eBay Charity Efforts Draw Cynicism, Complaints

Some eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) users, questioning both the auction giant’s motives and requirements for a charity auction benefiting victims of last week’s terrorist attacks on the United States, are accusing the company of building its corporate image at their expense.

“How dare eBay ask we small sellers to bankroll their generous contribution to the National tragedy,” one eBay user said in a message posted at AuctionWatch. “I will do it my own way, thanks so very much eBay! And the kicker — we as sellers just pony up the shipping and insurance.”

eBay spokesperson Kevin Pursglove told the E-Commerce Times that “when you are a company the size of eBay and in the media eye, there are always people who will question your motives.”

Launched earlier this week with the support and praise of New York Governor George Pataki, eBay’s Auction for America aims to raise US$100 million in 100 days. Sellers who choose to participate in the charity auction donate their merchandise and agree to pay the cost of shipping. eBay is waiving all transaction and listing fees, and the major credit card companies have agreed to waive their fees as well.

As of Wednesday morning, 71 percent of eBay’s users said they do not plan on participating in the Auction for America because they have donated in other ways, according to a poll on the Web giant’s site.

Unfair Competition

One of the biggest complaints that eBay users have about the Auction for America is that the wave of patriotism sweeping the country will cause buyers to choose to buy Auction for America items instead of other items listed for sale at the site.

“As I see it, my auctions that I depend on to feed my family will not be looked at,” AuctionWatch poster Tree 411 wrote. “The (charity auction) box even has an American Flag. It is a lot of pressure being put on both the buyer and seller to purchase only for those sellers in the program. A program like this would be good but not if it eliminates all the eBay auctions we as sellers offer.”

Some eBay users also believe buyers will choose to bid on Auction for America items because eBay is requiring all sellers, instead of buyers, to pay for shipping.

Shipping Dilemma

“There are many sellers that depend on their income through eBay to support them and put food on the table,” Dawna34 wrote at AuctionWatch. “What I am seeing is that if a charity auction has a widget selling for $20.00, and a regular auction has the same widget for $20.00 plus $5.00 shipping, why would a buyer bid on the regular auction when they can get the charity widget for $5.00 cheaper … and they can feel good about buying the widget because the amount went to charity.”

Pursglove said that eBay “worked all weekend on a way around that” but couldn’t find one.

“We wanted to make sure every single penny went to charity,” Pursglove said.

Building Billpoint

Users are also complaining because eBay has said that the only acceptable payment form for Auction for America items is Billpoint. Some view the charity auctions as a mere ruse to gain users for Billpoint.

“This just seems like a way to get more users to join Billpoint by making them feel bad if they can’t participate,” Alanuk wrote at AuctionWatch. “There are more ways to make donations and I for one will not be joining Billpoint just so I can do this.”

According to eBay’s announcement board, payments must be processed through Billpoint because a special version of Billpoint is being used to “ensure all funds go to the charity and to give the seller a charitable donation receipt.”

Going On Their Own

Some eBay users who took the initiative to run their own auctions and donate the proceeds to charity also complained that eBay cancelled their auctions without explanation.

Pursglove said that some independent charity auctions may have been cancelled because the sellers mentioned the World Trade Center in their headline, causing the auction giant to believe the items were in violation of eBay’s temporary ban of listing World Trade Center memorabilia.

However, Pursglove said that if the descriptions, and not the headlines, say that proceeds will be donated, eBay will allow the independent auctions to stand.

“There are those who would like to contribute in other ways and we respect that,” Pursglove said, adding that participation in Auction for America was strictly voluntary.

In eBay’s Defense

Other eBay users applauded the company for donating $1 million of its own money and for giving them an easy way to contribute to the relief efforts.

An AuctionWatch poster named Thedeway chose to auction off handicrafts through Auction for America. The poster wrote that the auctions had already resulted in $300 being donated through his auctions.

“I could not have afforded to donate $300 out of my own pocket,” Thedeway wrote. “So even though I don’t always approve of the things eBay does, and I’m no means a ‘cheerleader,’ I am glad to be able to do this in order to help those who are in need. And that’s what counts, right?”

24 Comments

  • eBayers have found a way to counteract (to some degree) the effect the A4A – Auctions 4 America Program is having on their sales.

    They have started S4S Program – Sellers 4 Sellers.

    If you’re a Seller, when you list your auctions put at the end of the title s4s. Also include it in your item descriptions. Upper and lower case S4S and s4s.

    Buyers – when shopping eBay, if you too, feel this A4A Program is unfair to the average seller, please include s4s in your search title, and check the box that reads “Search title and description”.

