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A Buyer's Guide to eBay's Detailed Seller Ratings.

Updated on March 26, 2011

A Buyers Guide to the eBay Detailed Seller Ratings.

I've been buying and selling on eBay since 1997 - long before DSRs (Detailed Seller Ratings), feedback scores, and even feedback itself! So I thought it might be nice if someone with a bit of history would help explain what they believe DSRs are intended to do, and how buyers should really be using them. eBay places a lot on the shoulders of its sellers, and DSR scores are just the most recent yoke to be added.

I personally believe most buyers mean well but simply do not understand the impact DSRs and feedback can have on a seller's ability to sell, to earn an income. In some ways, it's like your child bringing home a report card with C's, and D's.... and no comments from the teachers as to why, just that they are not doing well in Reading or Speech. How can your child improve, how can you help them, if the people doing the scoring don't explain what the problem is? That's what low DSR scores feel like to sellers.

So we're going to take what I hope will be a brief tour thru the DSRs, and I'll give you MY impression of what they mean and how a seller should be scored. You may agree, you may not. But perhaps just the opportunity to think about what eBay is doing will make you think twice when you rate that next transaction.

A Brief History

(or: How Did We Get To This Point?)

eBay hasn't always had Detailed Seller Ratings, or feedback for that matter. In fact, it's been a long time getting to where we are today, so let's revisit those early days. (btw: this is based on my memory, not any official timeline, so if I've got a few things out of sequence, please just drop me a note):

- Originally, eBay was just a place where you could list something for sale and other people could buy it. No Detailed Seller Ratings. No feedback. Just buyers and sellers getting together, all payments sent via the USMail, and purchases received or not. Simple, except for the scammers.

- Then feedback was added. At first, anyone could leave feedback for anyone - eBay thought this would help buyers determine if a seller was someone they would want to do business with. Except for those who lied about other members.

- This was followed by restricting feedback to buyers and sellers who participated in a specific transaction. And while buyers and sellers could leave each other positive or negative feedback for each transaction, only the feedback from their first transaction was counted as part of the receiving member's feedback score. But cheats still found ways to cheat.

- The first of many 'fixes' was to count neutral feedback comments as negatives. "Corporate-think" was that if the customer was not pleased enough to leave positive feedback, the transaction was a poor one. Many sellers saw their feedback ratings drop because of this. The confusion appears to start here - if a neutral was really a negative, what else wasn't really what it seemed?

- The next 'fix' was to allow all feedback to count - not just the first feedback rating left by any member. Duplicates were counted if the purchase date was more than seven days apart. Many sellers saw their scores and ratings climb because of this. This change actually made sense, which of course generated more confusion amongst sellers, as most eBay changes seldom made sense.

- Detailed Seller Ratings added. Using a 5-star scale, with 5 stars being the goal sellers were told to strive for. Four scoring areas were defined: Item As Described, Communications, Shipping Time, and Shipping And Handling Charges. Member education was optional - you didn't have to know what you were scoring in order to leave a score.

- DSR's first used to remove the "worst of the worst" sellers. The idea was to restrict and then remove those sellers with the worst DSR scores. And the scammers loved it -- since DSRs were 'secret' and they could ruin someone's ratings without being exposed!

- DSR's added to Best Match search results sorting. Again, the idea was to restrict and limit the exposure of those sellers with the worst DSR scores. So the cheats moved into overdrive and buyers started to realize they could easily extort more from sellers who were 'on the brink'.

- Sellers receive automatic 5 rating for Shipping Cost when including Free Shipping. Sometime just before Sep 1, 2010, eBay updated the DSR process to automatically give sellers a "5" for Shipping Cost if the listing included Free Shipping. Buyers are not allowed to change the rating or remove it.

- Sellers receive automatic 5 stars for Shipping Time when DC or Tracking added within 24hrs of payment. eBay now restricts buyers to a 5-star rating in Shipping Time if the seller posts a USPS Delivery Confirmation number or other carrier shipment tracking number to the transaction within 24hrs of payment. The flaw here is that payments made late Saturday evening simply cannot be shipped within 24hrs... as the Post Office and most carriers are closed Sundays.

Along the way, the PowerSeller system was 'revised' (ie: scrapped) and replaced by the Top Rated Seller system. TRS does make sense, as it focuses more on seller performance and less on seller revenue generated, but sometimes it can feel like eBay is making changes just for the confusion/chaos they create -- disruption of the norm because someone says it's good for you.

