eBay Return Policy
February 24, 2008 8:33 AM   Subscribe

As a new eBay seller, I need a return policy. What's a sensible one?

I'm trying to sell a number of items. A potential buyer just asked me what my return policy is, and the answer is - I don't know. I would like my items to sell and generally don't mind returning money if buyers are unhappy, but I also want to minimize the hassle of relisting and re-shipping and extra emails. What works well?
posted by Miko to Shopping (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"...and generally don't mind returning money if buyers are unhappy,..."

Well you sound like a nice person but I'd be careful here; there are a lot of time wasters on eBay.

I don't like possessions and try to live as simply as possible. After birthdays or Christmas and a few times during the year I send lots of stuff to visit Mr eBay. My policy is simple - all sales are FINAL.

If you are comfortable that you've accurately described something and told bidders up front that only in the case of said item not working will you entertain returns, then I'd suggest you shouldn't feel any obligation whatsoever to accept a return.

I don't accept returns and I sleep fine. If someone changes their mind let them flog it back onto eBay themselves.
posted by Mutant at 8:58 AM on February 24, 2008

I have a simple policy too: Satisfaction guaranteed, no questions asked. I've only had a few requests for returns in ten years, out of about 500 items. Each time it was for a very inexpensive item. I would pay the return shipping for an item that was worth it, but for these items I just issued the refund and told them to keep the item.

Anything in between my policy and Mutants is where it gets more complicated. If you don't accept either all returns or no returns, then you have to make a judgement call when you are not in a position to properly evaluate the buyer's claim.

I believe that having this guarantee has also made me more money, as the buyers are willing to bid higher when there's less risk.
posted by winston at 9:07 AM on February 24, 2008

"NO RETURNS. Items are sold as described. Understand what you are bidding on. Ask Questions, or request additional photos. All Sales final. NO RETURNS."

At least this gives you some wiggle room if you think you are getting jerked around by some ehole.
posted by Gungho at 9:34 AM on February 24, 2008

I've been selling in the minor leagues on eBay for 10 years. I usually go with a no-return policy in small print. For good customers I waive it as soon as there's any problem, problem solved, and they think they're getting great service. For asshole customers (fortunately few and far between), I point to the policy.
posted by crapmatic at 9:49 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's an auction, not a supermarket. "Item sold as seen, no returns under any circumstances. Ask all questions before bidding and make sure you have read and understood this listing completely before placing a bid."
posted by fire&wings at 10:07 AM on February 24, 2008

If you put in 'no returns' as others have suggested then a lot of people, like me, are going to not bid on your item. Customer hostile policies are a great way to not make money. I doubt the people suggesting this have any real ebay experience.

You need a return policy. For electronics it can be as simple as guaranteed to work on day of delivery. The idea being that if you sell someone a broke ipod then they are not stuck with it. I'd at least go with that as a minimum or you can guarantee that only scammers will bid on your stuff and honest people will find someone with a better policy.

No matter what you to you will run into scammers. Chasing away honst customers will not fix that.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:13 AM on February 24, 2008

nth'ing no returns. I usually just state this in my auction, but I word it pretty simply and kindly. (I've seen a few sellers who seem bitter when they're writing stuff like this, switching to all caps and slipping in insults.... Don't be that guy!)

My reason is different from what others have mentioned--no one's tried it to me, but I've read one too many horror stories of various scams... For example, my camera (unrelated to eBay) broke a while back. What a scammer would have done in my shoes would have been to see that you had the same model listed in your auction and bid on it. They get it in good working order, but tell you it was DOA. You want to keep people happy so you agree to accept a return, and get my already-broken camera, not the one you sent me, back. But it's the same, so unless you're really good, you wouldn't even know. And if you call me on it, I can complain that you are the scammer.

For anything of value, I just require shipping insurance. If the seller claims it's DOA (which thankfully, has never happened), I know that's not how I shipped it, so it would get referred to the insurance company.

What I've seen some people do is "As-is but guaranteed not DOA." This really doesn't protect them from egregious scams, but it does protect them from trivial complaints.

The problem for a new seller like you is that 0 feedback + "All sales are final" is kind of scary to potential buyers. So in this case, you could look at the feedback of the seller asking you and go from there. If he's got excellent feedback, he's probably not going to scam you. If he has no feedback (or negative feedback!), "Sorry, but all sales are final. You might purchase shipping insurance if you're concerned..."

