EBay outage leaves users out of luck

It's not that no one was interested. "People contacted me on Tuesday morning saying they were interested in bidding on my items," she says. The problem was a service outage at EBay.

For almost an hour on Monday night, many EBay functions were unavailable. The problem was a power outage at one of the internet service providers EBay uses, says Kevin Pursglove, an EBay spokesperson. From 5:57 to 6:47 pm Pacific Time, customers could not list or view items, or place bids. Also unavailable were the registration functions, the Feedback Forum, and My EBay, which lets you track specific auctions.

During the last hour of Forbes' auction, which is typically the busiest time, no one could view or bid on her items. "People often wait until the last minute to bid," she says.

And now Forbes, like many other EBay users, is left with little recourse.

"I'm required to sell my items to the highest bidder, which in this case is the only bidder," Forbes says.

Forbes was selling low-cost items, but says money's not the issue. "Sure, it's small potatoes dollar-wise, but the principle is the same whether its $3 or $3000," she says.

EBay is no stranger to technical difficulties. The site experienced some high-profile outages last year, including a 22-hour outage in June 1999. Since then, EBay has beefed up its technology and its technical staff and has, apparently, been running smoothly with only a few minor outages. In fact, the EBay site was named the Best of the Web by PC World in the August 2000 issue.

Monday night's outage was not related to technical difficulties within EBay itself, Pursglove is quick to explain. "The problem was simply a power source issue with an ISP," he says but will not disclose the name of the ISP.

To many whose auctions ended during or shortly after Monday's outage, that explanation simply doesn't matter. EBay's message boards are filled with postings from angry users who want EBay to extend their auctions to compensate for the time lost during the outage. But EBay won't.

EBay has a posted Hard Outage Policy, which was "developed over time through constant consultation with our users," Pursglove says.

"For any hard outage (when bidders cannot place bids) lasting two or more hours, EBay will automatically extend listings for 24 hours and will automatically credit associated fees for affected listings," this policy states. The policy covers any listing scheduled to end during the outage or in the hour following the outage.

Because Monday night's outage lasted only an hour, the policy does not apply. EBay answered one customer's request for an extension with an email stating, "Unfortunately, in accordance with EBay's Hard Outage Policy, auctions will not be extended. If your listing ended with a high bidder, you are obligated to sell your item to that bidder."

Customers can contact EBay's billing department and ask for a credit on the listing fee, which typically ranges from US25 cents to $1, Pursglove says. "But if you sell the item, you're indicating that you're satisfied" with the selling price, he notes, and EBay may not credit you the fee.

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Liane Gouthro

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