eBay Negligence and a 22 Year-old Twinkie

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What I want to discuss here, is how a company can create failure by turning over too much to automation and off-shore support.  That failure can hurt its customers.

Today, I learned eBay has some serious flaws in its business processes.  In this case they truly affected the probable success of a charity auction.  This level of automation and seeking to avoid hiring people to do a job real people need to do, is where eBay is failing and in my opinion negligent.

Even as I wrote this I realized what makes this story of eBay so frustrating, is that they actively promote people putting their businesses and charities online.  They tell us to promote our auction listings.  So while each listing may carry the weight of a business or organization’s hard work, eBay has a system that throws away listings like they are worthless.  There is no undo or trashcan we an recover the listing from, both software technologies are over two decades old. When they end an auction even by mistake it is incinerated, destroyed with all the bids and extenal promotion work for that listing.  They do not value their own service, yet we are suppose to.

A Historic Theater and a 22 Year Old Twinkie

The story begins with the 111 year-old Historic Everett Theater, that needed to raise some funds if it wanted to continue to show films.  Its half-century projectors work fine, but Hollywood is ending the distribution of movies on 35mm film.  They will need a digital system or they will have to stop showing films.

Enter the 22 Year-old Twinkie.  Matt Terry, the unpaid, passionate Film Coordinator for the theater, in 1990 bought a box of Twinkies and put one away in a wood box to see how long it would last.  Given the sad demise of Hostess and the fact that Matt had just kicked off a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.com the idea of using a 22 year-old Twinkie auction to raise some money and gain publicity for the theater seemed perfect.

I am Matt’s brother-in-law.  I have worked on marketing programs for Microsoft and I have done online work for small businesses and non-profits.  The idea came on Thanksgiving, but we didn’t just rush out and put the Twinkie online.  We did hours and hours of preparation (unpaid.)  We followed the entire process eBay outlined for setting up a 501(c3) account on eBay so the auction funds would go to the Theater and not fees etc.  We did everything right.

We used our website 22YearOldTwinkie.com to anchor the part of the campaign.  Set up a Twitter account and Facebook page. We started the hard work of building “buzz.”  With the hope of hitting a viral goldmine and getting the funds for the theater.

We did everything right, except we trusted eBay to be a professionally run business, which it clearly is not.

It was working.  One of the area’s largest radio stations KIRO FM recorded an interview, in which Matt discussed the end-time of the Twinkie auction.  The Everett Herald was writing a story about the Twinkie and the fund raising for the theater.  I even invested $120 of my own money to pay for a professional press release through PRWeb. That was scheduled to go out early December 5th.

By Tuesday evening, December 4th a week before the auction close, we had nearly 300 views and 3 bidders.  That is a terrific start for an auction.  We were building Buzz locally, with the hope it could go national.  The auction listing had 4 days of maturity to validate the idea when the Press Release went out.

Tuesday evening, PRWeb sent me a note about what edits I need to make to our press release, for it to receive full distribution.  I noted this process clearly meant a real person reviewed our content and made clear helpful suggestions.  I made the edits and resubmited for a Wednesday morning release.  All is good, I went to bed.  It’s nice doing business with people who value their customers. You can see the final press release here.

We did everything right, except we trusted eBay to be a professionally run business, which it clearly is not.

How Trusting eBay Damaged Our Charity Auction

Again eBay was NEGLIGENT with its customer’s asset and destroyed real value we had created with hard work and planning.

At 7:30 am I get up and start checking all my Twinkie sites for problems or new traffic etc.

To my shock, our eBay posting been removed!!  Gone was the link we had tweeted out all weekend. All those tweets are broken and will have to be deleted.  Gone are the nearly 300 views we had that helped reinforce the buzz for our auction.  Gone are the very early three bidders we had that validated that this was a real auction for a real item that had value.

Can a Computer or Someone in India Understand the Value of a 22 Year-old Twinkie?

There are messages in our eBay inbox telling us because “they suspected”, not that “we reported” suspicious activity on our account and it had been suspended.  Not because WE did anything wrong, but they wanted to confirm IDs.

That’s like shooting a possible victim at crime that never happened!!

From what they tell me this is an automated process.  There is no way a computer could know how to look at the listing, see all the back-links to that theater’s websites etc. and know all was fine.  eBay didn’t do the proper thing and flag it for review by a human, and if they did that person clearly was not trained well enough.  The computer just canceled a 4 day old listing with active bids, and suspended our account until we called back.  eBay was negligent, in that they turned over a customer account and customer asset of value to a machine to manage.

When I called, I was talking to a very nice man in India.  He was very professional, bcause I was yelling mad, I had no clue how betrayed and cheated I felt until he answered.  I don’t use profanity. But I was loud and upset, I have worked tech support lines and I was a nightmare call.  Because I didn’t want to hear “I’m sorry”.  As a customer and a charity customer, I need to hear.. “We are ready to fix our mistake.”

That never came.  After three supervisors.. I am still told there is no way, even though we passed the ID check, to turn back on our original listing.  It’s gone, destroyed by an automated process with no clue the work and timing that went into the creation.

Again eBay was NEGLIGENT with its customer’s asset and destroyed real value we had created with hard work and planning.

Even after talking to the supervisor’s supervisor, they have no access in India to any technical support people who could help them do one of two simple things, recover our original posting. Or at least help us repost with the same end time. [We have had to repost after losing a full day, the day our press release went out.  The new posting is set to start at 7PM PST December 5th and end one day later than before]

eBay acts like they have no ability to manage their own system. Or is it just they save money by routing calls to India, and not trusting those people with the ability to serve the customer and correct errors?

I don’t yet know where this will go, I will never know the cost to the charity when bids were canceled and people saw our press release but ended up with a removed item error on eBay, instead an auction with three bidders and almost 300 views.

That’s like shooting a possible victim at crime that never happened!!

I do know:

  • That we lost 4 days of momentum on our auction. We lost bids and validation that comes from planning and getting page hits.
  • Our first charity auction was made to look like it was dishonest so our reputation was damaged.
  • And I have lost all trust for eBay, it a poorly designed and run business, which has the monopoly on a useful service by being there first.
  • I do know that eBay doesn’t value the importance of their service as much as some of us made the mistake of doing.  If they did, they wouldn’t destroy auction listings so easily.

At some point eBay and other business need to understand to destroy customer value with an automated process is not efficiency it is negligence.

One more note: eBay promised me a call back, and they NEVER did.  Again you can be poorly run, and still make money.  That is sad.

3 Responses to eBay Negligence and a 22 Year-old Twinkie

  • Carol Kirby says:

    Having recently dealt with HUGE automated companies (Chase Bank, LA Fitness, Sallie Mae) and attempted to get situations resolved through requests to speak with customer service’s supervisor’s supervisor’s supervisor, and still not getting anyone who could/would override their computerized processes, you have my sympathy. The only way I could get their attention (and it took I think 60 days) was to file complaints with the Better Business Bureau.

  • Sharon says:

    I am following your plight over at fitinfun.com as I also sell Hostess Products on EBay – though not of your vintage. This setback may actually help you if you get the word out far enough. I eagerly wait to find out.

    Don’t neglect the traditional EBay Marketing ideas just because you are a non-profit. Try to find people, parents or grandparents of those born in that year and I think you will have a hit.

    Best of luck to you and your Twinkie,

    Sharon @ fitinfun.com

  • Pingback: Bad Branding: Weight Watchers 2013 | SeattleWriter

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