So what does this mean to buyers? Why should a buyer care what ratings they leave for a seller? Should buyers even care/bother to leave feedback and/or DSR ratings at all? These are some of the questions this lens will attempt to answer, along with getting you, the buyer, more involved with the eBay feedback/DSR system. It's all they give us, so we have to use it as best we can, to help promote those who do well and remove those who don't care.

A Personal Note

(or: Editorial Comments - How Fun!)

Commerce is based on trust. Buyers spend their money with merchants they trust, or that are recommended by people they trust, or that people in general recommend. Pretty much in that order too, I suspect, as the closer the reason for the trust is to you, the more comfortable you are. You trust your own experiences first, those of trusted friends next, and those of the crowd after that.

Taken in that context, the changes eBay has been making are with the best of intentions. But no system is foolproof - as soon as eBay puts a system in place, people (usually dishonest people) will find a way to 'game the system' and distort the results. The more eBay tries to use the data they have available, the more people will try to distort that data and manipulate it.

Trust goes both ways -- buyers want to trust the sellers they buy from and sellers want to trust that the buyer they are selling to. eBay has placed themselves in the middle, initially by simply providing a venue, a place for buyer and seller to meet. But in more recent times, each change they make to 'improve' the system has only unbalanced the system, restricted sellers and emboldened scammers.

This lens is my attempt to help buyers understand how I feel DSR scores should really be used. You may agree, you may disagree. But if I can get you to think, then we've already made the first step on our journey. And if we all do what we can to spread the word, who knows how far we can go, what impact we can have. To me, it's worth a try. What's it worth to you?

DRS-1: Item As Described

(or: Did You Get What Was Listed?)

This Rating should be used to rate how well the seller described/defined the item being sold -- and how well you, as the buyer, understood what they wrote. That means you have to actually have read the description in its entirety, and ask questions if anything was unclear. It's said that the average shopper spends as little as six seconds looking at a web page before deciding to move on or stick around. That's a very short amount of time... perhaps not enough time.

I tell new sellers: "Write as if you have no pictures, use pictures as if you have no words." What does this means to buyers? It means you should find a complete description of the item along with sufficient pictures. "Complete" means it provides accurate information - from make and model to size and fabric. Regardless of what it is, the written text should provide the detailed information you need to determine if an item will work for you. "Sufficient" means you should have enough pictures to provide an accurate view of the item, enough to show any physical damage or wear, enough to show special features, enough to satisfy without overwhelming. And while the written details should include any defects on not-new items, with pictures of said defects whenever possible, as a buyer, you need to realize that not all defects are going to be noticed by the seller, and not all defects noticed can be photographed successfully.

  • So how do I rate items I purchase, when it comes to Item As Described?
  • "5" - The item I received matches the description and photographs in the listing.
  • "4" - I'm satisfied with the item I received, but there were some small differences between the description in the listing and the item (for example, a few defects missed that did not affect usability but could have/should have been spotted and part of the description). If the description in the listing had been complete, this item would have rated a 5.
  • "3" - There were numerous defects/signs of use that were missed.
  • "2" - The item delivered clearly is not the item described or pictured, or is not in the condition described (running vs non-running, new-with-tags vs soiled/stained/unwashed).
  • "1" - The item received is not even the same make/model as listed or is heavily damaged. The seller didn't even try to get close.

The difference between a "4" and a "5" is very subjective, but I tend to give the seller the benefit of the doubt, and take into account other unrated aspects of the transaction.

DSR-2: Communication

(or: Did The Seller Keep You 'In The Loop'?)

The Rating for Communication is highly subjective, as some buyers want much more information from their sellers while other simply want the item purchased to be delivered on time. No seller can possibly know your exact requirements for communications, but there are a few things to look for when rating a seller:

- Did the seller clearly explain the shipping method to be used? Sometimes this is in the eBay shipping details (that separate tab you look at), and sometimes it's in the listing itself. If a seller quotes a flat shipping amount, check the description to see if they define exactly how they are going to spend that amount -- what carrier (USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc) and what class of service (First Class, Priority Mail, Express, Ground, Overnight, etc). You should have enough information to determine the carrier and class and the exact charge. Did the seller communicate this information?

- Did the seller confirm shipment? This is important, for several reasons. Firstly, it lets you know your item is on it's way, that it has been turned over to the carrier and is out of the seller's control. It also lets you determine if the seller shipped "on time" -- did they get the package to the carrier within the stated number of business days? You cannot count weekends, since not all carriers will accept packages on the weekends (especially Sundays), and even the Post Office is reconsidering Saturday functions. And no one likes to work on Holidays!

