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eBay Outrage: This Week’s Boycott

Beginning Feb. 20, eBay will be rolling out changes that affect both its buyers and its sellers. Some of the changes include increasing fees, placing 21-day holds on PayPal payments and preventing sellers from leaving negative feedback on buyers’ accounts. After eBay revealed the upcoming changes, current eBay sellers expressed outrage toward the company. This led to a strike against eBay to take place from Feb. 18 to Feb. 25. This isn’t the first year that eBay has increased fees and been threatened with boycotts. In 2005 and 2006, buyers attempted to strike against eBay, but the strikes went virtually unnoticed. This year, angry eBay patrons have circulated e-mail petitions, created Facebook and MySpace groups and events promoting the boycott and posted YouTube videos in hopes to promote the strike to others. eBay spokesman Usher Lieberman said that eBay understands patrons’ concerns but feels the changes are necessary and for good reason. Additionally, eBay has stated that it is not worried by the proposed strike. We will have to wait and see if this year’s strike is any more effective than its predecessors.

Amelie’s Opinion: I think eBay is handling the situation well. From a public relations perspective, eBay’s spokesman Usher Lieberman was quick to provide a statement about the proposed strike in order to let customers know that eBay is listening to their concerns. While it is necessary to please customers, eBay must not immediately abandon its strategy. Instead, eBay should use its strategy to try to make the Web site better for its clients in the long run. Since the general public does not know the full reasoning behind the upcoming changes, we must believe that these changes have strong justifications behind them or eBay would not enforce them. By referring to eBay customers as “a passionate community,” Lieberman attempts to show that there is a sense of belonging with the Web site, and it is only natural to become agitated when changes are made. EBay should certainly listen to the concerns of its public, but the public should allow time for eBay to prove that its changes will make the Web site better in the end.

Erin’s Opinion: I agree with Amelie that eBay was quick to respond to boycott threats and explain itself to customers, but I think eBay should consider how the changes they make affect customers’ relationships with the Web site. I understand that eBay is a business, and its purpose is to turn a profit. At the same time, wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a company think about its consumer base before thinking of its profit margin? Maybe that’s a little too idealistic for corporate America. But think about all of the warm, fuzzy feelings that would be created if, instead of mandating increased fees and holds on money, eBay decided to give consumers options for how their account works. The whole purpose of public relations is to build two-way communication. That means everybody gets a little give and take. It seems to me that eBay is merely patronizing its users with statements about listening to the community but never even considering their complaints.

Amelie Smith and Erin Cornelius

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