In September of 2010, eBay instituted a new Buyer Protection Program. This Program basically amounts up to guaranteed return policy in that, under its terms, it permits buyers to receive a refund for essentially all items purchased on eBay. eBay buyers are now eligible to receive a full refund, including original shipping costs paid by a buyer, if the item purchased is not received or if the item received is not as described.
This new Buyer Protection Program protects eBay buyers but it also exposes eBay sellers to fraud and scams and the manner in which the Program is administered by eBay leaves sellers with little or no recourse. Within weeks of this Program being put into place, sellers became targets of buyer abuse, fraud and scams. One such incident, dealing with a purported non-delivery of an item is described in my article of November 29, 2010. Another such incident, also dealing with a purported non-delivery of an item, but with a rather sophisticated twist, is described in my article of December , 2010.
In the past, eBay sellers were allowed to set their own return policy. In fact, they were able to decide whether they would accept an item for a return or not and, if so, the terms and conditions upon which the item could be returned. Most sellers did accept returns within a stated amount of time but most sellers did not refund the original or return shipping costs. By allowing sellers to set their own return policy, sellers were able to weed out some of the scammers as well as buyers who were not serious purchasers.
Since the inception of the new Buyer Protection Program, this right to set their own return policy has been effectively taken away from eBay sellers. This is because eBay sellers must consent to the terms of the Buyer Protection Program in order to be able to sell on eBay. By so consenting, sellers basically agree to accept returns and refund the purchase price in full, including their shipping and handling costs.
So what is an eBay seller to do? The most immediate and obvious answer is to stop selling on eBay. However, many eBay sellers have invested countless hours, weeks, months and even years in setting up and managing their eBay stores and listings and have worked long and hard to build up a good seller reputation. Many sellers have hundreds and even thousands of items listed for sale on eBay. For many eBay sellers, it is not practical and, in many cases, not financially feasible to simply and suddenly stop selling on eBay. The sheer disruption to their business in doing so would in many cases result in severe financial hardship.
Having been a victim of buyer fraud under the eBay Buyer Protection Policy, I have thought long and hard about how to protect myself as an eBay seller. While I have not been able to come up with a plan whereby I would be completely shielded from buyer abuse, fraud and scams, I have a few suggestions for other eBay sellers that may help minimize their exposure. In light of my own experience, this is what I recommend:
1. Use Tracking, Delivery and Signature Confirmation. When shipping any item, always use tracking, delivery and insofar as financially practicable, signature confirmation. The USPS signature confirmation is costly and is not practical when shipping inexpensive items but it may be well worthwhile because in a claim situation, eBay does not seem to accept the USPS delivery confirmation as proof that the item was shipped and delivered. (See my November 29, 2010 article.)
2. Ship Only to Buyer’s Confirmed PayPal Address. Many items bought on eBay are paid through PayPal. PayPal has a seller protection policy that may protect a seller in the event of a claim. However, in order for this policy to apply, certain terms and conditions must be met. One of these terms and conditions is that the seller ships the item only to a confirmed address provided by the buyer. When a seller receives a PayPal payment, the payment notification will show if the buyer provided a confirmed shipping address or not. This is sometimes overlooked by sellers. If the shipping address provided by the buyer is not a confirmed address, do not ship to this buyer at his or her unconfirmed address because if you do, you will not be eligible for the PayPal seller protection policy.
3. Do Not Combine Shipping of Two or More Items. While eBay encourages sellers to offer free shipping and, at the very least, to combine shipping of two or more items in order to save the buyer on shipping costs, by so doing you are taking a risk that the buyer will claim that one or more of the items in the combined shipment was missing. (See my December , 2010 article.) Although you may lose some potential sales by not combining shipping, this is really the only way to protect yourself from a claim of missing items from the shipment.
4. Beware of New Buyers, Buyers with No Buyer History or No Feedback. Beware of new eBay buyers with no history or feedback. Particularly and specifically be aware of new buyers with an unconfirmed shipping address. You can cancel the transaction if you do not feel comfortable with your buyer but you must do so before you ship the item. Once you ship the item, you are stuck with the consequences.
5. Review Your Buyer’s Buying History and the Feedback that Your Buyer Has Left for Other Sellers. You can get some sense of your buyer by looking at their eBay buying history and by looking at the feedback that they have left for other sellers. If you do this as a matter of practice, you will see that some buyers are routinely problematic – these buyers regularly or often leaving negative or neutral feedback and comments for their sellers. Unfortunately, eBay sellers have not been allowed to leave feedback for their buyers for a long while now. This was a good system that eBay disallowed but it did help sellers assess their buyers based on other sellers’ comments. By looking at a buyer’s buying history, you can also see what type and price range of items your buyer typically buys. This may also clue you in somewhat into whether your transaction seems out of place for this particular buyer.
6. Cancel a Transaction Before Shipping if you are in Doubt about your Buyer. eBay sellers’ right to cancel a transaction prior to shipping an item has not yet been taken away from sellers by eBay. My recommendation is to use it whenever you are in doubt about your buyer. Canceling a transaction and losing a sale is difficult to do, especially in these difficult economic times. But, it is better than losing the merchandise, the money, getting stuck with the shipping costs and getting a neutral or negative feedback.
In summary, in my opinion and based solely on my own experience, selling on eBay nowadays is a precarious endeavor. But, if you have to sell on eBay, at least in the interim while you set up a new business elsewhere online, you can and should try to protect yourself as much as possible.
I welcome suggestions, recommendations and tips from others to help my readers who sell on eBay.