How do eBay sellers stop buyers from ripping them off?

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Once upon a time…

there was a girl who put a thousand quid shirt in the post, the ordinary post, with no tracking. It went to Australia, to a buyer with -1 feedback, who’d paid with a credit card (this was before PayPal was even thought of). And she thought nothing of it.

This same girl regularly used to put wads of dollar bills into envelopes and send them to sellers in the US, and she always got her stuff. And nobody thought anything of it at all.

eBay’s changed a lot in the past 15 years. Not least, that sellers (and buyers) are more and more concerned about being ripped off by one another. It’s not unreasonable: I’ve had buyers claim non-receipt and been reasonably sure they were lying, just as I’ve had sellers claim they’d sent me something “and it must have been lost in the post”, and been reasonably sure they were lying too. As a recent commenter asked, how do we, as sellers, protect ourselves from false claims of non-receipt?

Here’s the bottom line: you can’t. If a buyer wants to rip you off, they will – and they’re probably going to get away with it. Everything about the eBay system, PayPal and the law goes in their favour. The trick is to tip the odds as much as you can towards this not hurting you.

Proof of Posting
I still see sellers on eBay saying “I always obtain proof of posting”. PoP is not proof of delivery, but it is a good indicator that if a buyer doesn’t receive their item, the seller is going to say “claim from Royal Mail then”; I run a mile when I see this. If you’re relying on PoP, you’re going to have some unhappy buyers pretty soon – and you’re putting off plenty more. Not worth the paper it’s written on.

Trackable Delivery

If you send goods big enough or expensive enough to need to go by courier, your life may be a little easier: tracking is *usually* better and *usually* online. There’s probably a way to claim for lost items, and you may even have a good enough relationship with a courier that claiming isn’t too painful. Even so – check what you’re covered for. Loss? Damage? Buyer claims non-receipt, courier swears delivered? It may not be as simple as you hope it’s going to be.

If you’re relying on recorded or special delivery “insurance” for lost items, bear in mind that you’re only covered for the cost price of the item, not its sale price. You may also have to wait for the buyer to confirm non-receipt of the item to RM before your claim is processed. In any case, the claims process is slow, and clunky – so unless you’ve sold something expensive, claiming is going to waste more time than it’s worth.

Then there’s PayPal seller protection, which requires online tracking. Though RD and SD qualify, they don’t protect you against negative feedback and buyer complaints. Handling your customers with courtesy and avoiding the official eBay complaint channels is probably a better way to do that.

Things are particularly difficult for those of us who sell small, inexpensive items that can only really be sent by post. Do you double your item price by insisting on recorded delivery, or stick it in the post box and cross your fingers? Personally, I always went for the latter, figuring that lots of lost sales cost me more than a couple of lost packets. And that’s alright, so long as you allow for it –>

Here’s what I used to do: I knew that some of my packages would go missing. I knew what percentage that was (less than 1%) and I made allowances for it in my pricing. I’m told that retail stores do the same: apparently one large chain adds 2% to everything to allow for shoplifting. You’re going to get losses: stop worrying about whether they’re lost in delivery or nicked by buyers, just allow for them. Stop looking at profit on a per-transaction basis, and look at the bigger picture. Your business will thank you for worrying about something more important.

In conclusion, I’d say this: if what you’re most worried about in your business is buyers ripping you off – you’re in the wrong business. Sell in a different category, sell in a different marketplace, or give up selling online altogether. Because if you can’t trust your customers, who can you trust?


PS Someone in the comments is just warming up to have a go at me about this. How dare I suggest that buyers be allowed to get away with it? This is theft, it should be stopped, etc. etc. Well, yes – it should be stopped. But you can’t stop it. Make a decision with your head and your spreadsheet – not with your righteous anger. It’s a business decision to build this into your costs, and concentrate on the things you can control.

49 Responses

  1. Distance Seller Regulations will always back up buyers rather than sellers, but don’t you feel that certain market places seem to prompt buyers into making claims and leaving negative feedback. I sell over a few channels and on only one do I get lost items in the post, all the others are fine. On the same channel most of the customers can’t write their addresses properly. To me this channel appeals to a certain person, one that seems a little uneducated and they proberly don’t have a lot of money or a well paid job. Not that there’s anything wrong with this. It just that they don’t shop on other channels I sell on. Can anyone guess what marketplace I’m talking about? Answers on a postcard.

