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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Hacking eBay

I use the term hacking here in a positive sense, i.e., getting what you want out of it despite the intended design, not breaking and entering or anything. Like hacking your personal iPod for different graphics or new features or something...

I thought I'd rant a bit here about how eBay sort of imposes assumptions about payment procedures that do not always accommodate the "real world(TM)".

I'm a bidder mostly, and bid on a lot of stuff-- usually smaller items, various collectibles, etc. I've developed a process where when a seller requests a payment that I have to physically mail (check or MO), that I don't like to set the "payment sent" flag until I've *actually* mailed the envelope, rather than when I print out the invoice. So, what I usually do, is go far enough through the process until I get the sellers address, item & total information, print the page, and then not go any further through the process. This causes the item to remain in my eBay list as a reminder that it hasn't actually been paid-- as at this point I still need to address an envelope, write a check or go to the post office to purchase a MO. What I then usually do is to go back to eBay after it's mailed, and do a "mark payment sent" in the dropdown on the outstanding items.

For the most part this works OK, though I suppose it's slightly subverting then intent of eBay's procedures. I prefer it to the alternative where the printout or envelope could end up getting buried under stuff on my desk or something and not get mailed and I would have no other reminder for it as a failsafe.

But recently I got hit by a problem on the other side of the equation-- I inadvertently double-paid because I forgot to set the "mark as payment sent" after mailing. I then won additional items from the same seller, and ended up combining the already-paid item into a future payment.

Fortunately, the seller informed me of this and asked if I wanted to use it as a credit on a future item. I said yes, and a new item came up shortly that went for the exact same price so I indicated to apply the extra payment to that.

Unfortunately, in this case the *seller* forgot to clear the "item was paid" flag (or whatever the sellers have on their end for that). Consequently, eBay sent the seller an email which apparently confused the seller and I ended up getting an Unpaid Item Dispute on the item. On further communication with the seller I found it difficult to get it understood that it was important that some action be taken by the seller to clear up the dispute on their end so I don't get penalized by eBay-- and I'm still working through that process. The seller sells lots of items on ebay but appears to have a somewhat vague idea of how the disputes work. Finally I found a response box in the dispute console that I think sends the ball back in the sellers court, and it looks like it'll probably get cleared up at this point. But, the whole process was somewhat anxiety-producing. A long time ago I had a couple of cases where payments weren't in fact sent (before I started my current procedure) and found that eBay can choose to suspend an account which locks you out from bidding and I really don't want that to happen...

One option I *wish* I had was to be able to set the status of an item to some intermediate state so I know that I've printed out the invoice but haven't flagged it as mailed yet. "Mark as Payment Sent" is too all-encompassing, I'd like to have the status broken down a little more which would help things out here. Other people I suppose prefer it the way it is though, so I'm not too hopeful that such a feature will become available. I'm sure I could hack myself up a solution, if I feel like spending the time on it (though at the moment, I don't)...

This is not the first time I've ended up repurposing eBay's mechanisms (or other systems and bureaucracies, for that matter) in order to preserve my own workflow. I've been a computer programmer for 20+ years, and I've always felt that it is critical that computers make it easier for individuals, and do NOT force individuals to adapt just to make it easier for computers. After all, computers are flexible and are certainly capable of adapting to individual interests. Because I'm a programmer, I can usually tweak things into submission, but many people will just let existing systems dictate to them how to behave-- I'll find an alternative service or an automated representative before I'll submit to using a poorly designed computer program, but that's because I'm hard-nosed about what I think computers should do for people. I use customized ad-blockers, spam-filters, script-filters and even sophisticated realtime-web-page-editors to convert the web-experience into what I want out of it rather than simply accepting it for what it is. I guess I'm unusual there though, pardon me for not being a sheep...

End of Rant.