    It’s a start, I hope it helps some of us make ends meet. Good luck!

    • Also, ebay has just pulled the poll. But people do have screen shots of the results and how badly ebay stuffed the ballot box. Shame on you ebay!

      One more thing, ebay is donating $1 mil, the SELLERS are donating the other $99 mil. Get it right.

      • Sheri has it right!

        If you don’t want to participate then fine – but don’t whine because someone else is selling the same product through the charity auction. Next you’ll be asking the government to step in and subsidize you becuase of how “unfair” it is that someone is willing to donate their items to charity.

        If you don’t like it – boycott eBay. I’m betting you need them more than they need you!

        • God Bless America, true! Since you do love your country so much, I suggest you also give up your salary from now thru December 31st. Because that is exactly what this program of eBay is suggesting. Sellers GIVE ALL PROCEEDS to Billpoint directly. As well as pay for all shipping costs.

          Now, I ask you, if a buyer sees two CDs on eBay, one via “Auctions of America” and one just listed regular, which do you think they’re going to bid on?

          Also, a reality check, if I may: who can afford to WORK FOR FREE for 100 days? If you can, then I guess that makes you a better American?

          Lastly, eBay is NOT honorable in this endeavor. i.e. They issued a statement that “NO WORLD TRADE CENTER or PENTAGON items may be sold until after October 1st”. In respect to all the lives lost, and also their families. Yet now, if sold through the “Auctions for America” Program, it’s permissible. Shamelessly upping their # of participants in this Program.

          • Above I posted a copy of the letter that was issued if a bidder bid on a World Trade Center or Pentagon Auctions, and then the auction was cancelled by ebay.

            Now, since they’ve started their “Auctions for America” Program, here is the NEW letter which they’re sending out on these same auctions:

            “Please be aware that auction:

            XXXXXXXX – Time Magazine Latest Issue

            in which you were a bidding participant, has been ended early by eBay as it appears to offer an item or contains material which is prohibited for sale on eBay. Because the auction was ended early, you as a bidder are not required to complete the transaction.

            If you would like to review our listing guidelines for a better understanding of our

            auction policies, they can be found at:

            http://pages.ebay.com/help/community/png-list.html

            Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have on our existing policies.”

            Note the 2 paragraphs about “respect for the families” which are now omitted.

            They obviously realized they could no longer keep those 2 paragraphs in when they’re now permitting these items to be sold via their “Auctions For America” Program.

            In my opinion, this proves that to eBay, the almighty dollar comes BEFORE any respect for the victims or their families.

          • You are correct about the wonderful way corporate AM erica works–most Americans applaud it. Where you are sadly mistaken is marking sellers’ valid concerns about feeding their families as ‘whining’. You are completely correct that sellers will have to revamp their listings to compete…but it will be hard when eBay directs all visitors to the charity auctions. One seller has already tested the market. She was selling the same item in charity and one in regular auctions. The charity was at $66 and 24 hours left in the auctions, the same ended without a bid-with a starting price of $19…facts be told eBay is not separate from their sellers. Ebay is not department store number one and sellers department store number two. What they have done would be like a company cancelling all insurance plans and telling you you’re on your own now.

            jenn

          • “If you don’t like it – boycott eBay. I’m betting you need them more than they need you!”

            Well you’ve got that right. I do need them to make my living!!!!! But thanks to their latest poorly planned endeavor, that won’t be possible until after the end of the year.

            I just spent the morning here in rainy NY at yet another Memorial Service for one of the WTC victims, and believe me, if I had asked one of his young children now left without a father, or his wife, now a widow before the age of 40, if they would appreciate receiving money from the sale of pictures of their father’s office window engulfed in flames….I’m betting their response would be a resounding, “NO!!!!!!”

          • Not many sellers I have talked to are speaking of boycotting eBay. Nor do we deny that we need eBay. The whole point is that it is sad that a charity to benifit those in need could be hurting many people over the next three months. Yes, participation is voluntary, but eBay is going to great lengths to ensure a buyers first stop is the afa auctions…We are the ones who generate their AM azing profits and they are accountable.

            jenn

          • Ed:

            You said “I’m betting you need them more than they need you.”

            And I’m betting that you’re wrong, Ed. A symbiotic relationship exists between eBay and its loyal sellers. I AM a powerseller who’s been around a while. If the “heavy hitter” seller and the other loyal sellers find they can’t make a living on eBay, they WILL be forced to leave.

            And who do you think eBay relies on for THEIR profitability? If sellers don’t do well, eBay doesn’t do well. Period.

