Ebay, the Great i am?

Southgate Coins says good riddance to eBay. Read about the events leading up to our escape from this disquieting world.

Ebay the Great i am?

December 23, 2005

By Rusty Goe

Once upon a time, a self-deified website creator established a kingdom designed as a nirvana for online buyers and sellers. Whatever inhabitants wanted to sell would be offered to everyone in the kingdom in the flash of a mouse-click. From old postcards, to sweet smelling perfumes, to shoes, to books, to bowling balls, to DVDs, to kitchen utensils, to homemade crafts; to anything the mind could imagine. On the flipside, anyone looking for anything to purchase could search through sellers’ item listings and probably find it. A small fee would be collected by the godhead as sort of a tribute, or an offering if you will.

But what should this kingdom be called? Another Creator, comprised of a Trinity, had already claimed the name I AM, sending a message to members of His kingdom that He encompassed all that there was and all that there would ever be. The new online godhead needed to emulate, but not plagiarize. The concept of I AM-ness needed to be conveyed. After all, absolute rule is only as effective as its perceived authority. Do you really think anyone would submit to a supreme being named “I’ll Try”, or “I Might?” Of course not: Followers deserve resoluteness in their leaders. A bright vision came to the ruler of the online trading kingdom inspiring him to veil the essence of I AM-ness with a dual meaning term that could be interpreted as an electronic room set up as a flea market or auction platform, but surreptiously sending a subliminal I AM message.

How did he do it? This is the tricky part. He stole a common expression from the Swiss German language, Ich bi, (pronounced ee-bay) and used the phonetic sounds to form the name “ee-bay”, or ebay for short. When a Swiss female tells her nationality, she says, “Ich bi Schwiizerin”, phonetically pronounced, “ee-bay Sweetzereen”. Anytime a Swiss German speaking person says “I am” anything, he says “Ich bi” The online trading god pulled it off. Who would ever think when references to ebay were made the term would be describing veiled sovereignty? How slick could you get? A trendy name appearing to connote Internet jargon actually paid homage to the creator of the celestial kingdom of online capitalism? (Another version says the creator used an abbreviated form of a place that existed only in his mind, Echo Bay.)

With good intentions for a sublime community of contented citizens, the creator of ebay established a set of commandments intended to govern his world. Gradually more commandments were added, and then sub-commandments, as it became clear that this kingdom was no Garden of Eden. Originally estimating a population of no more then 100,000 the kingdom ballooned into the millions within five years of its creation.

Somewhere along the way, evil spirits infiltrated the kingdom perplexing the paper gods perched atop their ivory towers. Suddenly the boundless pages of commandments proved to be ineffective. A second member of the godhead appeared and more guardians were enlisted to enforce the commandments, but since the guardians had no rights of ownership in the kingdom the incentive was missing for them to excel in their duties.

Millions of people continued to enter the kingdom, while thousands of disenchanted inhabitants left. To the outside world the kingdom of ebay looked like a wonderful place to explore. On the inside, however, a cancerous discord permeated its infrastructure. This could not be a kingdom created by divine providence: the rulers were not omniscient, and omnipotent. And they certainly weren’t invisible, immortal and full of love. They collected their money like any online entrepreneurs, distancing themselves further and further from their faithful followers. Minions of followers obeyed all the commandments and joyfully sent their offerings to the leaders’ collection plates. It might not be a perfect kingdom, believed most followers, but it was probably better than any other. As long as they could sell their goods and shop till their hearts content, why complain?

Besides, there was no one to complain to, unless one inhabitant wanted to complain against another. A flawed system called the Feedback Forum provided members of the ebay community with an opportunity to evaluate the performance of each other. The creator of the kingdom viewed this as a check and balance method to keep citizens honest. And most inhabitants conformed, at least perfunctorily, but evildoers used the system to harass innocent victims. You could follow every commandment and still receive a negative feedback, which lowered your approval rating. But one of the major flaws in the system is related to these approval ratings: Other than a 100% score, what would be considered exemplary? Would scores be graded on a curve? Would buyers and sellers of more expensive goods be weighted higher than traders in cheap items? Could a merchant selling 1,000 items valued at less than $5 each be given as much credit as a seller of 50 items valued at $500 per? If so, where was the logic? Or would the adage that everyone is created equal be invoked? That might hold true for civil rights, but in commerce it’s nonsense.

