You may also be interested in these guides: How to Return an eBay Item to the Seller Part 1 – Am I Eligible? and How to Easily Contact eBay Live Help Chat
First, take a look at the item you received. If you purchased a $500 pair of Dior earrings and received two old magazines, then there is a strong possibility that the seller is intentionally trying to rip you off. Look up the seller on eBay and check their feedback for any recent negatives indicating problems similar to yours. Check to see if the seller has any items currently listed for sale and whether or not their selling behavior is normal (if the seller has thousands of feedback then the seller should have some items for sale. If the seller has 72 feedback and rarely sells then it shouldn’t be a surprise that there aren’t any items available). If the seller does not have any items for sale or has recently received a number of negatives for problems like non-delivery and item not as described then you will want to skip straight to part three of this series – filing a PayPal dispute. If a seller decides to give up on eBay or eBay has decided to give up on the seller, many times they will attempt to rip as many people off as possible and disappear. This is one of the reasons why purchasing on eBay is so unsafe. It’s impossible to know who you’re transacting with and past behavior isn’t necessarily an indication of what kind of service you will receive on any particular transaction. If you’re returning an item because it doesn’t fit, it isn’t what you expected,or if it seems like it was an honest mistake by the seller then read on (if you want, I can’t force your hand).
Benefits of Working the Problem Out With the Seller Directly
On several occasions I have plugged the PayPal dispute as the consummate means to a refund. Ideally, buyers should try to contact the seller for an amicable resolution first and use PayPal as a last resort. First, smart communication with most sellers will result in a quicker resolution than a PayPal dispute. Most PayPal disputes will take at least 15 days to resolve and can easily take more than 40. Dealing with the seller directly can resolve all problems as quickly as you can get the returned item to the seller. Your PayPal dispute may also take at least one phone call to PayPal which can mean an hour plus on hold. A PayPal dispute can be a serious hassle that is ultimately unnecessary in most instances. Second, opening PayPal disputes rub many sellers the wrong way. If you open a dispute without contacting the seller about resolving the problem first, they may intentionally try to make it as difficult as possible to receive a refund. I will go over the various tactics sellers can employ in part three. Third, it is always possible that PayPal will deny your refund request when the seller would have gladly accepted a return had you simply asked. This is also unlikely, but anything is possible when dealing with PayPal.
Making First Contact
Try to keep communication through eBay’s message forwarding system. Although the messages between you and the seller ultimately are of little value, any emails you receive directly from the seller’s email account will have zero value as eBay and PayPal will tell you that they are unable to verify the authenticity of the emails or that emails are “personal correspondence” eBayisn’t interested in (i.e. there is no proof the seller actually sent the email). I say this correspondence is of little value because no one at eBay/PayPal is going to sit and wade through a bunch of emails full of threats and insults and try to figure out what was decided. The only correspondence that will matter to PayPal/eBay is inside of the PayPal dispute, if it comes to that, but even PayPal disputes are generally decided by a computer system unless multiple phone calls are made.
Write your messages to the seller in a positive tone, especially the first few. There is no reason to threaten the seller by saying you will be “contacting eBay and PayPal.” When a buyer threatens to “contact eBay” right off the bat I know that they have no idea what they’re talking about or how the dispute/refund process works. There is really no one at eBay to “contact” about a problem. EBay Live chat is completely worthless in a situation like this because they have no authority to do anything other than link you to a form that will email Trust and Safety. No one a buyer could get on the telephone at eBay’s 1-800 number would be able to offer any assistance other than eBay’s official line either. A buyer dispute in eBay’s own dispute resolution console has historically been of little value as well. As eBay becomes increasingly concerned with buyer dissatisfaction rates, that is beginning to change. Beginning in August, PayPal will institute a policy update stating that if eBay decides the buyer is owed a refund then eBay will take the money out of the seller’s PayPal account in order to reimburse the buyer. Sellers can still opt out of this requirement by dialing 1-866-643-3727, making eBay dispute resolution a poor choice unless the payment was made using a service other than PayPal.
