Tech Industry

eBay users unhappy with "Checkout" feature

Some sellers, calling the feature unnecessary and invasive, are threatening to pack their bags. The company says it will continue to monitor feedback.

A new feature on eBay billed as a way to ease transactions has instead rankled many sellers, with some threatening to leave the online auction site.

The new feature, dubbed "Checkout," provides buyers with detailed information on charges and prompts them for shipping and payment information. Many sellers have balked at the feature, saying it poorly duplicates their own end-of-auction e-mails, gives out private information and does not let them opt out of it.

"Checkout as an idea was an excellent one, but Checkout as an implementation was pathetic," said Bob Miller, one of eBay's top sellers. "It was a mistake for them to roll out such an incomplete product at this time of the year without sufficient testing."

eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said Checkout was designed to address one of the most common complaints of eBay buyers: What to do after they have won an auction. However, Pursglove said "a lot" of sellers have complained about the feature.

San Jose, Calif.-based eBay plans to continue to monitor feedback on Checkout during the next several weeks and address people's complaints, Pursglove said.

"We still want to hear from a much larger segment of our community," he said.

But that may be too long for some sellers who say they are already moving to other venues.

Deb Fazio, for instance, used to list 100 items a week with eBay, but she is in the process of moving everything over to SellYourItem.com, an eBay competitor.

"This is more than I can handle at this point," said Fazio, a Havlock, N.C., resident. "This is the icing on the cake."

The Checkout function is only latest change at eBay to draw the ire of the company's users. Last month, many sellers criticized eBay's Auction for America, the company's fund-raising effort to benefit victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Many charged that eBay was taking credit for their donations and that the effort was little more than a promotion for Billpoint, eBay's proprietary payment service.

This summer, many eBay sellers railed against a new service that recommended competitors' items to their losing bidders. eBay later addressed sellers' concerns by allowing them to opt out of the recommendation service.

Sellers using Checkout enter details such as shipping costs and taxes. These details show up on their item and allow buyers to quickly calculate how much their item will cost.

At the end of an auction, buyers press a Checkout button that gives them the total cost of their item and prompts them for their shipping address and credit card information if they are using eBay's proprietary payment system.

Many sellers already use similar services from companies such as Andale and AuctionWorks to help buyers complete their purchases. But the Checkout process has duplicated these efforts, adding a flurry of new e-mail between buyers and sellers.

"This creates a lot of confusion in the marketplace when sellers already had a solution in place," said Paul Lundy, chief marketing officer of AuctionWorks. "This came along and threw a wrench in it."

Pursglove said the Checkout feature is an option and that buyers and sellers both can opt out of using it.

"Even if we have to fine tune this particular component, buyers and sellers ultimately have the say as to whether the system is going to be used," he said.

But many sellers say Checkout is not optional at all. Even if they choose not to enter any information into the Checkout form, a Checkout area still shows up on their auctions and eBay still prompts buyers to click a Checkout button on their auctions once they close.

"They need to look up the definition of optional in the 'Oxford English Dictionary'," said longtime eBay seller Michelle Carter, who lives in Louisville, Ky.

Another chief complaint is that the Checkout process replaces the personal communications sellers have with buyers. Many sellers send customized e-mails to buyers after their auctions end, often including their businesses' logo and a personalized note. Although the Checkout form includes an area for sellers to write a note to buyers, many say that is not enough.

"I want to give my customers good customer service, and this is not doing it," said Fazio, who sells pottery and industrial tools.

Even more troubling to many sellers is that the Checkout process is automatically giving out private information such as home addresses and telephone numbers, which they say they would not otherwise share with buyers. Many submitted the information to eBay to set up their accounts, but typically give post office boxes or business phone numbers to customers.

"That was a very badly thought-out idea," said Miller, a Utah resident who sells collectible stamps and postcards on eBay. "People don't like putting their personal information out on the Net. They don't trust it."

Pursglove acknowledged the problem, but noted that the private information was only being given out to the buyer and seller who were trying to complete a transaction.

"We are releasing information that sometimes people don't want to give out," he said. "We clearly have to address that issue."

Other sellers complained that the feature lacks a "shopping cart," meaning that there is no way to automate multiple purchases from one seller. Meanwhile, some sellers charged that the feature was yet another way for eBay to push Billpoint. Even if a seller says that he or she does not accept Billpoint, a buyer using Checkpoint can request that he or she accept it.

"You can still say no, but it's just an awkward spot to put a seller in," said Miller, who generally declines to accept Billpoint. "I think they pushed Billpoint a little too hard."

Although Miller said he would stay with eBay despite the problems, others say they are leaving for good. Carter, for instance, used to list 300 to 400 craft- and computer-related items each week on eBay. But she has just listed six items in the last week and is exploring other sites, including Yahoo.

"This is the straw that broke the camel's back for a lot of sellers," she said. "It's definitely the straw that broke Michelle's back."

The turmoil over Checkout comes after an upbeat meeting with analysts Monday. Despite the economic downturn, eBay projected that it would continue to maintain its torrid growth rate and reaffirmed its commitment to reaching a previously stated goal of $3 billion in revenue by 2005.

Part of the company's effort to reach that goal depends on drawing new buyers and sellers and getting them to conduct greater numbers of transactions on eBay. Pursglove declined to comment on whether the company has seen any downturn in the number of listings since it implemented Checkout. However, the company has consistently seen its listings increase, despite sporadic complaints from customers.