One of the biggest flaws in the feedback forum had nothing to do with inhabitants evaluating one another, however. How come the godhead and its guardians were exempt from feedback: Because they were afraid of reproach. They knew in their hearts that their kingdom left much to be desired. Yet their collection baskets had grown so full through the years; why should they subject themselves to incriminations. Besides, their sheep lacked discernment; because like all sheep they were stupid. Feed them and lead them, and you owed them nothing more. Plump, dumb and happy, that’s what life was all about, right?

Wrong. There’s something in the human spirit that beckons for justice and beckons to be treated with respect. The kingdom of ebay often fails to provide its citizens with these essential elements of life. The curtain was pulled back long ago exposing the false wizards controlling the smoke and light show machines behind the doors of the company’s headquarters. Eventually, a third member - formerly from a another fantasy world - was added to the godhead, forming a triumvirate of power. These potentates in their fake robes of holiness are not divine. There is no majesty in the name ebay. It stands for nothing more than an electronic trading room (or a shortened version of Echo Bay). Deific attributes in the expression Ich bi (ee-bay), either in upper or lower case are an illusion. But sadly, no one has informed the governing body of ebay that the company bears no resemblance to the Great I AM. Maybe the firm’s balance sheet causes denizens on Wall Street to bow, but what profit is there in being a false godhead?

Recently, our company experienced an intervention and freed ourselves from the false kingdom of ebay. Though never thoroughly brainwashed, we served this merchandising master faithfully since 1998. During the past two years, our staff chalked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales, receiving an approval rating of 100%, never experiencing a negative feedback. Our customers consistently praised us for the service they received and delighted in the merchandise we sold. Ebay collected thousands of dollars in fees from us and gradually raised our status to the level of Power Sellers in recognition of our consistent high volume of sales.

We noticed the flaws in their system early on, but persevered, believing that over time, ebay would measure up to their pretentious press releases. One of our concerns stemmed from the unregulated abuse of the feedback forum. You can read more about one of our challenging encounters in the article on this website entitled Fiendish Foe Infiltrates Our Feedback Form on Ebay. Most of our transactions sailed through smoothly, evidenced by the exchange of positive feedback between us and our customers. But occasionally, mean spirited ebayers (inhabitants of ebayland) callously complained about trivialities that made no sense. Like for instance, when a sale transpired on a Sunday, we shipped the item on Monday and the buyer emailed us on Tuesday asking why he hadn’t received it yet. Never mind that the item was shipped from Nevada across country and, according to the U.S. Post Office, required a minimum of five days for delivery. We did our job as well as it could be done, but still, the curmudgeons called us names and threatened to leave negative feedback. Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you. But how about negative feedback? Ebayers fear it like people fear letters from the IRS.

Another instance of hostility occurred when an ebayer who had previously been blocked from participating in our auctions, charged us with incompetency when we described an acrylic casino plaque as a jeton. Nomenclature aside, the description could have gone either way; but this abusive person threatened to report us to every professional organization we are affiliated with and to have us barred from ebay. He even had the audacity to call and harass our staff. If you could read the emails he sent and hear the recording of his telephone tirade you would quickly see his Cuckoo’s Nestqualifications. This screwball menaced us for nearly two years. We appealed to the guardians at ebay to keep him away from us, with minimal response on their part.

Although we entered him on our blocked-bidder list, he circumvented the system by bidding under another ebayer’s account. Unfortunately, he outbid everyone on a $1,500 item and probably would have gone undetected if he had not called. His incognito attempt immediately aroused suspicion, as he told our staffer that his name was Linda, the name on the winning bidder’s account. He wanted to make sure that we knew how to ship his item to him, but he was quickly informed that it had already been sent out. Because of the oddity of a man named Linda, we compared addresses with the troublemaker on our blocked-bidder list with “Linda’s”: Identical. Then we contacted him, informing him that we had blown his cover and instructed him to refuse delivery when the item arrived: We told him to leave us alone. He denied that he had called using the “Linda” alias and begged to be allowed to keep the item. We didn’t have a choice; he would have possession of the item and could do as he pleased . But we did contact the guardians at ebay with a summary of events, imploring them to protect us from the “Lindas” out there. Ebay never replied to our appeals. Their apathy angered us.

