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Some eBay customers warn they'll bolt

Recent outages and complaints about customer service have some longtime users pondering moves to other auction sites.

Longtime eBay customers, tired of recent outages and complaining about a lack of customer service, say they would turn elsewhere if they had a reasonable alternative.

eBay's auctions were inaccessible for nearly seven hours yesterday when the company's database got corrupted. The incident was the second major outage this month; the auctions were down for five hours on May 3 when eBay's database server's hardware failed.

eBay posted information about the outage on its announcement board. Per its policy, the company automatically extended auctions that ended during the outage period and up to one hour after the outage ended. eBay also offered credits on its listing fees for sellers who believed they had been missed business when the site went down.

But for a number of sellers, those steps were not enough.

Thousand Oaks, California resident Ross Wright said he has been selling on eBay since January 1998 without incident until late summer last year. Since then, Wright said he believes eBay has had more problems and has been less responsive to his complaints.

"Their non-existent customer service became even more non-existent," Wright said.

Wright, who sells books, video tapes, collectible toys, and musical instruments, said he has started to shift some of his book inventory over to Amazon's auction site. He said he sees Amazon as eBay's "first real competitor," where he can expand his customer base by listing items there. But he said that many eBay sellers list their items exclusively on eBay.

"I probably would have been one of those people if there hadn't been any problem," Wright said.

Richard Fulton and his wife sell Civil War collectibles on their own Web site and through eBay. An eBay member for about two years, Fulton said the site seems to have become less responsive to small sellers as it has grown.

"I hope they don't forget their roots, but it looks like they are to some degree," Fulton said.

Fulton, a resident of Fredericksburg, Virginia, said he tries to list some 70 items a week on eBay and sells close to $2,000 worth a month. He said he has looked into selling his items elsewhere, but eBay's large user base makes it difficult to move to other auction sites.

"You have to go where the market is," Fulton said.

Like Fulton, Kansas City resident Andy Crofford said he lists his items almost exclusively with eBay. He said he has been selling on eBay for more than two years and that his overall experience with the site has been "good."

But after trying to contact customer service about past problems and not getting much response, Crofford said he has stopped trying.

"I use their auction service. I hope I don't have to deal with their customer service," Crofford said.

Crofford said he planned to list some of the CDs and video games he sells on Amazon in the near future. He said Amazon's reputation for customer service is a key draw. Still, he said he didn't see himself moving over completely.

"If another auction service had (the number of users eBay has), I would definitely move," he said.

eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said that despite the company's rapid growth, "we pride ourselves on our customer service." Unlike many sites, eBay tries to keep customers updated on system problems when its site goes down.

Pursglove added that the company tries to treat all of its customers the same, no matter how much they sell on the site.

"If people are concerned with us, they need to let us know and we'll try to address it," Pursglove said.

E-commerce analyst Fiona Swerdow of Jupiter Communications said that eBay's site has been under "enormous strain" as more people list and bid on items. She said Amazon and Yahoo could benefit if eBay doesn't emphasize uptime and customer service.

"If they don't perform on these basics, like any other e-commerce player (must), that's going to hurt them," Swerdlow said.