Run silent, run deep: the SL Marketplace and eroding merchant trust

Update October 4th: Linden Lab have issued a forum post on this matter, please see LL updates on listing enhancements.

Linden Lab depend on land tier (server space, call it what you will) for  80%(ish) of their revenue. This places them in an awkward position vis-à-vis providing any form of tier easement, even if they wanted to (as I’ve commented before).

The remaining 20% comes from the likes of Premium membership, and more particularly, the SL Marketplace (SLMP). In the case of the latter, the revenue doesn’t only come from the 5% commission on goods sold through the Marketplace, a lot of it comes via the listing enhancements merchants are encouraged to pay for. These theoretically boost sales by placing items in places such as the SLMP home page, or on the Checkout pages, and are paid for on a 30, 15, or 7-day rolling subscription basis, costing merchants between approximately $5.00 and $12.00 USD a month per item, with some merchants paying over $200 USD per month for enhancements.

Listing enhancements – can amount to a pretty penny in outlay per item

Earlier this year, the system went haywire, failing to take due subscriptions for around a two-week period (JIRA WEB-4638). It was finally resolved by Linden Lab taking a single, large payment from merchants’ accounts. While people had no issue in paying for services rendered, the problems here were that a) next to no forewarning was given that accounts were about to be so debited, leaving many merchants with a sudden and unexplained drop in their account balances; and b) many were billed in excess of the two weeks subscriptions actually owed (with some reporting being billed for up to four weeks); while c) the billing information received made it hard for merchants to actually determine which of their listing enhancements had been billed, or even if the right enhancements had been billed.

This understandably led to some confusion within the merchant’s forum, and not a little upset, particularly as some merchants had also been faced with an inability to cancel some of their listing enhancements due to an ongoing issue with many items remaining stuck in a “locked” mode, preventing them from being edited – a situation itself which at the time was some 18 months old (and is now some two years old, and still awaiting resolution – see WEB-2974).

While merchants were refunded for any overcharging on their account as a result of the billing issue, the manner in which the situation was handled by LL resulted in something of a drop in trust where the Marketplace is concerned, and a number of merchants publicly indicated they would be ceasing in their use of enhanced listings.

At the end of July, the problem started again, and was raised as a topic for discussion in mid-August, as well as having a new JIRA (WEB-4927) raised against it. Neither the discussion thread nor the JIRA drew comment from the Commerce Team. Instead, a single payment was taken from all “at fault” accounts, again without any forewarning, and again with Merchants facing issues over what, precisely, they have been charged for, and whether those listings they have made payment against are actually active.

Failed subscriptions for August – courtesy Ry0ta Exonar

Again, the problem here is not so much that things Went Wrong and broke again – that’s pretty much taken to be the standard operating condition for the Marketplace nowadays – but how the Commerce Team managed the issue. Almost nothing was said on the matter (again), with the only communications forthcoming from the Commerce Team being a terse instruction not to re-open WEB-4638 after Ry0ta Exonar attempted to do so (hence WEB-4927), and a brief Marketplace dashboard message posted on September 28th, which simply said:

We are aware of some issues with Product Listing Enhancements. Keep an eye on the Grid Status page for more details.

With neither the dashboard message or Status page message actually stating what was about to be done.

So is it little wonder that merchants are again looking at listing enhancements with a jaundiced eye? Several have re-stated the fact that they will no longer participate in the process and others have stated they are terminating – either automatically or manually – their subscriptions. Given that LL are seeking to increase their non-tier related revenues, one would think that ensuring the one service which does so is run with a level of professionalism and communication that would not undermine customers’ faith in the service, or their willingness to place money into it.

Currently, and added to the rest of the ongoing litany of issues and problems with the Marketplace, this doesn’t appear to be the case.

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