The point here is to try to be nice and not say anything that makes it sound like you don’t know what you’re doing. Sellers are much more likely to be lenient and forthcoming with someone who is pleasant and appears to know what they’re talking about. It’s difficult to give general advice about how to approach a return because every seller operates differently and every problem is different. In general, for your first email, I suggest writing something like this:
“Hello, thank you for shipping the item in a timely manner. Unfortunately ___________ (enter problem with item clearly. Depending on the problem you can say something like “I’m sure you were unaware when you shipped the item, but…” or something similar). I would like to return the item for a refund. Please forward me the address I should ship the item to. I will ship the item back to you with Delivery Confirmation as soon as I hear back. Thanks so much, _____ (enter your name/eBay UserID).
Don’t assess blame or get overly dramatic. Give the seller a chance to do the right thing and agree to an easy return. If you receive a nice email from the seller, skip down to the “Return Shipping” section below. If you do not receive a response after 48 hours or the seller refuses to accept the return you should take a more stern tone. Keep it professional, don’t use foul language, and don’t say anything that you can’t follow through with. I recommend an email similar to the following:
“Hello, this is my second email regarding the refund for ______ (insert item). I would like to return it because _______ (insert reason). If I do not hear back that I can return the item, I will be opening an Item Not Described dispute with PayPal and leave 1 star negative feedback stating my dissatisfaction with this transaction. Please reply to this message with the address that the item should be shipped to. If I receive a response that the refund will be easily processed I will not open the dispute and I will not leave feedback. I will return the item with Delivery Confirmation as soon as I hear back.”
Most sellers that know what they’re doing will bend to the buyer’s will at this point. As sellers, we are scared to death of negative feedback and most sellers are aware that a PayPal dispute will result in a refund for the buyer eventually anyway. An email similar to this lets the seller know that you mean business and it will be much easier for them to accept the return outside of a PayPal dispute. If you receive an email to your satisfaction indicating that a refund will occur, skip to the “Return shipping” section below. If you still do not receive a response after 48 hours or the seller is still uncooperative, send an email similar to the following:
“Hello, this is my third and final message about the return of ________ (insert item). If I do not hear back from you today that the return will be processed, I will be opening a PayPal dispute. PayPal will decide the dispute in my favor and instruct me to return the item to you for a refund anyway. It will be much easier for both of us if you accept the return and forward your address to me now. I look forward to resolving this problem amicably without the need for a dispute and negative feedback.”
If you did not hear back after the second email it is unlikely you will receive a response to this email unless the seller hasn’t checked their email/messages. Wait a few hours for a response anyway and skip to part three of this series, “How to Open and Win a PayPal Dispute.”
How To Ship the Item to the Seller
This is probably the most important part of the return process and the most often overlooked by buyers. Luckily, it’s also one of the easiest to do properly. If the total transaction price of the item/shipping was under $250 you need Delivery Confirmation or equivalent tracking showing delivery to the seller’s city/state or Zip Code. If the price was $250 or more then you need Signature Confirmation or equivalent signature/tracking showing delivery to the seller’s exact address including house and street number. The easiest/most cost efficient way to ship most items is usually USPS Priority Mail because the packaging is free from the Post Office, Delivery Confirmation is free when the label is printed online, and your regular Postal worker will pick the item up from your doorstep for free as well. If the item is heavier or you want to be able to track the item more closely than USPS then FedEx or UPS may be a cheaper option. I have plenty of shipping advice available at Guide Roundup – How to Ship on eBay and Paypal .
I can’t overemphasize the necessity of a Delivery Confirmation/equivalent tracking number. If you don’t have this information it is as if you didn’t ship the item. The seller can deny they received the item and if it goes to a PayPal dispute you will not have the tracking number that is required for PayPal to decide a claim in your favor. Basically, if you don’t have a tracking number and the seller says they didn’t receive the item then you will not receive a refund from the seller and PayPal will side with the seller and not issue a refund either. If you paid with a credit card you might win a chargeback case, but there really isn’t any reason to risk it. Get tracking.
Getting A Little Shady
Although it may not seem obvious to the untrained eye, I struggle internally with exactly what I’m willing to make public as most of the information I write about isn’t necessarily in my best interest to publish. Not that a lot of this stuff is earth shattering or anything, but I am not aware of another “blog” where someone with my experience is writing in-depth guides about how to list/ship on eBay for free. Luckily we’re friends, so my knowledge is your knowledge.
