eBay returns postage policy could see sellers lose on every sale

I have always thought consumer laws a little too punishing on sellers, but the unfairness has reached a whole new level. It could even force sellers into losing money on every sale.

Under consumer trading laws, a seller must give return postage in advance of someone sending back an item on grounds of it not being as described, even if it is perfectly described. And if you don’t pay for and send the label to your buyer within two or three days, eBay will initiate the label and add the cost to your eBay invoice.

So say, for example, you sell something for £4.99, you offer free postage and end up with a pound or so after the sale with all expenses having been paid. Now if the buyer wants to return the item for refund, you have to pay eBay to send him the label. The label may very well exceed the profit you made on the sale.

Today, for instance, for an item that made me £2 profit, there’s a postage label I must buy for £2.99 to let my buyer return his item. If I cough up I am already 99p out of pocket.

Do I expect my buyer to return the goods? Do I heck. And that is why for low value items I always issue a refund and let buyers keep the product… then I ban them from buying from me ever again.

I actually get very few requests for refunds but today I received two for high price items. Alongside the button for buying postage labels for buyers to return my goods, eBay invites me to give buyers a full refund and let them keep my possessions.

Yes, you read the correctly: eBay says you can refund the buyer instead of paying for his label to return your product… even though eBay knows full well many people won’t return the product anyway.

I do not like to refund and let buyers keep high value goods because I know my items are always well described and also as I smell a scam that could get out of hand. These refund requests could certainly be subject to abuse from a criminal element of buyers on eBay. Also, I don’t like to be treated like a complete idiot and have to pay for the privilege of having my items returned.

But today I wondered why two such requests appeared for items I have been describing without incident for more than fifty years. The answer came when I asked the question in eBay’s seller forum. It’s because some television consumer guru suggested eBay buyers work this ploy on sellers!

He gave details of how to do it, even down to providing sample letters requesting refunds and threatening sellers with negative feedback if they don’t comply.

This ‘scamming’ problem is growing and you and I have to learn to deal with it.

eBay notes: “Business sellers are legally required to refund the original outbound postage regardless of why the buyer is returning it, under UK and Irish law. Return postage is only chargeable if the item is faulty or if you failed to tell the buyer before the purchase that they were responsible for return costs for remorse reasons.”

‘Remorse’ describes a situation where a buyer changes his mind about a product, because he got caught up in a bidding frenzy, for example, or a meeting the buyer was attending has been cancelled and he no longer wants the tie he ordered.

In both cases you will pay postage for the buyer to obtain your product and for that person to send it back for refund, unless you mention in your listings return postage is only applicable if an item is not as described or is otherwise faulty or unfit for purpose. You must tell potential buyers inside your product listing that buyers’ remorse does not require sellers to pay postage both ways.

But say that in your listings and buyers’ intent on returning a perfect quality item purely because they have changed their minds will break the product and say you didn’t pack it properly for the outgoing journey. Now they qualify for a refund and for the seller – you – to pay postage both ways.

My viewpoint, based on 13 years of selling on eBay: Just pay the return postage for valuble items and expect your product to be returned in good condition and issue a full refund for low value goods which buyers are allowed to keep. Do otherwise and you could end up wasting time dealing with dishonest buyers and having insufficient time left for the honest ones.

Note: some experts say offering to refund without requesting a reason – or if the reason is buyers’ remorse – can increase confidence in the seller and grow their sales from honest buyers. That’s totally against what I have just said and which I am sticking to. In the end, you must do what you think best.

More tips on dealing with potential ‘scammers’

– In all your listings say items returned for refund must be sent by signed for delivery. Then if the buyer keeps the item, and your label, you may have a case for suing for non-delivery of your possessions.

– Deliver very expensive items personally or by courier.

– Report buyers who do not return your goods. Tell eBay you will be suing the person for fraud. I have heard this threat can induce eBay to refund an affected seller.

– Say how you want items to be returned. In a tube, for example, or hardback envelope. Keep a copy of the letter or email somewhere safe. Most buyers will comply and return your goods in resalable condition. And some won’t, such as the man who received my original painting in a hardback envelope and returned it in a tube with the canvas cracked and torn and paint and varnish falling out of place.

– Do not expect help from eBay. When I reported the buyer who damaged my painting, eBay simply said they could not get involved in the condition of my painting, only that it had been returned.

– If an item is returned in poor or unusable condition you can take small court action against the buyer and sometimes force him to pay damages. That letter or email telling him how to return the product will be useful, as will keeping the packaging the person actually used to return your product.

– You can offer a partial refund to offset a buyer’s disappointment but you must do so via eBay’s returned items policy and not directly through PayPal. If you do refund outside of the returned items policy, eBay says the system may not recognise the refund and will continually push you for a full refund, with that darned return label. If you don’t pay up fast, eBay could refund payment from your account. In every case you must ask buyers to use the official refund process inside their account. That same eBay article from earlier shows how it all works.

This eletter is a bit doom and gloom for sellers, but take advice from someone who has been there, done it and got the T-shirt for more than a decade and you won’t go far wrong.

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