99% of eBayers are great people, but that 1% is ruthless. Being overly accommodating gives that 1% way more power than they deserve.
posted by fogster at 10:20 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I actually have traded a bit on ebay before, sold 1 item and bought 6 or 7. I have 100% positive feedback so far. What I'm selling is mostly vintage stuff and emphemera, an odd lot - so there's no concern about it not 'working,' maybe just about it not being exactly what the person thought it was. Since I'm happy to answer questions and provide more photos, maybe I would be comfortable with a no-return policy. People would only want to return, I expect, if they were somehow disappointed. I don't know how to prevent that other than careful descriptions and photos.
posted by Miko at 10:25 AM on February 24, 2008

If you put in 'no returns' as others have suggested then a lot of people, like me, are going to not bid on your item.

As a buyer, I pay more attention to feedback than return policies. Return policies are definitely nice, but very few sellers have them. I've bought countless items from people with no return policies but good feedback. I just consider it a risk of bidding.

As a buyer, return policies are great, don't get me wrong. I just think there's a reason that 85% of sellers don't offer them.
posted by fogster at 10:26 AM on February 24, 2008

I'm with the "Returns Accepted" people. I agree that a no-returns-ever policy discourages bids.

The catch is, I only accept returns if the item is "other than described"-- if I fail to point out a flaw or feature that the customer doesn't like, they can return the item within X days. Also, all packaging that came with the item must accompany the return, so I can sell it again if I choose to.

This way, you're showing that you back the quality of your items, associating yourself with trusted retailers who allow returns, and in general implying that you're good people. But you're also somewhat preventing people from being unreasonable in their return requests.

The catch for me is, I have to be sure I'm careful, thorough, and up-front about describing my items. My pictures have to be clear about the item and show any flaws. I have to make sure my shipping adequately protects the item, and get delivery confirmation and insurance if necessary.

I've sold a few hundred items under this policy, and the closest I've ever come to a return was having to refund about 10% of the sale price (I missed a problem with a knob on a guitar I sold).

Good luck and have fun!
posted by Rykey at 10:33 AM on February 24, 2008

Legally, the implied contract you are entering is delivery of goods as described in your listing to the address specified by the buyer. Every problem beyond that - loss/damage in the mail, defective item, etc. - is the seller's responsibility.

Practically speaking.. Make sure to double check that the buyer sent you the correct shipping address before taking responsibility for a loss. I've had several buyers specify incorrect shipping addresses in the past. For cheap items that I have many of, I just send another no matter what the problem is. For more expensive items that I have many of, I request return of the damaged item, and either a deposit on the replacement, or I'll hold off shipping until the rejected item arrives back with me. That way, I get to inspect the problem item before being out of pocket - I'm not responsible for customer errors. I also try to hold out for buyers to pay return shipping, even though it isn't really their responsibility. Finally, if the item is unique, you really just have to negotiate each complication on a case by case basis.

I've only ever had one outright loss of an item in the mail. Even then, it was one of the incorrect shipping address items. Other incorrect address items have actually made it back into my hands. Eventually..

You shouldn't look at emails as a hassle. Emails equal customers, and they are the heart of your business! I can see how that just isn't practical if you are doing large volume, low dollar items, but still..
posted by Chuckles at 10:46 AM on February 24, 2008

Ya.. Not quite "no matter what the problem is" on those cheap items.. Just a very low threshold, because it doesn't represent a big loss.
posted by Chuckles at 10:47 AM on February 24, 2008

As an eBay buyer, for the kind of items you're talking about I would be fine with a "please ask questions, and I'm happy to provide extra photos and info, but I don't accept returns" - that type of policy doesn't ever stop me from bidding (unless the seller had it phrased all crazy and mean).

If I were buying something more pricey, say over a hundred dollars or so, or some kind of item I expected to work (like electronics), then I would want to see a return policy. But for unique and/or older stuff, I just figure it's on me to make sure I want it.
posted by KAS at 10:51 AM on February 24, 2008

For example, my camera (unrelated to eBay) broke a while back. What a scammer would have done in my shoes would have been to see that you had the same model listed in your auction and bid on it.

Or a scammer would sell it as working and say "no returns are accepted". That's my worry as a buyer.
posted by smackfu at 10:59 AM on February 24, 2008

I sell a lot on eBay - mostly vintage things, like you. I have over 3000 feedback with a 100% positive rating.

I have sort of a three tier approach to returns.

First, the policy stated in my auctions and my standard response when asked: If I missed a flaw or problem or erred in my description, I offer a full refund, including shipping both ways. Otherwise I do not offer returns.

Second, my ACTUAL return policy - which I use when people received the item and have a problem: If it's because of my error, I offer a full refund (with shipping both ways). If it's NOT because of my mistake, they can return the item and I will refund the price, but not shipping. Some people also charge a restocking fee, but I don't.

