eBay Apologizes Over Webinterpret Localization Glitch

eBay is at the center of a cautionary tale when it comes to automated localization. Towards the end of April 2018, eBay sellers received an email about a new promotion the ecommerce platform was running in partnership with Webinterpret, an international ecommerce localization company that has been one of its partners since 2011.

The promotion was also advertised on eBay sellers’ Seller Hubs along with a sign up link.

Source: eBay Community forums

The promotion for the program backfired, however, when seller complaints began piling up against eBay and its partner, Webinterpret.

18,000 Free International Listings

The program allowed interested sellers to list their items on one or more of six international eBay sites: www.eBay.com.au, www.eBay.co.uk, www.eBay.de, www.eBay.fr, www.eBay.it, and www.eBay.es. Seller’s listings are automatically translated into the language of the target site, e.g. listings on eBay.com.it are translated into Italian.

Participating sellers were not required to pay listing fees (insertion fees and final value fees) for the first 3,000 listings on every site for 30 days—from May 1 to 31, 2018.

It essentially offered eBay sellers 18,000 free international listings for 30 days to see if they like it. Except, the promo backfired for some sellers who clicked the sign up link, leading to several complaints against eBay and Webinterpret.

eBay has since issued an apology to its sellers, saying a “technical error” occurred when the banner sign up link was clicked.

A List of Concerns

According to varied sources, from blogs to eBay forums to Twitter, the main complaints eBay sellers have voiced include:

  • No double opt-in due to technical error. Many eBay sellers are complaining that they clicked the sign up link only to learn more about the promo before making the decision to join, so some feel that they were signed up without their express consent. eBay confirmed that from May 1 to May 4, 2018, a “technical error” occurred that caused the automatic opt-ins. “Our intention was to direct you to an informational sign-up page,” eBay said in an apology emailed to sellers. “Unfortunately, when you clicked on the banner, you were auto-opted into the promotion.”
  • The program reportedly took the sellers’ inventory and duplicated each listing six times (for the five EU sites and Australia) without them knowing. With sellers’ inventories suddenly ballooning to six times their usual number, some complained that they were reaching their listing limits. According to eBay, “selling limits are designed to help [sellers] grow [their] business in a manageable way and … As [they] get more comfortable meeting buyer demand, [eBay will] increase [their] limit.” Since the program increased inventory six times over, sellers with a lower limit might not have been able to add new items to their inventory.
  • The program transferred free shipping listings to international sites. As a result, EU buyers saw “free shipping” on all of the listings that were US based. One comment in the ecommerce blog where Slator first picked up the story said: “One buyer in Ireland saw the free shipping and ordered an item from me. He didn’t realize he was setting himself up for a 60% duty and a $25.00 administration fee. I had to call eBay to get it cancelled without a defect…The buyer contacted me, angry that it had been cancelled.”
  • Inventory management confusion. With sellers suddenly managing six times their listings, they were unable to do so efficiently, e.g. unable to sort by date effectively. If one item sold, all six duplications got transferred to “closed listings” and had to be managed from backend.

One seller commented that “to return to a state of normalcy took 12-16 hours and I have a low listing count. If someone with 1000+ listings signed up, it would have taken several days to back it down.” Another seller wrote: “We have one copy of most items we list, and now we’re at risk of selling 6 of the ‘same’ item on multiple platforms at the same time.”

Online Backlash

The online backlash to this issue has been going on for a few days. eBay sellers have taken to ecommerce blogs, Twitter, and the eBay Community forums to voice their concerns.

On Twitter:

Although not all Tweets about the topic were negative:

The same furor can be found on the eBay Community. Some are calling the program an outright scam, and other are confused and irate about the situation.

Slator reached out to eBay and Webinterpret but has not received a response as of press time.

Webinterpret’s Chief Marketing Officer Herbert Knibiehly did speak to the ecommerce blog that broke the story, and offered to help sellers cancel their programs. He said only eBay can help with listing limits, however.

“Our goal is to allow sellers to easily test their potential for cross border trade,” Knibiehly reportedly told the blog. “We’ve been partnering with eBay on international programs for years and we’re committed to help sellers grow their business worldwide.”

However, apart from eBay’s apology sent via email, sellers claim that some of eBay’s support channels has been unresponsive regarding the matter, with the exception of Twitter.