          • I have seen the light! You are right Anne! eBay is shamelessly upping the participation in an auction that goes 100% to the victims. And, to make matters worse, according to you they are not allowing non partipating sellers to profit from this. How dare they!

            In response to topics you brought up regarding my original comment…

            You asked if I were willing to give up my salary for 100 days. No, I can not. However, if my company asked if any employees were willing to give up their salary, they are entitled to do as they wish. I would choose not to. If, by others giving up their salary, it makes it difficult or impossible for me to earn my entire salary, then I have many avenues available to me.

            I may choose to continue on for 100 days knowing my income is being limited. Or, I can choose to leave my company and work somewhere else.

            The thing about those selling on eBay is that they are not contractually obligated to ONLY sell on eBay. The thing about the internet is that it is crawling with auction sites. Put these two together and guess what?! As a seller, I could sell my goods on another site! What a concept!

            Also, you keep mentioning the almighty dollar comes before the victim for eBay. How do you figure? eBay is not profiting-they are waiving all transaction and listing fees. You are complaining about your money being lost because someone will buy from the “Auctions For America” program instead of from you. To correct you, I think you meant to say “My Almighty Dollar comes before the Victims!”

            For me, I say again: God Bless Freedom and Free Commerce! God Bless America!

          • it was the sellers & buyers who took ebay to their almighty heights and ebay seems to not care about those who made their climb so successful.

            at a time when charity is needed it should be done in a way where it doesn’t hurt those that are doing the giving, which in this case it does. it is unfair the way ebay is forcing the issue.

            i feel for those in NYC and applaud the efforts of America in pulling together to help those who were affected, but the spirit of AM erica is to pull together not to pull apart, which before anyone says i AM uncaring, i have donated to a lot of different charities, my wife and i donated blood, and we will continue to do so if we can afford to after ebay’s fiasco.

            i AM handicapped and cannot work outside the home so Ebay was a godsend to me.

            it would have been nice for ebay to put a box on every listing saying would you like to donate 10%-20%, 50% or all of this sale’s final sale price and put that figure on their bill just like they do their percentage of sale price commission. that way seller could have had the opportunity to give and still be competitive with all sellers.

            the way ebay did it was like a department store saying we are giving all proceeds of the sales in our store to charity and then locking the doors of store so no one would enter. sellers aren’t whining, it is doing what constitution guarantees: speaking out for fairness and right.

            larry

          • You’ve obviously never sold on-line, and I highly doubt you do now. This is MORE THAN apparent by your replies. They’re pure conjectures, with absolutely no foundation of experience.

            In light of this, I don’t feel I should reply to anymore of your notes. I’ll leave you with this last FACT, eBay DOES stand to make money from this because their membership for BillPoint was nil. PayPal has always been the leader of online payment services. So ebay created this “great” charitable program and made it so that the ONLY ones allowed to participate, (whether they want to donate millions to the victims or not, doesn’t matter to ebay, only new memberships are!) The ONLY ones who can donate are ones that sign-up and register with their BillPoint Payment Plan.

            As a result their membership list grew. Now, when the 100 days are over, they will be able to start charging all their new members their mega-fees for their lower than standard BillPoint service. In addition, the # of registered BillPoint users fools the stockholders, ergo more will invest in eBay, Inc.

            So in the long run…eBay most definitely WILL PROFIT from this endeavor.

            P.S. “God Bless America!” shouldn’t be thrown in someone’s face when they’re speaking freely. Thank you.

          • Well Sheri,

            As Dr. Phil says on Oprah “…you either get it or you don’t.” And you don’t.

            As sellers we certainly don’t object to eBay raising money for the victims and family. It is the method by which they’re going about it that we object to. Just this morning the eBay CEO (Meg) was on T.V. bragging about the $100M that eBay is contributing. The truth is that it’s the SELLERS who are donating the items, providing the labor to list the item, and THEN paying to ship the item. So eBay provides that venue…good for them, but THEY are not the ones handing over $100M, which is apparently what they want everyone to believe in order to enhance their image and get a lot of free publicity. They have gone about this with a complete lack of integrity.

            Please remember that the END does not justify the MEANS. Don’t think they (eBay) won’t profit from this with all the new Billpoint users they plan to get by restricting the payment option to Billpoint only. PayPal offered to waive all their fees so that more sellers would be able to participate and eBay turned them down flat. Most Sellers (and Buyers) who’ve been around a while can see right through their so-called “charitable” program.

