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In a nutshell, eBay wants its sellers to keep a 4.3 or above (out of 5-star) composite average on several metrics on which customers leave feedback. The most controversial is the shipping and handling feedback. A 4 in this metric means "reasonable," but if a seller starts getting mostly 4s, eventually that will pull her overall rating down below 4.3. If a buyer rates the shipping charges as "neutral" (3) or "unreasonable" (2)—even if that perception is mistaken—the seller's ratings will plummet and her account can be suspended. Sellers do have 30 days to increase their rating while they're suspended, but if they're not selling, it's obviously tough to get better feedback.
EBay did not respond to requests for comment submitted last week at its Web site and via voicemail. But it has long championed its small business owners at entrepreneurial conferences and training sessions for sellers. In 2006 former eBay CEO Meg Whitman gave a speech at the eBay Developers Conference, saying 1.3 million people made their living selling full-time on eBay. This year the company co-sponsored the 2008 National Small Business Summit held in Washington.