I’ve been a semi-active ebay member for over 11 years now, maintaining a 100% feedback record with little effort, just by being fair.  I’ve had a few minor issues, but all were eventually resolved.  One time I bought a coin that wasn’t what was shown.  The seller said it was the only one of its kind in his inventory so there was no other possibility.  It was a stalemate until the last few days that I could leave feedback.  I sent a message asking if the other coin had been found.  By some miracle, it appeared in the back of a drawer!  He let me keep the first coin, though it wasn’t worth anything over the 50 cents of the coin itself.  One other time I got an item that wasn’t as described.  The seller didn’t reply to a number of ebay messages or emails over a couple weeks.  Finally, I left him a “neutral”.  Within hours, they sent me an angry email.  Funny how stuff like that works.  Some time later, I noted that the member’s ebay account had been closed.  Go figure.

Well, here’s a new one for you.  I bought a computer game at retail and never had a chance to open it during the return period.  I just haven’t had time or interest for games lately.  It was new in a sealed box, so I put it up for sale on ebay.  It sold, for somewhat less than the retail amount I paid.  It was a limited edition that hadn’t been available at retail for some time and mine sold for one of the lowest recent prices on ebay.  I offered USPS Priority flat rate and UPS shipping.  The buyer opted for the cheaper one, of course, even though the auction clearly said USPS was, “at your own risk”.  I also stated “no returns” in the auction rules.  I shipped it next day and it arrived a couple days later.

The buyer claimed the outer product box was damaged (but not the contents).  He said that as a collector, “this detracts from the value of the item imo.”  He also said it was, “very imporperly packed.”  I politely replied that the item was packed exactly as stated, using the medium flat rate box specified in the auction and I even included extra cardboard lining the priority mail box for protection.  For a collector, I wondered why they hadn’t opted for the insured shipping option.

Well, as a seller on ebay, it turns out that you don’t have much protection at all.  Ebay protects the buyer, even if you put in “no returns”, “at your own risk”, like I did.   So, I immediately offered the buyer what eBay advises in such cases that go to their resolution center: “Buyers are expected to return an item if they want a full refund. We’ll ask the buyer to ship the item to you—with tracking information—within 7 days. eBay requires buyers to pay the cost of return shipping, unless you and the buyer have come to a different agreement.”   I though that was pretty reasonable for a first offer.  I did request a photo of the damage, though hypothetically, the buyer could have damaged the box himself if he was really only interested in the contents (which comprised all of the real value).

The buyer didn’t think it was so reasonable.  It became clear that he wanted only one thing; to keep the perfectly good contents and also get a further discount in the form of a partial refund.  In fact, he stated that he had apparently requested and received this type of refund from other sellers!  In his words, “In the past if I’ve had such a problem with a product, in most cases the seller would issue a small refund in order not to deal with all the hassel of restocking the item and so on.”  That threw up a red flag as a potential scam.  Well, as I guessed, there was no willingness to negotiate and in fact, they never bothered to reply to my offer at all.  No photo or tracking info was sent.  So, I eventually sent a polite reminder and asked that the buyer file an official dispute in the resolution center if he hadn’t shipped it yet.  I said I would offer a full refund through the resolution center, provided the contents were returned new and unused.  I even suggested that the return shipping cost was negotiable.   I finally got a reply.  He said, “I don’t want to take the time, energy, and money to ship it back to you and find a replacement. I will simply be unhappy with the condition of this item and use it.”  I mean, seriously.  The USPS delivers Priority boxes to your door if you can’t make it to a post office.  You print out a shipping label online or through ebay/paypal and put it in your mailbox or request a pickup by your mail carrier.  It wouldn’t have cost him a cent, had he been willing to work with me, and maybe taken 5-10 minutes of time like it did for me to ship it to him in the first place.

I don’t sell much on eBay.  I had no idea that buyers would do this.  Maybe the buyer really was a collector of computer games and the box damage was important to them, even though I never did get a photo.  Maybe they really didn’t know how to easily ship it back via the post office and then somehow justified that it was fair to request a post-auction discount on a pefectly good item.   Or maybe it was a routine scam to keep the contents of value and extort a partial refund, too.   In any case, it demonstrates a perfect way to dishonestly work the ebay system as a buyer with no possibility of being caught.  If it was a scam, the only reason it didn’t work this time is because I could care less about the box, even if it was damaged.  While I couldn’t resell the item as new, I’d just keep it for myself or my son to play eventually, especially since I didn’t even get what I originally paid.  As for the buyer, he got a good deal and apparently wanted a better deal.  As they implied in their message, I guess previous sellers always refunded some money to them, rather than pay for a restocking fee or risk negative feedback.   Of course, now I no longer have a 100% feedback rating.  He dropped it to 80%.   The irony was in his negative feedback, where he said that *I* was stubborn for not giving him a discount, even though he refused to discuss it at all.  I guess he hadn’t encountered a seller who called the bluff, requested a photo, allowed a full refund for returns and didn’t care much about negative feedback.  In that regard, perhaps I was almost as stubborn as he was and thus I earned my negative feedback the honest way. 

Sadly, eBay no longer even allows sellers to leave feedback to unscrupulous buyers who know how to work the system.  There is now simply no way to know if a buyer is a scammer.  The only recourse I had was to use the ebay feedback reconsideration tool.  This allows me to “officially” ask the person to retract their feedback.  As my son would say, “Roffel.”  I was very polite in my request.  Of course, the buyer ignored the request.  I also contacted ebay customer support, in that I had followed all their posted recommendations on how to handle this type of situation.  Of course, they sided with the buyer and did nothing but tell me how great their system was.  Apparently, they simply don’t realize how their great system can be systematically abused by buyers.  Fortunately, they were helpful in telling me how to close my seller’s account.  Given the very high fees you pay as a seller and what little you get in return in terms of protection, I don’t think I will be selling on eBay again, so I closed it as they instructed.  I guess that makes the negative feedback mostly irrelevant.  Problem solved!

For anyone who does sell on ebay, be sure to take photos of the item and serial numbers as shipped and always offer only insured, trackable shipping.  Even that isn’t a guarantee, as I was told that ebay apparently doesn’t require that buyers actually make insurance claims anyway.  It gets worse.  That new carseat you sold?  The buyer can return a used or broken one, or really just an empty box or a brick.  As long as they have proof of shipping, there’s a good chance that ebay sides with the buyer and can even take money from your Paypal account.  Craigslist seems like the way to go as a seller (or even Carseat Swap).  You get no protection on Craigslist or Swap, either, but at least there are no listing or final transaction fees and if you use cash or money order, then eBay/Paypal can’t freeze your money if a buyer files a complaint.  Usually, the saying goes, “Let the buyer beware.”  If you even consider selling on ebay after reading this, do a Google search for all the scams buyers can pull and how many sellers get ripped off, either with no help from ebay or perhaps with ebay policies actually aiding the buyer scam.  There are plenty of seller scams, too, but without negative buyer feedback on eBay, it’s clearly, “Let the seller beware.” 

Anyway, buyer, if you’re out there reading, and you probably are because you are so unhappy that I allowed you to return the item, I can only say this.  Happy trails.  For others reading, please feel free to share your experiences with questionable ebay buyers and sellers.