How can I salvage a bad sell on eBay?
August 18, 2010 3:47 AM   Subscribe

My first sale on eBay was a new and unused mobile phone. Turns out that (unknown to me) it wasn’t new and has been used before. This is starting to turn into a bit of a disaster for an eBay virgin and threatens to tar me with a poor sellers rating. Can seasoned eBay’ers please give me some advice!

I sold a mobile phone I had lying around the house on eBay. It had been opened, but I’d never turned it on and was given to me by my boss as a present over a year ago. As such, I marked it as “New, unused” and indicated in the description that it had only been opened once to check the contents (which my boss had done and I repeated prior to putting it up for sale). After some heated bidding, it went for a pretty reasonable price. I received the PayPal payment from the winning bidder and posted it off to them. All seemed fine.

Unfortunately the bidder (lets call him “Bob”) emailed me to tell me that although he’d received the phone, the item definitely wasn’t “New, unused” as he’d turned it on and it contained text messages and contacts. I never turned on the phone before I sold it because (a) I never needed to and (b) I was under the impression it had never been used so I didn’t need to turn it on. In hindsight, that was probably a stupid thing to think, but I am where I am. At a guess, my boss turned on the phone, used it for a short period of time, turned it off and gave it to me.

I don’t really have any reason not to trust Bob. He has an excellent rating, his email was perfectly polite and he asked for a replacement. I responded apologising, saying that I thought it was new, had never turned it on myself and that he could return it for a full refund if he wanted. That was yesterday and I’m waiting for his response.

Assuming that he decides to return the phone, I’m not really sure what my next steps should be. Because I’m a new seller, Paypal are holding the money until they get positive confirmation from the buyer.

PayPal indicate that his money will be released on 25th August but I don’t know how true that is because it’s highly unlikely he’ll give me a positive review. I’m not sure whether he should retract his payment or whether I can persuade him to let it clear before I return him the money. Given that he thinks I’ve just tried to pull a fast one, I am under no illusion that he probably trusts me very little.

I have no idea how I can refund him without having to pony up my own money and hope that PayPal clear the money he's sent me. This is compounded by the fact that if he leaves me a negative rating, I'm not sure whether I'll ever see the money from PayPal.

Talking of ratings, I'm assuming that it is highly likely he'll leave me negative feedback because he thought he was buying something new and unused. Which not only means that it's unclear whether PayPal will release my money but also means that my selling history (of 1 item) will have a 100% negative score. Hardly a ringing endorsement of me when I come to sell other stuff.

Given that the money is still being held by PayPal and won’t be released until late next week, that I need to refund Bob whilst persuading him not to assume I’m pulling a fast one and that I really need to avoid him giving me a bad rating for my first ever transaction – what can I do and what can I ask him to do to make the best of a pretty bad situation?
posted by mr_silver to Computers & Internet (25 answers total)
Treat it like you would if you were running a brick-and-mortar retail store and somebody bought something new that had obviously been messed with before -- be extremely apologetic, explain at great length the story you told us, how you thought the person you got it from just checked the contents and had not used it, and offer to refund the eBay buyer's purchase price AND his cost to return the item to you. Treat the buyer like YOU are an enormous problem but you'll bend over backwards to fix it. Don't let yourself be talked into doing more than refund their money and the return shipping*, but be very apologetic; the people who get bad ratings are people who do bad business on eBay and don't care. If, in the end, the customer feels like you cared about their problem and resolved it in a way that had no cost to them, they may still leave positive feedback.

That said, I've had buyers who simply will not be satisfied by anything. Even if everything in the listing was accurate and correct, they still complain and leave bad feedback. What you'll have to do then is just keep doing eBay business until your good feedback outnumbers the bad. Like a new restaurant who gets a bad review the first day out, it's a big mountain to climb over, but it's not an instant defeat.

* the buyer might even be willing to take a partial refund and still keep the phone; keep that option open, too.
posted by AzraelBrown at 3:57 AM on August 18, 2010

It's not a given that he'll leave you negative feedback. If you keep those lines of communication open with him and offer a refund, tell him via e-mail that you would hope that this shows you weren't trying to commit fraud and that you would like him to consider leaving you positive feedback (that says you were willing to solve the issue) or at the very least, neutral feedback.