Third, my very lenient return policy which I use for good buyers. If they have a problem with an item, usual because of condition, I will give them a full refund and they keep the item. Unless it's a very expensive item (this one can be a bit painful!).

My philosophy is that I want buyers to be comfortable buying from me, knowing that they are going to get what they paid for. And even if they are not happy with the item, I want them to be happy with the customer service. Because that means they will keep coming back. Most of my buyers these days are repeat buyers and they have no problem spending more on one of my auctions because they know I stand behind what I sell.

Of course if you're not using eBay as a means to make a living, then establishing a good reputation and a large base of repeat customers probably isn't as important!

Oh - one last thing - eBay is changing, and NOT in a way that will benefit sellers. As of May, only buyers will be able to leave negative/neutral feedback. And a seller's standing in search results will be determined by their DSR (detailed star rating). I'm not sure how this is going to play out, but I sense it's going to become increasingly difficult to maintain a feedback rating.
posted by suki at 11:10 AM on February 24, 2008

Clearly explain everything about the item in the item description, like any scratches or blemishes as well as anything that doesn't function. If you lay everything out on the line, you're covering yourself for a "no returns" policy, because people will know what they're buying. Encourage buyers to ask you questions, make it easy for them to do so, and respond to the questions as quickly as possible.
posted by whiskey point at 12:30 PM on February 24, 2008

I'm with the caveat emptor crowd. It's an auction, not a department store. The seller's job is to represent the good accurately, the buyer's job is to evaluate all the information at hand and decide what they're willing to pay based on that information.

The "no refunds" policy weeds out the pains-in-the-asses and the scammers. If you want a guarantee, go to Best Buy.

As for the ebay changes, I'm not so sure how it's going to play out either. My impression is that the change is designed to discourage bad sellers and encourage good sellers.
posted by gjc at 2:20 PM on February 24, 2008

I'm with gjc. I've only sold around 80 items on eBay; almost all pieces of high quality photographic equipment. More than a few have sold for around $2000.00 each with one piece at $3200.00.

In every case, my policy has been that "I'm an honest guy, have documented any flaws both within the text listing and with good sharp detail photos, and what you see and read is what you get. I also pack and ship very carefully as if I were the buyer."

I've only ever had one potential buyer refuse to bid because I wouldn't offer a return policy. I suggested to that person that he'd probably feel more comfortable buying from someone else or from a store offering a return policy to his liking.

I've never worried about putting off buyers by refusing returns. There are plenty of buyers out there.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:56 PM on February 24, 2008

Sometimes the nature of the item should dictate whether returns are advisable or not. If it's something very standard (e.g. a piece of computer hardware, a mass-produced toy, a hard-cover book) then the buyer should definitely know exactly what he is purchasing and a return should not be promised other than if the item is not in the condition described. However if this is a one-of-a-kind item (something vintage, a hand-made craft object) then the buyer doesn't know exactly what he is buying and if, say, it's a pair of shoes, then a seller would do well to have a return policy to encourage bidding. I once bought an amazing pair of silver sandals which I adored but which were just too narrow for my feet, and I wouldn't have bid on them if the seller hadn't offered a return policy. Luckily I was able to return them to her and get my money back. I imagine she took a small loss on the shipping cost, but probably she ends up selling more due to her return policy. So to sum up: if the buyer can be reasonably expected to know what the item is as it is a common item, then no returns. Vintage or one-of-a-kind, offer returns with limits.
posted by tractorfeed at 3:14 PM on February 24, 2008

If you're a new eBay seller, then you are also required to accept Paypal on your listings. This means that your return policy means diddly-squat if someone files a complaint with Paypal and says the item is not as described. Paypal just tells them to return the item to the seller and then they get a refund. You might want to check out the eBay Seller Central Message Board if you have more questions.
posted by moosedogtoo at 5:20 PM on February 24, 2008

I've been selling on ebay for a number of years, and I've experienced just about every kind of hassle. I've never stated a return policy, and I think I've even ignored questions about it. I've only ever had a COUPLE people want to return things- both times we just weren't on the same page as far as item condition.

IIRC, both people wanted 'some money back' which just sounds like bullshit to me. I told them both they either send it back at their expense for a refund or they live with it. Only one guy ever, in my years of ebay tomfoolery, has gone to the trouble.

And I TOTALLY agree with the 'go to best buy' sentiments above. It's a futureworld Garage Sale- and people just don't fucking GET that these kinds of transactions aren't like at Wal Mart where you can return whatever for whatever reason. Unfortunately, Paypal puts a huge burden of proof on the seller- and people can basically get away with all kinds of shit. It's made me not ship overseas, for one.
posted by tremspeed at 8:28 PM on February 24, 2008

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