eBay Expands Policy on Outage Credits – Without Selling Its Soul

In response to several lengthy January outages, online auction pacesetter eBay announced Thursday that it is increasing the scope of the fee credits it offers customers in the event of a site crash.

With eBay users reeling from several unpopular policy changes and major outages in 2001, the new credit policy may be more about public relations than customer service, Yankee Group director of online retail strategies Paul Ritter told the E-Commerce Times.

“From eBay’s perspective, it’s a wise PR move that they can afford to take and need to take, given the negative publicity from the outages and other foibles,” Ritter said.

eBay’s new policy credits fees for auctions that were scheduled to end during a site failure of one to two hours. eBay’s previous outage policy only credited users whose auctions were scheduled to end during, or within 60 minutes after, an outage of two hours or more.

Credits will also be given for title search outages that last more than an hour. However, 24-hour listing extensions will still only be made available for crashes lasting more than two hours.

Saving Face?

eBay has rolled out a steady stream of policy changes since the year began, many of which have drawn ire from members.

On January 3rd, eBay suffered service outages totaling 10 hours, only days after angering many customers with the announcement it would begin enforcing policies that restrict the ways users can contact each other for non-eBay sales.

Additionally, eBay said recently that it intended to limit user access to e-mail addresses of other auction members, as well as boost listing fees.

Dangerous Waters

With other major e-tailers, such as Amazon.com, experiencing lengthy meltdowns over the holiday season, eBay may have set an online policy standard for others to follow. However, Ritter said that such policies could prove costly for certain e-tailers if they are not careful.

“Being a profitable company gives eBay the luxury of offering credits for such outages,” Ritter said. “It may not be a wise or a recommended strategy for other e-tailers who are not profitable, because it could further reduce their chances for profitability.”

Soul Man

eBay also came under scrutiny this week for letting two controversial auction items slip under its radar. The first came via University of Washington student Adam Burtle, who made a deal on eBay to sell his soul for US$400.

“Please realize, I make no warranties as to the condition of the soul,” Burtle wrote. “As of now, it is near mint condition, with only minor scratches.”

The second controversial auction came in the form of a pound of Atlantic City beach sand, which sold for 99 cents — plus $4 shipping and handling. City officials reportedly asked eBay to stop the transaction on the grounds that the sale was illegal.

“There is no right for anyone to wantonly take sand, never mind to sell it on the Internet,” Deputy Chief Rod Aloise of the Atlantic City Beach Patrol said, according to published reports.

Both listings were pulled by eBay, reports said.

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