If he says no and that he intends to leave negative feedback, you could potentially counter by saying you'll leave bad feedback for him as a buyer. That would be fair, given you meant no harm and assuming that you really did do everything you could do to make the customer happy.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:58 AM on August 18, 2010

Why not get his number and have a chat with him? I had something vaguely similar happen to me - I was in Bob's position. I spoke to the seller, they explained everything and refunded my money. After that, I wasn't going to give them a negative review. Most people understand that mistakes happen.

I think the transaction was eventually marked down as "cancelled by mutual agreement" or something like that; as such there was no rating.
posted by rhymer at 3:58 AM on August 18, 2010

Maybe send him a link to this thread?
posted by aqsakal at 4:02 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

If memory serves, Paypal will release the money after 21 days - the positive feedback just means it's held for less time. However, the buyer has 45 days to make a claim so he could still lobby for a refund after this time.
posted by mippy at 4:03 AM on August 18, 2010

You should be able to issue a refund through Paypal. Look for the "issue a refund" link on the transaction details page. I've never had to deal with the holds that Paypal now places on some transactions, but I don't see why a refund would work differently in a case like yours.

For the rest of it, be extremely apologetic to the seller. You accept complete responsibility, and your want to fix this at absolutely no cost to him. (After all, you goofed, and he has all the power anyhow.)

Also, cancel the transaction with ebay.
posted by jon1270 at 4:04 AM on August 18, 2010

You can probably get a neutral feedback if you make the buyer happy. And you can probably have Paypal send him back the money that is being held, so that you don't need to put up your own money for the refund. Paypal holds the money for these kinds of situations.
posted by twblalock at 4:07 AM on August 18, 2010

Or maybe you are being scammed.
posted by about_time at 4:15 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Forgot to mention -- you should not only issue a refund, if he returns the phone, but also send him a separate paypal payment to cover his return shipping costs.

Another way to handle this is to ask whether he'd like to keep the phone at a discount. Use the completed items search to figure out the typical selling price for slightly used phones like the one you sold, and then offer the buyer a small discount off of that price so that he'd be getting a really good deal, albeit on a product that wasn't quite what he expected.
posted by jon1270 at 4:21 AM on August 18, 2010

And perhaps note for future reference: test anything you're selling on ebay as new and unused, to make sure it is new and unused.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:21 AM on August 18, 2010

Cancel, refund - start over.
posted by watercarrier at 5:08 AM on August 18, 2010

If all else fails and this is your first sale, it's not the end of the world as you could always start anew with another account. A bit sneaky I know but possible.
posted by ruperto at 5:12 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

you could potentially counter by saying you'll leave bad feedback for him as a buyer

Buyers can't receive negative feedback anymore because of the above sort of practice.

You can definitely refund in Paypal even with the hold (click on the transaction details and there should be a link to refund right on the page) so do that, file a mutual transaction cancellation with eBay, keep in polite contact with him, apologize a bunch, and reimburse him for his return shipping costs. It'll turn out fine.
posted by Tha Race Card at 5:24 AM on August 18, 2010

Treat it like you would if you were running a brick-and-mortar retail store and somebody bought something new that had obviously been messed with before -- be extremely apologetic, explain at great length the story you told us, how you thought the person you got it from just checked the contents and had not used it, and offer to refund the eBay buyer's purchase price AND his cost to return the item to you.
If I had a brick and mortar store, I would certainly want to see the phone before giving the guy the money back.

Anyway, look, this is eBay we're talking about Scam central. Think about it: This is your first transaction and already something has already gone wrong. Of course the buyer would like a partial refund and to keep the phone. Unless you want to start an eBay business, it's probably just not worth trying to sell your stuff there with your own account. Maybe you can find a 'we sell your stuff on ebay' store. Or just sell stuff on craigslist in person. You wont have as many potential buyers, or the store might take a cut, but you won't have to put up with all this bullshit.

Look what happened when Bruce Schneier tried to sell his laptop on eBay. Two people tried to scam him, and then one of the readers of his blog bought it. And according to Consumerist "It's Now Completely Impossible To Sell A Laptop On Ebay". And cellphones are kind of like laptops. So I don't know if it's really worth trying.
posted by delmoi at 5:38 AM on August 18, 2010

If the guy is an experienced eBay user and has been polite in his emails, I wouldn't panic at all about getting a negative from him. It's possible he's been through this before... and if he's been a seller on eBay, he probably knows what it's like to deal with this from your end and will be more understanding as a result.

You promptly answered him and offered a full refund; that should make him happy.

