The New York Times has noticed that not everything offered for sale on eBay is genuine. They observe in relation to buyer and seller feedback, which ostensibly helps prevent fraud:
EBay's feedback system that allows buyers to post negative reviews of bad sellers is supposed to protect customers like Ms. Pollack. Yet all of the alleged counterfeiters had consistently positive ratings.I think more explanation would be helpful, as eBay's system of feedback permits sellers to effectively coerce buyers into leaving good feedback or withdrawing negative feedback.
Ms. Steiner of AuctionBytes.com said this situation was not uncommon. Buyers and sellers are often reluctant to leave bad reviews, lest their own reputations suffer.
I have purchased a number of items over the years from eBay, none of which were counterfeit. Each and every time, the seller did not give me feedback until I had rated the seller's performance. During the same period I have heard numerous complaints from aggrieved buyers who left what they claim to be accurate negative feedback about sellers, only to find that the seller posted a negative rating and comments on their account. The seller then offers mutual withdrawal of the comments, never mind the truth. eBay's policies on negative feedback are effectively seller-oriented. I don't know if they were designed to be so favorable to the seller, but I am not particularly surprised that they remain that way - eBay makes its money, after all, by keeping its sellers happy and maximizing the number of items available for sale.
In most cases the only action by a buyer that can be rated by the seller is how quickly the buyer paid for the purchased item. Given that reality, eBay should consider adjusting its feedback system such that the buyer can leave feedback about the seller at any time, but the seller cannot see the feedback and the rating is not incorporated into the seller's profile until after the seller rates the buyer. While there may be some buyers who manage to manipulate that system, for the most part I think it would lead to more accurate ratings and reduce the fear buyers face when they receive shoddy, broken, or counterfeit merchandise.
Update: Over at Crime and Federalism, Mike proposes a reasonable ratings reform of his own, and promises a future analysis of whether eBay is a criminal enterprise under the RICO statute.