Anyway, if you returned the original item to the seller without tracking and the seller denies they received it you can send an additional envelope to the seller with Delivery Confirmation that will confirm delivery. PayPal has no way of verifying that the tracking number you provide to PayPal for the package actually had the item in it. I don’t necessarily advocate doing this, but if you’re certain the seller received the return and is purposefully trying to keep the returned item and the payment then it is a viable option. The seller may report you to PayPal for returning an empty envelope, but it’s unlikely there will be any negative repercussions for one complaint.
This is one of the fundamental flaws of eBay and PayPal in general and one that there really is no answer. As a seller, if a buyer returns an empty box or an item of much less value in place of the item that was originally shipped, it takes at least six calls to PayPal for any chance of a positive resolution. It’s the same scenario if the buyer receives an empty box in place of the item purchased. PayPal usually requires the buyer/seller to ship whatever item they claim they received to PayPal for one reason or another. I assume PayPal wants something to show for the refund they may be forced issue and it makes their Christmas gift exchange more exciting with all the counterfeits and beat up items they’ve revived during the year.
Requesting a Refund for Return Shipping
At the moment, PayPal requires the buyer to pay for return shipping unless the buyer can work something out with the seller. At some point, the eBay Resolution Center is going to take over the dispute process for all eBay transactions, even when PayPal is the payment processor. EBay’s new “Purchase Protection Policy” for buyers promises to refund the buyer’s return shipping costs in certain instances. Since this hasn’t happened yet, it’s impossible to know how these new policies will actually be implemented and which transactions buyers will be refunded out of eBay’s own pocket.
The best way to receive a refund for return shipping costs is to ask. You might expect a refund if the wrong item was shipped, the item was broken on arrival, or another problem that is entirely the seller’s fault. If you are returning an item because it doesn’t fit or for some other reason that isn’t the seller’s fault then the buyer should expect to pay return shipping. I would recommend asking if you will be reimbursed for return shipping after the seller agrees to accept the return, in the second or third email to the seller. If you start out making demands in the first email then the seller will be less likely to want to work with you. As sellers, one of our least favorite things to do is pay for return shipping because it’s a substantial loss for us, so getting a seller to happily agree to refund can be tricky.
If the seller refuses to refund return shipping initially, and you believe you are due a refund because the problem is completely the seller’s fault, I recommend waiting until you receive a refund for the initial payment before playing hardball on the return shipping refund. If the item cost $100, then it is a lot more important to get that initial $100 back quickly and easily than argue and fight over an additional $7 refund. After you receive the refund for the initial payment, tell the seller again that you believe you are owed a refund for return shipping because the problem was the seller’s fault. If the seller still ignores or refuses, say something like:
“Hello, I had to pay ___ (insert amount) for shipping to return an item to you because _____ (state defect that is seller’s fault). This has left me dissatisfied with this transaction and I will be leaving negative feedback explaining the problem to future buyers. Please refund my return shipping cost to my PayPal account (insert payment address) and I will not leave feedback for this transaction. Thank you, (insert UserID)
You have to word this message carefully so it’s not considered “feedback extortion” which is against eBay policy. It might be best to send this kind of email directly to the seller’s email account so eBay won’t take action. If you don’t hear back or receive a refund in 48 hours go ahead and leave negative feedback. Some sellers will refund your shipping cost if you agree to a feedback revisionat this point. If you still are refused a refund then there is little you can do. The seller may wise up in the future or send an angry email at which point you can link them to feedback revision and tell them you will revise your feedback to a 5 star positive if the seller agrees to refund return shipping costs.
Returning items on eBay can be super simple or excruciatingly difficult depending on how the return is approached and the nature of the seller. Most transactions on eBay are completed without incident, but when there is a problem it usually has to do with the buyer returning the item improperly or the seller not refunding promptly, if at all. This is a long “guide,” but if I can save you $100 now and $1000 in the future then reading it is time well spent.)
If you have a specific question regarding returns or anything else you’re welcome to email me using my email in the “About Me” above or leave a comment. When I’m not depressed about the lack of visitors to this site I check it.