          • Sherri, does eBay pay you to be here? What exactly is your business with eBay that you feel the need to attack the sellers who are concerned for their businesses? Many of us do auction at other sites, I do. On no other sites can you list a variety of items and reap the same rewards. We like eBay for this. EBAY is trying to further corner the market by forcing anyone who wishes to keep their auctions alive to sign on with Billpoint (a company eBay owns 40%). I can go hit the streets and find another job; instead, I AM recognizing my desire to stay put and trying to enforce some compromise. Ebay is also allowing certain companies to auction with the afa logo, but they will be collecting money for shipping and using the payment methods they prefer.

            This double standard is most disturbing. Disney is one and in an e-mail from eBay they told me that their contracts with certain companies will be allowing them to auction under the afa but not having to ‘give’ in the same way. If it bothers you so much that sellers are sticking up for themselves, I suggest you don’t read it. This is our business and we are here to protect our interests. If you can not understand the simple concept of ‘best interest’ go ask eBay, they can really help you out. Also, visit Disney, they are not stupid enough to sign on with exclusive Billpont service nor are they gullible enough to fork out for the shipping…go ask them why and come back and tell me I AM silly.

            jennifer

          • Disney refuses to participate in AFA auctions.

            The Disney co. has put their stamp of disapproval on Ebay’s AFA. Disney has offered to run their own private charity auctions in conjunction with the AFA, but refuses to actually sign up for the program.

            Disney will only run their charity auctions for the first 7 of the 100 days.

            Disney is also permitted and requiring buyers to pay for their own shipping, but ordinary sellers are refused these same options.

            Additionally, Ebay is limiting WTC and pentagon items to ONLY AFA auctions. Previously ebay had pulled these auctions saying that they were in bad taste.

            Paypal is used for more than 70% of ebay on-line transactions. Though paypal has offered to waive all their fees in an effort to help with the AFA fund raiser, they have been repeatedly declined by Ebay. Ebay has very effectively cut paypal out of the ebay community for this program.

            Many sellers see possible financial ruin as a result of the down turning economy combined with the effects of having to directly compete with AFA charity auctions through the next 100 days, including the whole retail christmas season. Many are single Moms and can not afford to gamble on uncertain sales in the future. They are already looking for new jobs to support their families as their ebay income becomes less reliable.

          • priscilla – that was wonderfully and very accurately stated. Thank you. I’m also disabled and retired. Until recently, Ebay was supplementing my income so I could make ends meet. I do not know where I’ll be at the end of their 100 days of charity. So far, I’ve received just 1 bid in the past two weeks. Bidders are so hyped up on giving that they comb the A4A auctions only! Ebay has no heart – so they really don’t care – but you’re correct – we are the ones who will be in dire need and very soon!

  • I’m so VERY grateful to read all of the impassioned posts by such EXPERIENCED eBayers.

    Granted, it won’t help us make ends meet from now until 12/31, but at least together we could let others know we do love America, and that’s why the truth should be known about ebay’s latest hoax.

    Good luck to everyone.

  • I’ve been selling on Ebay for three years now…watching sales go down, down and down and fees go up, up and up. Not many sellers will tell you business is better than it was. I believe Ebay’s greed toward the sellers and lack of respect for bidders is at the root cause. It has, and always will be Ebay first – everyone else second.

    This latest self-serving grandstanding on Ebay’s part is absolutely deplorable! It has been suggested that even if Ebay named this “Ebay Sellers Auctions for America” (which it rightly is) that would have gained more popularity for this self-serving plan. Instead – there has been no answer from them. A poll -which Ebay’s pinks say was 3 to 1 in favor of A4A actually turned out to be 73% against A4A and was promptly pulled. Ebay is legendary in throwing its weight around because it’s the “only game in town.” What is clearly needed here is competition – and what is clearly needed is the participation of bidders to try other auction websites. They may be pleasantly surprised and ALL of us would get a fairer deal at this online auction business! As for myself, I shall continue to donate to these tragedies quietly and with no flagwaving – through donations directly to the AM erican red cross – through paypal. I don’t feel I need to further feed Ebay’s giant ego. I suggest everyone else directly donate and leave ebay rightly holding the bag on this farce!

  • I AM a small time seller on Ebay. I AM disabled, and I use the extra money I make on Ebay to pay for my medication that costs me over $400 dollars a month. This was a very poorly thought out plan by Ebay. The thought was a good one, but the way it is being implemented is very unfair and puts the entire burden on one group of Ebay users, the sellers. The buyer is getting a product for his money, so that is NOT a charitable contribution. Ebay is ONLY waiving the fees, and those fees are NOT being donated. They only agreed to donate the 1st million after a lot of complaints by members the day the program was rolled out. A PR move, and for damge control.

