Hack 32 Dealing with Disappointment: Getting Refunds


How to get your money back when an item isn't all it was made out to be.

In some ways, eBay is no different from any other store. Whether it's a brick-and-mortar shop down the street or an online superstore across the country, sometimes you don't get what you were expecting and you want your money back.

Getting your money back requires three things: knowing what your rights are, understanding what policies and requests are considered "reasonable," and most of all, knowing what tools you have at your disposal if the seller is less than cooperative.

Sellers: see [Hack #39] for easy ways to reduce the likelihood of returns, and [Hack #71] for tips on getting your money back.

3.14.1 Diplomacy Tactics

It's the seller who sets the return policy for any given auction, so before you write the seller and complain, you'll need to check the auction description and the seller's About Me page (if applicable) to see if the seller has outlined a policy on returns. For instance, the seller might accept returns only under certain circumstances, or might not accept returns at all. Other sellers will be more understanding, accepting returns within three days of receipt, or offering refunds on everything except shipping.

Next, see if the problem (your reason for wanting a refund) is stated in the auction. For example, if the seller wrote that the item is missing a wheel in the description, then said missing wheel is not a valid reason for return. Sellers should not be held responsible because a bidder didn't read the auction description.

Finally, contact the seller and let him know that you're not happy with the item you received. Your first email will set the tone for the entire conversation, so try to avoid sounding angry or unreasonable. Instead, be calm, understanding, and thoughtful. For example:

  • "I received the item yesterday; thanks for the quick shipping. Unfortunately, its condition was somewhat worse than described in your auction. Would you be willing to accept a return?" This is friendly, even to the point of thanking the seller for something he did right. It also cuts to the chase and specifically outlines a valid reason for return. Also, it makes no demands, which will make the seller much more receptive to your request.

    Including photos of the problem (including any damage or excessive wear) will help your case significantly. See Chapter 5 for information on taking good photos of items.

  • "I've been examining the item you sent, and it appears to be a different model than the one you advertised in your auction description. I'm afraid I'm going to have to return it." This is a little more direct than the first example, but still contains an acceptable amount of level-headed diplomacy. It also leaves no room for interpretation; you're clear in what you want, and you're only awaiting return instructions. Naturally, this assumes that the seller's return policy allows returns in this case.

  • "The item I received is missing a few accessories, a fact that wasn't stated in the auction description. Would you be willing to accept a return, or at least offer a partial refund?" This approach is extremely valuable, as it makes the seller feel empowered by giving him a choice. It also provides a solution (the partial refund) that both parties may prefer: the seller doesn't have to give you all your money back, and you don't have to hunt for another item.

Most sellers will be understanding and cooperative, especially if you were smart and bought only from those with good feedback profiles. But less scrupulous sellers will try any number of excuses to avoid having to give you some or all of your money back. For instance:

  • "I've sold plenty of these, and nobody else complained." This response is common, but is easily defeated by responding with "If you've had no trouble selling these items in the past, it should be equally easy to resell this one after I've returned it."

  • "I'm sorry, this is an `as is' item, meaning no returns." Although this is perfectly valid, it doesn't necessarily relieve the seller of all obligations. For instance, if the item was misrepresented in the auction or damaged in shipping, you are entitled to a refund even for an "as is" auction.

  • "Although the item isn't exactly what you expected, it should be every bit as good and work equally well." Don't let a seller pull a bait-and-switch on you. You have every right to get what you paid for and to insist on a refund if you don't.

  • "I can give you a full refund, minus all shipping charges and eBay fees." Most sellers understandably don't refund shipping charges, but you shouldn't have to pay to ship an item both ways if you're returning it due to the seller's mistake. Also, sellers can get refunds from eBay for final-value fees if the item is returned, so they should never charge you for them.

3.14.2 Sending Things Back

Assuming you can come to an agreement with the seller about the terms of your return and subsequent refund, the next step is to return the item to the seller. Here are a few tips:

  • Confirm the return address with the seller before you send it back. Don't use the return address on the package or the seller's payment address without first double-checking with the seller.

  • Never send a package without a tracking number; see [Hack #68] for details.

  • Don't sit on the package; get it out within 48 hours of contacting the seller.

  • Tell the seller when you're sending the package back so that he knows to expect it. Make sure he understands that you expect a refund as soon as he receives the returned package. And if you use a tracking number, there will be no "misunderstandings."

If all goes well, you should have your money back shortly. See the next section if it doesn't go as planned.

When the transaction is complete, think twice about the feedback you leave for the seller. If the return was handled gracefully, reward the seller with positive feedback. Use neutral feedback only if the return was a hassle, and negative feedback only if you got no refund at all. This is important, because as a member of the eBay community, you want to reinforce ? with all sellers ? that accepting returns is in their best interest. If there's a stigma equating returns with negative feedback, then no seller will ever accept a refund. See [Hack #5] for further information.

If you've paid via PayPal, don't let the seller send your refund like a normal payment?otherwise, you and the seller will both have to pay the ~3% PayPal fees. Instead, make sure the seller knows to use PayPal's Refund feature.

3.14.3 If All Else Fails . . .

This is the part of the hack where I say, "You paid for this item with a credit card or PayPal, right?" And you say, "Yes, of course I did!"

When you use a credit card or PayPal, you can, as a last resort, dispute a charge under the following circumstances:

  • The item you received was not as the seller had described it in the auction, and the seller is uncooperative in accepting a return.

  • You returned the item, you have proof the seller received it, but you have not yet received your money back.

  • The item never arrived, and the seller is uncooperative.

  • You suspect fraud or intentional misrepresentation (see also [Hack #28]).

If you paid for the item with PayPal, you can use PayPal's Buyer Complaint Form; just log in to PayPal, go to Help Contact Us Contact Customer Service, and then choose Protections/Privacy/Security Buyer Complaint Process. Unfortunately, PayPal's Buyer Protection Policy only covers purchases you never received. Despite the presence of the "Item Not as Described" option, don't use it: it's a trap! If you select "Item Not as Described" during the process, PayPal will close the case and you won't be given a second chance.

If you paid for the item with a credit card (including via PayPal), simply contact your credit card company and dispute the charge. You'll have to carefully explain the situation (include relevant emails and all tracking numbers), but in most cases you should get a full refund whether the seller is cooperative or not. No other payment method offers this level of protection.

Don't dawdle when it comes to filing charge disputes, but don't file them frivolously, either. Although you'll typically have only 30-60 days in which to file a dispute, it's always better to handle it directly with the seller, so try to be patient. Sometimes filing a dispute is enough to convince a seller to cooperate, at which point the dispute can be simply canceled.

But the real beauty of eBay is that, no matter what the circumstance, you can turn around and sell just about anything. And if you do it right, you'll probably get more than you originally paid!