- Did the seller respond to any questions within a reasonable amount of time, and did they actually answer your questions? Do not expect sellers to be sitting by their computers 24x7 waiting for your questions. That's simply unreasonable and is going to make you unhappy. Reasonable for most businesses, and individuals, is within 24hrs of the request. If you ask a question Monday afternoon, you should get a response Tuesday morning. Ask on Friday afternoon and Monday morning is the reasonable response time -- you have to allow for weekends and holidays.

And did the seller actually answer the question asked, or just "it's all in the listing" and not really address your question? First, be sure it wasn't already in the listing... :)

  • So how do I rate items I purchase, when it comes to Communications?
  • "5" - The seller kept me informed and answered my questions in a timely fashion. There was sufficient information in each email to allow me to easily connect the message to the item I was bidding on or had purchased. Proper spelling, good grammar, complete sentences and no 'cell phone shorthand' - these are definite pluses!
  • "4" - Slow communications (2-3 days per reply) and/or emails that were more than just a bit brief on details. It would not take much to upgrade a 4 to a 5, but this seller just doesn't seem interested.
  • "3" - Very slow communications, with little to no real content. This seller isn't even trying.
  • "2" - Little communication beyond eBay/PayPal generated message. Unsatisfactory responses to any questions asked.
  • "1" - No communications, no answers to questions, and messages comprised of excessive shorthand, derision, and/or even profanity. This seller really wants to be kicked off eBay.

The difference between a "4" and a "5" is very subjective, but I tend to give the seller the benefit of the doubt, and take into account other unrated aspects of the transaction. I should also state that I have never given a 1 or 2 rating to any seller, nor can I recall ever giving a 3.

Open communications are a two-way street, as much the responsibility of buyer as of seller. When rating the seller, you are also sometimes rating yourself -- did you communicate clearly and without threat (implied or explicit). Did you give the seller enough time to answer before the listing ended? Did you read the listing a second time to ensure you weren't asking a question already answered in the listing?

DSR-3: Shipping Time

(or: Did It Ship When It Was Supposed To?)

Ah yes - shipping time. This is possibly the most mis-understood of the four DSR rating areas. It does not rate how fast the item got to you -- that is a function of the carrier used and class of service paid for, and the seller has NO control over how fast the USPS moves its packages, or how fast the FedEx jets or UPS trucks drive.

What this rating area IS about is how fast the seller got your item into the hands of the carrier. That's the only part of total delivery time the seller has any control over -- how fast did they get it wrapped up, boxed, labeled, and into the hands of USPS, FedEx, UPS, or whomever. That's all. After that, it's up to the carrier to fulfill their commitment

Whether or not the seller shipped using the stated carrier and/or service level is covered, in part, by another rating (shipping charge). All I've ever rated sellers on for shipping time is how long, from the time my payment cleared PayPal, did it take them to get my package to the carrier. And that doesn't just mean printing the label! Look at your carrier's tracking data - most will show both the date/time the label was printed and the date/time the package was actually received from the seller. Just because the label was printed Monday doesn't mean the carrier got it that day!

And remember - Saturday and Sunday don't count. You might be able to drop things off early Saturday, but the carriers are closed on Sunday, so expecting a seller to get a package into the hands of the carrier on Sunday just doesn't make sense. If I pay on Friday, I don't count Saturday or Sunday as "shipping days". I prefer to spend my weekends with my family, and I would hope every seller I buy from, be they an individual or corporation, would feel the same. Business has it's place... and for me, that place is AFTER family. So I simply don't count weekends. Or holidays, whether recognized as Federal non-work days or not.

  • So how do I rate items I purchase, when it comes to Shipping Time?
  • "5" - The item was packaged, labeled, and turned over to the carrier within the time-frame stated on the listing. If the seller states "ships within 48hrs, then I expected the carrier to have the package by the close of business on that second day. Did the package get to the carrier when it should have (allowing for holidays/weekends)?
  • "4" - As Max Smart would say "missed it by that much. If the item is hard to package, delicate (where additional packaging would be helpful, or very large/heavy, then I might give an extra day on shipping time. But I allow that based on seller experience as well -- a more seasoned seller should know better. :).
  • "3" - Shipped a few days late, and by 'a few days' I mean no more than 2 or 3 days.
  • "2" - Shipped more than a few days late... with no good reason offered by the seller (which might have changed this 2 to a 3).
  • "1" - Shipped very late.

With some 13,000+ shipments of my own made over the years, I'm well aware of how time-consuming proper packaging and shipping can be. And I always try to give the seller the benefit of the doubt... but as I said, the more experienced the seller, the more transactions they've completed, the more accurate and timely I expect them to be. :)

DSR-4: Shipping And Handling Charges

(or: Were You Charged As Indicated?)

