When Dee Stevens started selling on eBay two years ago, she embraced the concept of a global marketplace. The 52-year-old Methuen resident shipped her products, mainly used designer footwear, to customers all over the world.
But the limitations of global mail — a web of postal systems of varying quality — soon became apparent. Some clients claimed they never received their purchases, and without package tracking in certain countries, Stevens could not prove otherwise. So to keep customers happy and maintain her high rating on eBay, she reimbursed buyers for shipping and the cost of the purchases, putting her business into the red.
“It was killing my bottom line,” said Stevens, who stopped shipping internationally after her losses topped $2,000.
The reluctance of US sellers like Stevens to ship outside of the country prompted eBay last year to develop its Global Shipping Program, or GSP. The goal was to simplify and standardize international shipping through the electronic marketplace, which has 25 million sellers.
But the program has had a rough rollout, showing how challenging it is to educate and gain the trust of so many participants in a sprawling electronic business. With the holiday buying season in full swing, some sellers — and buyers — remain unconvinced that the program actually makes it easier to do international business on a small scale.
Sellers are mainly concerned about keeping their customers satisfied. Peter Givertzman, 52, who sells Oriental furniture, shades, and decorative screens, only ships within the United States from his eBay site.
“It’s all about the customer experience. I have to be able to control as much of the shipping as possible to make sure it gets there in good shape,” said Givertzman, who runs his business from Cambridge.
International buyers cannot leave negative feedback about the Global Shipping Program, but can still leave unsatisfactory feedback generally about their experience with sellers, which is why Stevens does not want to participate.
Under the eBay program, sellers mail items to a Pitney Bowes warehouse in Erlanger, Ky., where employees open and repackage items, billing the buyers — not sellers — for shipping and customs fees. A handling fee is added into the charges, but neither eBay nor Pitney Bowes would disclose how the fee is calculated.
Some international buyers have complained about high costs associated with the shipping program, but they are able to see any additional charges before deciding whether to complete a purchase.
“Fees that are due on the purchase of a specific item are disclosed to buyers in the item description and throughout checkout,” said Manish Joneja, head of eBay’s Global Shipping Program, in an e-mail.
Because sellers are not informed about the fees, some worry they may be alienating customers by saddling them with extra costs they can’t control.
Despite the concerns, the Global Shipping Program has expanded to more than 40 countries from just 18 last year, and eBay recently introduced a simpler selling template that includes links to more information about the program.
Bruce Myint, 38, has become a believer — the program has helped increase his business by 20 percent, he said.
“Lo and behold, I had all of these customers in Italy, Asia, and the Middle East,” said Myint, who sells vintage sports equipment, cameras, and cellphones from his home in Western Massachusetts. “If there’s a problem, it’s all on [eBay], as long as I fulfill my end of the bargain.”
Paul Infantino, who sells vintage home goods on eBay from his home in Mansfield, has used the shipping program twice. In both cases, he said, the packages arrived safely at their destinations. But Infantino, 60, was troubled that he could not find out what his customers were charged, prompting him to opt out of the system.
Overseas buyers are often sensitive to shipping charges, which frequently cost more than the items they are buying from the United States. For instance, Infantino recently mailed a $100 vintage stereo receiver to a customer in Morocco, who paid $150 in shipping fees and duty.
“I have shipped all over the world: Russia, China, Japan, Germany, Australia, Great Britain, India, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Switzerland, Turkey, Sweden, Turkmenistan, Czech Republic, Bolivia, and many other places,” said Infantino. “It gives me a greater sense of control to do it myself.”
Susan E. Reed can be reached at email@example.com.