • You can leave feedback through My eBay. In your My eBay page, scroll down and click on the "Leave Feedback" link near the bottom left side of the page.
  • Don't leave a neutral or negative report prematurely. Buyers (new buyers in particular) are often quick to leave negative feedback. But most sellers want their customers to be happy. Before leaving a negative, contact your seller and ask to resolve the dispute. If that doesn't work out, open a dispute with them on eBay. Most eBay sellers will do their best to reach a solution or compromise before risking either negative feedback or a judgment against them by eBay customer service agents.
  • Be professional. If you are leaving negative feedback, explain what went wrong clearly and briefly (you have only one line of space). Leave anger, obscenity, or any personal information out, since these will cause eBay to remove your feedback and issue a warning to you instead.
  • Be specific. Whether your feedback is positive or negative, be specific in order to be as helpful as possible to other buyers and sellers seeking to evaluate this member. If you are leaving positive feedback, say what you liked about this eBay member and the transaction. If you are leaving negative feedback, the same goes for your dislikes. Feedback that simply says "Great!" or "Poor!" is generally less helpful than feedback giving specific information.

You'll get to know the feedback system very well as you buy and sell on eBay, and you'll come to appreciate it more the more you use it. Above all, grow your own positive feedback profile—keep your buyers happy and pay your sellers promptly—to ensure that a wide variety of eBay members are willing to do business with you in the future.