Eventually, the troublemaker retaliated once again, by leaving a cryptic positive feedback, backhandedly accused us of negligence in packaging his item. Though we are experts at shipping expensive merchandise, having sent out millions of dollars of valuables through the years, “Linda” criticized us for sticking a ¼ inch piece of scotch tape across the top of the vinyl sleeve holding his item. He said a few centimeters of tape gum touched the edge of his item. If he wasn’t so disgusting you would think he was pulling our leg; but he was serious and if you could see what he was talking about you would bellow with laughter.

We found it difficult to laugh, however, because we were growing increasingly disenchanted with the kingdom of ebay. The kingdom had grown bigger through the years but not better. In our bricks and mortar store we know how to handle unwelcome patrons, but in ebayland people hide behind email addresses and usernames. Mischief-makers stealthily snake their way through ebay’s site like a pack of graffiti-writing gang members terrorizing a neighborhood in the middle of the night. When we asked the guardians in the kingdom for protection, they either didn't respond, or they sent superfluous form letters informing us that it is not ebay’s policy to mediate between two ebayers unless it involves fraudulent practices. Harassment claims are off limits for the guardians. Any ebayer can abuse another ebayer, verbally or in writing without intervention from the guardians of the kingdom. Victims are encouraged to hire lawyers and seek civil litigation if the abuse becomes too bothersome.

If agitators stood in front of our bricks and mortar store and spewed offensive remarks at us, or if we received abusive phone calls from locals, we know exactly what we would do: seek law enforcement protection. But what do you do when it comes from agitators in cyberspace? We didn’t expect ebay to protect us from hackers, Trojan horses and spreaders of worms and viruses; we have security software for these threats. But we did expect their methods of protection to evolve as their kingdom grew. And, we are not alone in calling for reform in their feedback forum; it is a dinosaur ready for the tar pits.

The proverbial straw that forced us to make our break from this Miltonian kingdom occurred earlier this week (December 18th through the 23rd, 2005); when an ebay guardian with the tact and experience of a trainee at a fast food restaurant called to tell us we were guilty of an infraction of an ebay policy. Commandment number 789, or something like that, reads, “Thou shalt not post a link to thy company’s website on any ebay listing”. This was the first time we had heard of this commandment. It seemed inconsistent too, since posting a link to our ebay information page (ME page), which includes a link to our website, is permissible. Not posting the link on our ebay listing just adds one more step to the process; visitors will eventually find our website anyway, they just need to make two clicks instead of one. It also seemed odd, since we had included a link to our website on our ebay listings for at least a year and no one raised a fuss.

Irregardless, we are models of compliancy and don’t like to break commandments; so Marie volunteered to remove the offensive links from our 15 listings, promising to never break the commandments again. But this didn’t satisfy ebay’s guardian; she wanted to punish us so we would learn our lesson. Marie pleaded for mercy, reminding the guardian of our stellar track record, but to no avail. Within seconds, the guardian deleted nine of our most expensive listings, even though they had bids on them and it was only a few days before Christmas; how inconvenient to our customers; and how disrespectful of us.

Sarah, our ebay department manager, called another guardian seeking clarification and making an appeal for clemency. Why hadn’t we at least received a warning, Sarah asked. After all, we had never broken any other commandment and had dotted all of our “Is” and crossed all of our “Ts” in every transaction. Our credit rating, our approval rating and our loyalty rating to the kingdom, were all 100%. It didn’t matter, said the guardian, we had broken a commandment and deserved to be punished. After Sarah hung up she crafted a letter to our Power Seller representative, voicing our frustration and reminding him of his department’s offer to assist us in any way. Though we had never received any help form the Power Seller department, it was worth a try. We needed someone with a lick of sense to see the folly in what had just happened to us. Why would the guardians of ebay choose to inflict such inequitable discipline on us for this first time offence, when they had neglected to discipline the intentionally malevolent ebayers that had harassed us through the years? The Power Seller representative called the next day and after hearing that we had closed our account said, “O.K.", is there anything else I can help you with?”