    This leaves the sellers holding the bag. The only members who are really contributing are the sellers. Many of us are stay-at-home Moms, disabled, seniors, students, and NOT huge corporations. We simply can’t afford to list auctions that will be in direct competition with the “auctions for AM erica”. WE are not selfish, and many of us have given in other ways. What bothers me the most is the 100 days. Many small time sellers like myself will probably go out of business. We can’t even collect unemployment. How would some of you feel if the company you worked for made a big announcement that they were donating a huge sum of money, and then you found out it was going to be all of your salaries for the next 100 days that was being offered instead? To create a whole new set of victims to help out another set of victims is plain ludicrous. Oh, well, maybe at the end of 100 days, Ebay will hold another charity auction to help out the sellers who lost their businesses. Way to go Ebay. NOT!!!!!

  • Sherri,

    Please read..

    “Be Careful not to do your “acts of righteousness” before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have NO REWARD from your Father in Heaven.”

    “So When you give to the needy, do not annouce it with trumpets as the hypocrites

    do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have recieved their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.

    Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

    Mathhew 6: 1-4

    The Term Hypocrites as used here, describes people who do good acts for appearances only- not always out of compassion or other good motives. Their actions may be good, but their motives are hollow. These empty acts are their only reward, but God will reward those who are truly sincere.

    Our motives for giving must be pure. It is easy to give with mixed motives, to do something for someone if it will benefit us in return.

    “Avoid all scheming and give for the pleasure of giving.”

    It’s easier to do what is right when we gain recognition and praise, To be sure our motives are not selfish, we should do our good deeds quietly or in secret, with no thought of reward.

    Those acts should not be self-centered, done to make us look good.

    With your next good deed ask: “Would I still do this if no one would ever know I did it?”

    [email protected]

  • Boy, everyone needs to quit whining. The world is not all about “Big Nasty Corporate America out to get the little guy!”

    eBay wanted to do something, so they did. No one is forced to participate. In a free market society, the consumer is permitted to choose. If they choose to purchase an item without shipping vs. with shipping, maybe the seller needs to re-evaluate his pricing and marketing stance to compete. If the seller still cannot compete, they should consider another forum/auction in which to sell their goods.

    If department store A decides to donate 10% of all sales to bombing victims, should department store B whine about it and go to the press? No. They will most likely lose sales to department store A, so they are going to re-evaluate their pricing and their marketing to see what they can do to compete with department store A.

    Welcome to America, where Freedom and Free Commerce rule! I would not have it any other way! God Bless America!

  • Lori Enos’ story regarding eBay’s Charity Auctions omitted one other bogus move by the mega-corp.

    They initially said that no items were to be sold on site with regards to this tragedy. If auctions were reported, they were immediately cancelled and the following letter was sent out to the bidder:

    “Please be aware that auction:

    Item # – Item Title

    in which you were a bidding participant, has been ended early by eBay.

    Out of respect for the many members of the eBay community personally affected by the tragedy at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, eBay has temporarily suspended the trade of Pentagon, World Trade Center, and all related items.

    September 11, 2001 has been a terrible day for the United States and many people in the eBay community. The thoughts of everyone at eBay go out to the victims and their families.

    Because the auction was ended early, you as a bidder are not required to complete the transaction.

    We thank you in advance for you cooperation and understanding.”

    Now, however, if the SAME items are re-listed under their “Auctions for America” Listings, they will be permitted to be sold!!

    Why? Because letting them remain will raise the number of participants in their twisted “charitable” attempt. In my opinion, there couldn’t be any corporation with less scruples than eBay, Inc.

  • Ebay has already responded to criticism in their own way:

    they simply altered the results of the poll mentioned in the article.

    One minute they have over 70 percent disapproval, the next it’s down to

    20 percent. Disapproval was over 70 percent all week, and without significant

    change in the number of votes suddenly it turned upside down. It’s

    not an accident, it’s the eBay way of dealing with the public.

    The poll should have been done before ebay donated the time and money of their

    users, not after it’s already announced. Let’s face it, there are plenty of ways

    to donate, and only so much money to go around, so eBay as a middleman was not needed.

    Ebay could have provided simple and easy ways for those who still have money but can’t find

    any charities. Instead eBay management decided on its own to donate something they don’t have

    and get the credit for it. And now they are tampering with the polls to make it look better.

    Ebay is going the wrong way. It’s a good idea under poor management.

    Stan Lee

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