ebay customers, mine and others’, please read

I get about twenty messages a day just on eBay, on average, including weekends when I am not open (so Mondays suck).  Half of them are people going "I’m just writing to check on the status of my order."  The time it takes me to deal with those ten messages, by going back through my files to locate the proper stack of 60 receipts that has your shipping label in it, or going through my in-house orders to locate yours amongst the other 100 items in queue to be prepped and shipped, is time I am not spending filling the orders in-house. 

Here’s how the math works:

[Ten of these emails]
X times
[the ten minutes it takes me to track down information *that buyers have already been given, in the FAQ, in the payment acknowledgment, AND in their "my eBay" through the shipping label data that is uploaded]
= equals
a blocked bidder. 

So if you have found yourself blocked on eBay, feel free to write to ask me why and/or to unblock you – the overwhelming majority of folks I block, I block because they are costing me way too much time (=money).  If you want to order from me, I am probably happy to have you as a customer, if dealing with you isn’t a pain in my ass and more trouble than it’s worth.  I know eBay courts and rewards sellers with larger setups, higher priced inventory, and multi-person employee structures, making the burden on smaller sellers heavier and heavier every day; they do this at the same time that they cultivate in buyers the impression that every seller on eBay has a separate customer service desk and runs the kind of business where spending ten minutes tracking down info that has already been sent is just part of a day in the life of customer service.

Nonetheless, that’s not how it works for a lot of folks on eBay.  As eBay raises the bar higher and higher, and raises its costs to sellers more and more, it simultaneously punishes sellers – who are worker harder and harder – for not acting BOTH like a small mom-and-pop operation with someone knowledgeable standing by to be friendly AND like an outfit with more than one person running it.  So your favorite sellers, who once upon a time could perhaps take time every night to answer every message in their inbox, now cannot afford afford to take a single night off from packing orders lest they get less than 5 stars in the area of "shipping."  (Yet they also cannot simply bust out all their orders in one night, either, because they can’t go too long without answering emails lest they get less than 5 stars in the area of "communication.")

I say this not to whine – it takes me a lot less time to block a buyer who’s pestering me than it does to answer their message yet again, and I’d rather take care of and keep the customers I’ve got who are happy with my work than chase after customers who are already not happy with my work and with whom I’m already unhappy.  I say it because at the root of all this kerfluffle is deep, continuing, and crushing change at eBay that pulls smaller sellers into an awful lot of directions at once.  We are supposed to have the service and speed of a larger store but the "personal touch" that means the person answering the emails knows every single end of the business, from shipping to taxes to relisting software to Fiery Wall of Protection spells to vodoun loa.  (Hint: if ever I do have someone solely in charge of the emails full time, that person will not be me, and that person will not be able to make custom recommendations about products anymore. It really does come down to a choice between personal attention/knowledge OR speed/assembly line/instant answers.)

A store like mine is *just barely* too busy to run by myself given all my obligations, but it is not nearly profitable enough for me to quit my day job, nor to hire anyone else that wants to actually be paid reliably, thanks in part to eBay’s drastically raising the listing fees and making $5 items – the majority of my sales –  profitless for me.  I am FAR from alone – these things affect hundreds of sellers just like me, who are stuck at that awkward spot in their growth and are paying through the bloody nose for it.  So I say this on behalf of all ebay sellers who don’t have five digit ratings and an 800 number but who are working beyond the flea market and garage sale levels.  If you want them to stay on eBay, take a moment to think about what you value in their items or services, in fact about what you value about eBay’s variety and convenience, and take a moment to think about what that attention or item or service they rendered or sold you costs in terms of time. And multiply that by a hundred people *just like you*. And think about what eBay will be like when smaller sellers are gone because they have been nickled-and-dimed and pestered to death.

Let me make something perfectly clear:

I DO NOT MIND answering customer and client emails.  Helping people apply spiritual remedies to their problems and challenges is at the center of what I do, and if I didn’t like doing that, I wouldn’t be doing this work.

I LIKE being able to make each item by hand, myself, when ordered, customizing when applicable and praying over each one.

If I am to be able to continue to do this kind of thing (and please understand that the overwhelming majority of my professional time is taken up answering regular old client and customer questions, for which time I am only indirectly, at best, paid), I have to prioritize that time (and make sure that I am earning enough money from *somewhere* to be able to spend all this time answering emails and questions).

I understand that dealing with folks with different temperaments is part of owning a business, dealing with customers, and providing services.  And dealing with eBay as a platform means that a lot of those customers expect "mom and pop" customer service even while they expect lightning-fast shipping speeds and miracles.  One of the few useful tools that eBay has compensated sellers for their fairly enormous trouble with is the blocked buyers list.  And I am quick to use it when my extremely limited time is taken up for no good reason.

But since I still answer the overwhelming majority of the emails, and make 95% of my products, and generally package and ship all of them myself, and generally keep all the records myself, I am also usually aware of why I’ve blocked a buyer and am happy to unblock said buyer if we can just have a little conversation first and make sure we’re both on the same page.  My blocking a buyer is not personal; it’s one of the few means by which eBay allows me to protect my time and, maybe more importantly, my sanity, so that I can still provide the goods and services I set out to provide, with the attention and quality I set out to provide them with.  A blocked bidder is someone with whom I am not comfortable doing business unless and until we can talk about some issue, expectation, or tendency.  I have blocked people I know personally and genuinely like as individuals – not because I suddenly wanted to be nasty, but because we can’t keep doing business for some reason until we have a chat.

I’m sure the same goes for very many eBay sellers out there.

Thank you for your indulgence as I made a wearying but necessary addition to the "ebay issues" series of posts.  In partial compensation, I’ll have a post on St. Michael ready soon; I’m translating a prayer to St. Michael from a medieval manuscript, for the benefit and use of you St. Michael devotees and fans out there, and I’m nearly done; there’s just one small phrase still giving me some trouble.  If I can ever get through these eBay emails, I hope to work through the knots on it this week and post it.  (And you won’t ever get anything like *that* from Sears, or amazon.com, so keep it in mind when you’re wondering "why can’t she just look my damned package tracking up instead of sending me a form letter?")

Happy hoodooing,

Karma Zain

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