EBay to increase customer support and cut fees

In response to complaints from users, eBay Inc. will expand customer service in the U.S. and Canada while reducing some of the fees it charges sellers, the online auction company announced Sunday.

Within the next 90 days, eBay will limit automated e-mail responses to customer queries and increase its telephone support, said Bill Cobb, eBay president of North America, in a message posted on the company's Web site Sunday.

"Our users will get a 'real' e-mail response to their questions -- you'll hear from a human being who will try to help you with your problem or question right off the bat. We will only use auto responses to acknowledge receipt of spam or policy violation reports," Cobb said.

Additionally, beginning April 1, all eBay Stores owners -- sellers who pay a monthly subscription fee to run "stores" on the site -- will also have access to phone support, Cobb said. Such support is currently offered only to its biggest sellers (Silver, Gold, Platinum and Titanium PowerSellers).

EBay, in San Jose, California, charges a variety of fees to people selling items through its site, be it through its auction process or at fixed prices. When an item is initially listed, sellers are charged an insertion fee of between US$0.25 and $4.80, depending on the starting or reserve price of the item for sale. Once the item is sold, sellers pay a percentage of its final price. There are also optional fees for such services as adding pictures of the item for sale.

Users who regularly sell items over eBay are encouraged to pay for the store service to gain tools for branding and for easily listing items. Features for the stores also include the Store Inventory format, which has the lowest-priced insertion fee on eBay ($0.02), available only to Store sellers. On Jan. 12, eBay announced it was going to increase fees, including a number of store fees, drawing immediate criticism from sellers.

Though Cobb acknowledged that "this increase has been difficult for some of our sellers," he said the company was standing behind its decision to increase final value fees on Store Inventory format listings. Despite threats from some sellers to boycott or stop using eBay altogether, those fee increases will still take effect as scheduled on Feb. 18. Instead, as a "reward," eBay will credit $15.95 to all its sellers who operate an eBay Store in April, Cobb said.

At the same time, Cobb promised to reduce some other fees charged by eBay. Beginning Monday, the minimum insertion was dropped from US$0.30 to $0.25, while eBay Canada insertion fees went from C$0.35 to C$0.30.

"EBay Germany has always used this pricing, and users there have benefited from higher conversion rates on items with lower starting bids," Cobb said.

The changes will only affect the eBay users in the U.S. and Canada. In the U.K., eBay currently has no plans to follow suit, according to Victoria Sayers, spokeswoman for eBay U.K. Ltd. "Each eBay site is run locally and in the U.K., we equally listen to the community, but we haven't had the same issues raised," she said.

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