If you don't want to go through the hassle of a return, you could offer him a partial refund, as jon1270 suggested. That's often a bonus for a buyer, because they still get the item, but also get it at a cheaper price than they expected. Everyone loves a bargain.

If the funds are being held by Paypal, you should still be able to refund the payment to the buyer. Here are Paypal's instructions on issuing a refund.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:44 AM on August 18, 2010

And perhaps note for future reference: test anything you're selling on ebay as new and unused, to make sure it is new and unused.

Once you test it it is no longer new and unused, or at least has plausible suspicions about it. Unless it is in sealed factory packaging I would not list it as new and unused.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:12 AM on August 18, 2010

The hold ebay has placed on you getting the money will not stop you from refunding him the payment in full.

Do you even want the phone back? What are you going to do, try and sell it again as a used phone? Sounds like more headaches in the making.

But if you do want the phone back, ask him to return it to you, and upon your receipt of it you will both refund his payment & send him the cost of shipping it back to you (since YOU were the one who was wrong about it being new).

But I would just refund the payment, tell him to keep the phone, lesson learned.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:13 AM on August 18, 2010

Is it possible the messages and contacts are ones stored on the SIM card installed by the buyer? Presumably he would recognize them, if the phone is even a SIM phone.
posted by 6550 at 6:23 AM on August 18, 2010

I think AzraelBrown has it. The one time I got an item that I was dissatisfied about (a timbuk2 bag that may have been outdated or counterfeit, regardless it wasn't as described) the seller made me happy enough to have me leave them positively glowing feedback.

What did they do? At first, they issued a partial refund (at my request - ask the buyer what they think would be a fair price for the phone as it is now), but then once I decided that the bag was unsuitable for my purposes, they had me return it and refunded the rest of my money (including shipping), plus $10 for the return shipping and inconvenience.

And, perhaps most importantly, they *apologized*. I probably won't buy from them again, simply because I don't foresee me needing what they sell, but actually, if I did need something that they had I would probably choose them over another seller, that's how much they impressed me.

Some people are going to be idiots either way, and nothing you'll do will make them happy, but most people are reasonable and won't have a problem with the above solutions (apology and a refund, either partial or full+some extra).

And, like ruperto says, with zero feedback you have nothing to lose by just starting a new account.
posted by sary at 6:46 AM on August 18, 2010

watercarrier has it as simply as it should be put to you. I just bought a bum device with an issue that would fit your general description. The seller cancelled the transaction and refunded me immediately. I returned the item. That is what is awesome about eBay.

Don't bicker about feedback. You made a bad call in your description. Just deal with the situation in the best way possible: refund his money, and ask that he return it if he can.

Sure, there is an occasional snag but in my 10+ years the positives far outweigh the negatives. My only caution is that you should have not held your first auction with a high ticket item-that is an invitation for issues. If you decide you want to keep selling on eBay, start small and build your experience and rating with books, CDs etc. so that you can get a good feel for it.
posted by quarterframer at 6:58 AM on August 18, 2010

Most buyers will leave you honest feedback if you are apologetic, do not argue, immediately offer a refund, and accept all blame. You can offer a partial refund - "if you are still interested in the phone, i would be willing to refund you X since it is not a new and unused phone" (and yes people do buy used phones on ebay, I've sold almost all of my old phones on there) but chances are they won't. You can still refund the money whether or not paypal is holding it.

It's not unreasonable to ask him to return the phone & tell him you will refund shipping both ways. I've had people return camera equipment with zero problem.
posted by micawber at 7:52 AM on August 18, 2010

If he goes for the discount, all you have to do is issue a partial refund for the overpayment. That way you don't have to do another full transaction.
posted by Vaike at 8:45 AM on August 18, 2010

If you're a new seller on eBay with low feedback, just close that account and start another. It doesn't take much to build up a new reputation.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:17 AM on August 18, 2010

I'm guessing you (a) wrote down the serial numbers and (b) made it clear that you had done so in your listing?
posted by Sutekh at 7:59 AM on August 19, 2010

"If all else fails and this is your first sale, it's not the end of the world as you could always start anew with another account. A bit sneaky I know but possible"

Sadly, that is the accepted solution among the keyboard-bangers at the "community" help forums. "Oh, you've had your account for 10 years? Who cares? Just make a new one.."

The others are right. Refund, go from there.
posted by drstein at 1:52 PM on August 19, 2010

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