I needed to hear for myself, so I called another guardian in a department with the misnomer, Customer Service. Presenting our case like an attorney at an appellate hearing I hoped reason would prevail. I guess I wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer; because this young female guardian put me in my place. She said we were bad people to break that commandment and when I asked why we couldn’t have at least received a first-time warning, she brilliantly answered, “because”. “Because why”, I countered. “Just because”, she replied. This back and forth Why-Because exchange continued through ten takes, until finally she said she didn’t have to tolerate this and hung up on me. Ouch. I don’t like getting hung up on, especially by a representative from a firm I have paid thousands of dollars in fees to.

I had a choice: let our company remain in serfhood in a kingdom ruled by little self serving gods, or hit the road. By this time, the path to the road seemed much clearer. Are we doormats, I wondered. No way. There is more integrity in one finger of the girls on our staff than in all the guardians of the kingdom of ebay added together. After a brief meeting with Marie and the girls, I made a decision. Come on, I said, lets get out of this crazy kingdom before they do any more damage to us. Grabbing each others’ hands we traipsed to a PC and sent a message to whoever sits behind the impenetrable walls of the pseudo-paradisiacal world of ebayland, informing them that we wanted to close our account. Somehow it seemed as if a monstrous weight had been lifted off my shoulders. And there were no tears shed in the office; like those that flow at the loss of something dear. There were, however, feelings of trauma, because of the way everything happened; and a little sadness because of our faithful customers who would miss us. But before the scene turned maudlin I assured our staff that we would find other venues to reach these customers and that our post-ebay operations would be stronger then ever. Testing of any sort tends to strengthen your resolve, if you survive.

And, like the message in the song says, “We will survive”. Ebay, like any cultic experience, breeds a dependency in you that leads you to believe that you couldn’t live without the experience. But we will hold our heads up high and soon you will see something new at Southgate Coins that will erase the memory of our ebay experience forever. All our experiences that is, except the wonderful customers we met and the goals we achieved in our feedback record.

As we continue through the deprogramming stage of our life without ebay we are amused at the emails we receive from automation guardians in ebayland, telling us that they are sorry to hear that we have closed our account and asking if there is anything they can do to change our mind. After several trite sentences like these, the message rambles into a lengthy dissertation on how we must proceed during the transitional phase of closing our account. Commandments are explained that detail the account closing process, with warnings that the close-out will not be complete until all of our fees are paid and until all of our sold items are shipped. The most severe warning comes at the end of the message, highlighted in bold, reminding us that once our account is closed, WE WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO RE-ENTERthe kingdom of ebay. I guess this would cause some folks to second guess their decision, but as far as we’re concerned, our response is, once we’re gone, the only way ebay could get us back is by issuing a formal apology for what they did to us and for the way their guardians treated us. Furthermore, they would have to guarantee us protection against predators lurking within ebayland and totally revamp (or do away with) their feedback forum. Ebay has lost us; but we have been freed from the tyranny of them.

Somewhere out there in ebayland is a blissful sub-culture community of good people that treat each other with respect and cordiality despite the impediments imposed by the divisive dysfunction undermining the kingdom. We have encountered these people many times; but the intrinsically unsound undercurrents influencing the fabric of life in the kingdom work against a healthy balanced coexistence. In ebayland you succeed and survive in spite of its power structure, not because of it.

If there is one thing we have learned from this experience, it is that no company can make claims to being godlike in nature. And no company, regardless of how big it gets, deserves the right to subject its loyal proletariat to sovereign rule, void of compassion. The true God never needs to apologize because He is infallible; but no entity on earth is immune from this most common of human civilities. Say you're sorry ebay.