This rating has always bothered me, because there's a lot of leeway in what eBay allows and what they seem to be telling buyers is acceptable. Here's how I break it down....

I expect to see a shipping charge. This can be either a stated flat rate or can be a calculated rate - I don't care which, but it has to be there. eBay fixed this problem some time ago and now requires listings to have at least one stated shipping charge amount. So there's really no reason for a seller to post a listing with no stated shipping charge, either in the eBay shipping details or within the listing itself. If it's not there, I just move on to another listing.

I expect the shipping charge to be reasonable. And by that I mean it covers the cost of transportation charges (USPS postage, FedEx/UPS carrier charges) and a reasonable amount if the seller is providing the box and void fill. If the seller is reusing a box, and re-using packing peanuts or bubble wrap, I'll be taking that into consideration when making allowance for 'handling' on the shipping/handling charge.

  • So how do I rate items I purchase, when it comes to Shipping Charge?
  • "5" - Was there a stated/calculated shipping charge, and did I find it agreeable? Did the seller ship using the carrier and service level stated? Were the box and packing materials clean, with no odors or stains, and in very good or new condition? Was the difference between the shipping charge and the carrier fee reasonable given the packaging and my estimate of how difficult the item is to pack?
  • "4" - There was a stated shipping charge, and it was agreeable, but the box was not clean, or smelled, or the packing materials were very clearly used (nearly flat bubble wrap, flattened packing peanuts, etc).
  • "3" - There was a stated shipping charge, and carrier/service, but they were not used, or the item was clearly 'underpacked' and packed in clearly used materials. I don't mind 'going green', so long as it's clean.
  • "2" - Clearly overstated shipping/handling charge, with no attempt to even try to make it look like time was spent packaging the item purchased.
  • "1" - Seller stated premium shipping service, collected a premium fee, and then ships USPS Parcel Post or whatever other slow-as-mud cheap carrier they could find. Box is just plain nasty and not even suitable for composting, packing materials are just as bad. This package has you wondering if it's safe to touch... or open.

It should be noted that eBay now (as of 09/01/2010) automatically assigned a rating of "5" if the listing included Free Shipping. Which makes sense -- the cost can't get any better than free, can it? So the buyer is not allowed to change this rating, nor are they allowed to remove it.

The difference between a "4" and a "5" is very subjective, with my higher rating going to sellers who are clearly trying to present a more professional, more 'polished' appearance. For comparison, when I purchase from 'mainstream' mail-order merchants, I get new boxes, new packing materials, a clear label, a packing slip inside.... and if I get this from an eBay seller, at a reasonable/realistic cost, they'll get a 5 from me! And just to let you know -- I've never received a package that rated lower than 3.

Why Should I Worry About What DSR Scores I Give A Seller?

(or: What's The Big Deal Anyway?)

All buyers should worry about how the seller DSR scores are applied.... because that seller you bought from today may not be on the site 2-3 months from now, when you want to shop again. And that means that you have to take a chance on another merchant, instead of shopping with someone who's already proven the quality of product and service they can provide.

Also, sellers who 'gain traction' and establish themselves on eBay tend to have, in my experience, better products, better service, and better prices. The service part is easy to understand - practice makes perfect, and the more they sell and ship, they better they get at it. Better products come as a function of ongoing sales and profits. And better prices are also a function of ongoing sales and business growth. So it is very much in the interest of future purchases that buyers understand the impact of the DSR scores they bestow upon a seller.

But these are just my opinions, formed thru years of eBay sales. :)

I hope I've helped answer any questions you may have had, and especially that I have helped buyers see how I feel the DSR scores -should- be used, and why they mean so very much to sellers. If you like what you read, please tell your friends! And don't forget to "Like" this lens and give it a 'thumbs up' rating as well! eBay isn't the only place with ratings! :)

Comments are always appreciated, so please feel free to write!

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    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great article!!!!

      eBay's DSR is misused all the time it's a joke.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very very good. Wish all buyers could read this. A 5 gold star rating !!!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Wonderful article. I hope all buyers will take the time to read this and understand the DSR ratings. Furthermore, I hope and pray that eBay will take the time to read this. They need to know the impact their changes are having on honest, trustworthy sellers.

      Thanks, Bob

    • katrina9799 profile image

      Katrina 6 years ago from Klokkevold

      Excellent work! I've shared this page on Facebook.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Excellent lens! Has a great deal of information and excellent breakdown of each category. Well done!

    • SilverLotus1 profile image

      SilverLotus1 7 years ago

      Another fine ebay lens!