(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Ever since eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500) announced
changes to its feedback rules and fee structure last week, sellers have
been irate, exploding onto message boards and blogs with discussions about
how the new policies will affect their businesses. But when the idea of a
strike was floated, some sellers and buyers decided to get more organized
about expressing their displeasure.
A discussion thread on eBay's own forums with the title "Sign the
pledge_no sales Feb 18-25!" has received 4,000 posts in nine days, many
expressing members' intentions to join the boycott. The strike is
scheduled to overlap eBay's planned Feb. 20 launch date for its new
policies, which include fee hikes, a 21-day hold on some funds sent
through its PayPal payment service, and disallowing sellers from leaving
negative feedback for their buyers.
Facebook and MySpace pages dedicated to the strike are circulating, along
with an online petition, and a mailing list called the Online Seller Cyber
Union has gathered more than 700 emails in a week. A YouTube video on
Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) entitled "Feb 18-25th 2008: Worldwide Ebay
Strike" has racked up more than 16,000 views since Saturday.
"It's like a rallying cry for other sellers," said Valerie Lennert,
creator of the YouTube video. "It was another way of letting people know
that they were not alone. My inbox is overflowing with people that are
Past boycotts fizzled
EBay boycott attempts are hardly a new phenomenon. The eBay community has
always been stridently vocal about the fee and policy changes that the
company introduces nearly every January, and previous seller strikes, such
as one protesting eBay's 2006 fee hikes, were largely ineffective.
"We've seen a lot of these. They haven't really changed eBay's mind
before," said David Steiner, president of AuctionBytes, a trade
publication for online merchants that has followed the online auction
industry since 1999. "But this is a pretty severe one. People are much
angrier than last year."
EBay says it's unworried by the rebellious rhetoric.
"We have a passionate community, and we are not surprised to hear them
voicing concern," eBay spokesman Usher Lieberman said via e-mail.
"However, when our sellers have had ample opportunity to evaluate the
entire package we now offer and consider the traffic and trading velocity
we deliver every day, we are confident that they will conclude eBay
remains their best business partner."
Nonetheless, support for the planned strike later this month seems to be
snowballing. Some sellers see it as their last resort for protesting
changes more drastic than any eBay has previously unleashed.
Joe Hackney of Sadetha, Kan., has run a business selling used motorcycle
parts through eBay auctions since 2002. His decision to take part in the
boycott means losing a week of business: about $6,500 in gross sales, plus
the cost of wages for two employees who will be sent home on paid leave.
If the action is successful in persuading eBay to change its new rules,
Hackney thinks it'll be worth it. Otherwise, he expects the new fees to
cost him an extra $4,000 a year, an expense he says he has no choice but
"I'm scared because there isn't anywhere else to go," he said. "I've
looked at other sites and there's no one there."
Other upset sellers are hoping to colonize new sites with a fresh influx
of fleeing eBay merchants.
Joyce Wilson of Marion, Ohio, makes scrapbooks and sells them on eBay
through auctions and a storefront. She plans to boycott eBay, but she's
also already moving her products to Etsy.com, an online store for handmade
items. She knows that she won't get as much traffic as she does now, but
she's confident that she can start bringing some of her eBay customers to
the new site.
"I'm in the process of looking into other options," she said. "But I'm
going to see what eBay's reaction is. It's up to their reaction whether I
stay or not."
YouTube videomaker Lennert, who has also been handing out boycott fliers
at her local post office in Anaheim, Calif., feels she has no choice but
to protest and hope eBay takes note. Last month, she quit her job as a
social worker to instead sell doll clothing on eBay full-time. Less than a
week later, the fee changes were announced, and Lennert realized that they
would put too much pressure on her bottom line.
"Now I'm interviewing for another job because I don't think I can pull it
together enough to make a profit on eBay," she said. She plans to boycott
eBay both as a seller and as a buyer.
"That's it. No more, until something is done about these changes," she