Social media is a great thing for small businesses. However, the popularity of online reviews and feedback systems has created a potential problem for freelancers and home workers, which arises when one of life’s bad people tries to take advantage.
Being “held to ransom” by the threat of bad feedback is an occupational hazard for all kinds of online workers. This case study is primarily about a bad experience on eBay, but this kind of thing affects all of us – from freelancers using job marketplaces like Upwork, to hairdressers and childcare providers. If there’s a place to leave feedback, there’s an opportunity for someone to try to exploit it.
Good reviews posted by your customers can bring in new orders and leads. Social media can be a great way to promote a business and many small companies use social media groups and pages to sell their goods and services.
While this can be a good way to promote your successes, it also gives any dissatisfied customers a place to vent. There is also the added problem of people “trying it on” for a refund.
What follows describes my own experience, and that of some others I have talked to. I finish off with some tips on how to deal with the problem.
An eBay Case Study
I am not a prolific Ebayer; I buy and sell occasionally, but was rightly pleased with my 400-odd stars and 100% feedback. I had read of people being scammed with accusations of non-delivery, and people returning things after having obviously worn or used them.
I even heard of a friend who sold a games console, only to have someone return an old broken one in its place!
But it never happened to me, so I didn’t take the threat too seriously.
How wrong I was.
Completely out of the blue – several weeks after selling a brand new and sealed DVD, I received what could only be described as a “threatening email” from my purchaser. He accused me of selling counterfeit goods, and demanded a refund.
As a person of a nervous disposition, I very nearly caved in. But then I thought about it. Giving a refund implied I was guilty of something I hadn’t done, and I was not willing to do it.
Following a conversation with eBay, I did nothing and waited for his next move. After hearing nothing for a week or so, I received another threatening email suggesting I could be arrested for selling counterfeit goods! This was swiftly followed by the purchaser opening a dispute case with eBay.
With eBay’s support, I held my ground. I refused the refund. For a while, I thought that was the end of it.
Despite assurances from eBay that the purchaser would not be able to leave negative feedback, he did. And despite several conversations with eBay, it’s still there.
I would have continued to fight, but a relative politely suggested I look at how many hours I had wasted trying to deal with it – when I had other far more important things to do (like work!)
The frustration is that for a small seller, something like this can cause a major problem. eBay feedback ratings are calculated on your sales from the previous 12 months. So if you only buy and sell, for example, 20 items a year, one incident like this means a huge reduction to your seller’s rating. Personally, I don’t buy from people with less than 100% feedback, so – quite rightly – I can’t expect them to buy from me either.
Other Negative Feedback Experiences
Out of interest, I asked around a few of my friends. I discovered that this and similar issues were becoming a big problem – especially for people who only do occasional buying and selling. Here are some examples of what they said:
“The worst one I had was the buyer who gave me a negative review because the dress didn’t suit her!”
“I got a really nasty, unwarranted and personal piece of negative feedback from a buyer; I followed eBay’s instructions about ‘what to do’ to the letter, and have since received another vile message from the buyer.
Because I’m new to eBay this has really dragged me down in terms of ratings as well as morale.”
My experience definitely tightened up my previously lax use of Ebay. And this certainly helped when just a couple of weeks later, I encountered another “scammer.” Fortunately, on this occasion, I was able to provide tracking details and call the buyer’s bluff.
Bad Reviews Harming Other Businesses
eBay is not the only place where a bad review can cause considerable damage.
Many small businesses use pages on social media sites such as Facebook and marketplaces like Etsy to promote and sell their products and services. While a large company can usually suck up a bad review, knowing that it is unlikely to cause ongoing problems, for a small business a few bad reviews can mean the difference between survival and failure.
I spoke to a few local home workers, and they all said the same thing; They felt that they simply couldn’t risk a poor review on social media sites. They felt that if they had a dissatisfied customer they had no choice but to issue a refund to avoid negative publicity.
Unless you lock down your page and don’t allow customers to post (thus closing off an avenue for good feedback), you are leaving yourself wide open to problems with bad reviews. Unless you constantly monitor your pages, an unwarranted bad review may be seen and shared by others before you have the chance to nip it in the bud.
“My customer was really happy with her new hairstyle, but by the time I got home had changed her mind and was asking for her money back. When I refused, she said she would write a bad review on both her and my Facebook pages. I couldn’t risk not refunding, as I rely on word of mouth recommendations.” (Claire, Mobile hairdresser).
Avoiding Negative Online Feedback
So how can you avoid the problem in the first place? Here are a few tips:
– When Ebaying, always get proof of postage and add the tracking numbers immediately, (This certainly went in my favor when a customer claimed they had not received an item.)
– Take a photo of items before you send them, and where possible security mark them in some way. This will avoid the issue of a buyer trying to return a faulty item in place of your good one.
– Keep receipts for items you buy if you plan to sell them later. (Despite having bought the “counterfeit” DVD I sold some time previously, I still had the purchase receipt saved online).
– Make sure your customer is happy before you leave an item with them if possible. The same applies if you provide a service such as hairdressing or other beauty treatments.
– When you have made an item, always take photographs of the finished article. If you make something with moving parts or lights, ensure the customer has seen it working before they accept it.
– Monitor your social media presences regularly to avoid a situation getting out of hand before you have a chance to deal with it.
– Consider if a dispute is worth spending time on. Even if you know you are in the right sometimes sadly it just isn’t worth it.
“If the item I have sold is under £5 I tend to just give a refund; The time spent dealing with it and the additional costs involved just aren’t worth it.” (Hannah, eBay seller).
Have negative reviews held back your business or caused you undeserved stress? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.
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