eBay down for August scheduled maintenance - lessons learnt on Twitter

In a previous post I mentioned how Twitter is being used by people to monitor the availability of web services, and for web services themselves to communicate with its users when their primary channels (website, mobile app, etc) are unavailable. See: BBC website goes offline - Twitter community all a flapper.

Today was another example of such a need for Twitter, however in this instance, the web service got it a little wrong.

eBay down

On 23 August 2013, internet auction and online shop ebay started having some technical issues. Their customer support tweeted just before 9am:

  • Ask eBay ‏@AskeBay 8.56am 23 Aug
    Hi All, aware of issues accessing eBay this morning. We are working on resolving this as soon as possible. Thanks

Just after 9.30am, eBay’s UK Twitter account tweeted (in an interesting tone of voice):

  • eBay.co.uk ‏@eBay_UK 9.36am 23 Aug
    Morning everyone, to clear up some confusion, the eBay system is currently undergoing scheduled general maintenance...
  • eBay.co.uk ‏@eBay_UK 9.36am 23 Aug
    ...During this maintenance period, certain features may be unavailable or slow. We're sorry for any inconvenience caused.

This has led some Twitter users to suggest that the phrase 'scheduled maintenance' is being used to cover-up something unintentionally going wrong, particularly as no service would normally schedule such work during peak trading hours:

  • Ben C ‏@b3nc 10.55am 23 Aug
    @eBay_UK Very clever "scheduling" maintenance for mid morning on a Friday...Exaclty where can the notification be found? I smell a pork pie.

Trust and respect

For a site as big as ebay, perhaps they don't need to worry about trust and respect with their customers (customers both in the form of people who by things off ebay and those shop sellers who pay to list and sell items through final value fees). There is a large enough user-base that even if you have a few thousand disgrunted customers, many others will still use the site. However, many consumers feel they need to trust the seller and the site that they are working on, and presenting a professional online presence is important to many small traders who use ebay as their primary outlet. The relationships they build up with consumers can easily be shattered by technical faults beyond their control. As such, for a site like this, we have to ask why isn't 'scheduled maintenance' communicated in advance and the site completely deactivated for the duration.

  • Jasmine Jaume ‏@Tales_of_cake 10.53 23 Aug
    Pretty poor show from ebay. Site down for 'scheduled maintenance' during UK business hours that no one was warned about, & no answers to qs.

On ebay's UK announcement page, linked from the footer in grey, small text:

Scheduled maintenance is allocated to 7-9am UK time on 23 Aug. Albeit announced with less than 24 hours notice, and tucked away on a page that no-one looks at. A note was subsequently posted to say that maintenance was over-running.

The impact is of course that buyers come to ebay and are stuck with being unable to log in, told their passwords are wrong, unable to bid, unable to contact sellers, sellers unable to sell or access dispatch info. Each of these has a negative impact on the buying/selling experience as to the lay person, ebay just doesn't work. Whilst this might not harm ebay's business overall, it is the small seller that takes the brunt of this service downtime and poor communication.

Negative perception

The key reason why scheduled or overrun maintenance is such a contentious issue for eBay (at least one complaint Tweet per second around 11am this morning), is that eBay is in essence a time-critical operation. Auctions expire, dispatch deadlines must be met, rapid communication between buyer and seller is important. Where access to the site prevents auction participation at the last minute (which we have all experienced this is when the bids tend to come in), then businesses could lose out. For those operating 'shop fronts', the internet is an immediate environment. If one site doesn't work, you go elsewhere. Time is most definitely money. However, will eBay compensate those who missed out? Unlikely, not least due to the practicality of working out levels of compensation for larger volume sellers. Perhaps a few 'free placements' for all those who had active listings? Some users think this would be a good idea:

  • Steven Dix ‏@MERLINDIX 11.15am 23 Aug
    @eBay_UK NOT GOOD ENOUGH EBAY! THIS IS MY TOP EARNING DAY OF THE MONTH! HOW ABOUT A REBATE ON MY FEES THEN?

Honesty is the best policy

eBay as a large site doesn't necessarily have to answer to the calls of its users. Just like Facebook and Google (try getting an individual response out of Google about email, calendar or any other free service), its accountability is only determined by the percentage of users who boycott the site. Yet, with an act that clearly does not favour its customers (sellers) and its business model which depends on their success, surely an 'honesty is the best policy' approach would be regain trust and maintain relationships. 

  • Knight & Dae ‏@KnightSolstice 10.37am 23 Aug
    oh, so #ebay's down. why didn't just put that on their homepage instead of telling me my password is incorrect??!!

If they know something is wrong, deactivating the site and putting up a notification that the site is unavailable, and more importantly, communicating during downtime by telling users when to expect it to be up and running again, is not difficult to do. It avoids the anxiety, the complaints and the knock-on effect on confidence that bumbling on hoping it'll be ok leads to. 

Many Twitter users have been calling for an update:

  • Anne Murawski ‏@AnneMurawski 11.14am 23 Aug
    @eBay_UK When do you estimate full service will be resumed ?
  • BeautyColor ‏@BeautyColoruk 11.14am 23 Aug
    @eBay_UK  Where is the update?????

Yet, coming up to three hours on, no news from @eBay_UK.

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