  2. The DSR’s are only in place to help ecommerce grow, they are not a permanant fixture. There will be no admition of this of course.

    One day soon, the DSR’s will change/morph to not be so heavily weighted in the buyers favour.

    Buyers remorse will not be allowed etc. This is teh only way that ecommerce will continue to grow.

  3. Shrinkage = Shop Lifting. Actually it doesn’t. It covers all such losses and usually the largest category is Theft by Employees. Most ebay sellers are quite small often one-man organisations so this part should not be a problem, But if you do employ staff then you could have stock or even assets driving out in the boot of their cars. Obviously the loss is a cost to the company but its not all Shop Lifting.

  4. Sellers do make mistakes like putting the wrong address labels on packages or writing the wrong address. This can lead to a failure to deliver.

    Self adhesive address labels do come unstuck and fall off unfortunately. More so in damp humid conditions.

    Cheap weak packing tape could mean that packages fall apart in transit.

    Mail does get stolen. Mailbags do go missing. This leads to a failure to deliver.

    Postie does not always put a collection request card through a letter box. Buyer does not collect and assumes package gone missing.

    Packages sent airmail do sometimes go surface mail by mistake. This can take 60 days to reach Australia. Buyer claims gone missing. Then there are the customs issues.

    Sellers are always suspicious of buyers who claim an item has not arrived.

    How to mitigate?

    Always put a return address on a package and and invoice within the package. That way at least there is a chance of a package being returned if it goes missing or is not collected.

    In the last year I have had 2 packages returned from distant parts overseas that had not been delivered/collected. Both buyers had claimed non receipt.

    Always use the high adhesion address labels and not the standard cheap variety.

    Put clear selotape over address labels to further protect them in cases where there is a risk of humid conditions.

    Use strong quality tape when packaging not the economy version.

    I could go on but I will stop here!

  5. Well I think it is great post Sue and has some good points.

    What I would say is always claim for lost items, even if just sent through Royal Mail.

    I only recently learnt that RM follow up on this and have perused and prosecuted customers who regularly say items have not been delivered!

    Also if you have collections from them and have a regular loss, they monitor this to, to check if anything is ‘wrong’ with their system.

  6. Unfortunatly it’s an ebay that has got worse since -ve feedback for buyers was canned. It always amazes me I have had 1 item not received through our website, lost count how many through ebay

  7. dont post to S E Asia
    is the best way of avoiding being ripped off
    apart from Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan,

  8. Like Sue I have always sent standard first class with the customer’s choice on special or Airsure etc. I upgrade their postage if a they buy a lot or I donn’t like the look of the address.
    Since January I have only used trackable for international sales because I have had too many claims. If the post (especially to the States) settles down again I will return to standard airmail for lower value items.
    I don’t reckon I get more than 10 spurious claims a year. I think you can keep these down by communicating with your customer and being meticulous with your admin.

  9. we are Ebay TRS sellers being ripped off is in the job description
    we dont worry about it
    the bottom line is what concerns us

  10. Words of truth and wisdom from Sue
    “If a buyer wants to rip you off, they will – and they’re probably going to get away with it.”

    Brilliant advice for new sellers from Gary and Chris is right too, as usual Norf cuts right through all the wittering straight to the point. What a great start to the week.

    Valentine greetings to all!

  11. I think the question that needs to be answered is ‘how does Amazon avoid being ripped off?’ They have free returns and a very liberal policy to engender customer loyalty.

    They are a big success.


  12. In general we just have to accept that some buyers will rip you off.

    We have a 15 working day replacement policy (an extension of Royal Mail’s policy on lost items). This is a part of our T&C.
    We have found that it is a good ‘cooling off policy’ as many buyers do not then come back to us. This may well be RM does actual deliver the packets, but we’ve also had reports of packets taking 21 days to do the straight run London to edinburgh.

    Just when the snow started last year we sent a packet out (2 orders packed n 1 packet). The buyer advised us NINE DAYS after dispatch email, it had not arrived. Weresponded as above.
    THIRTY FIVE later , he emailed us again daying it had not arrived, so I started looking at his feedback. 3 INR claims in 1 year with only 23 feedbacks.
    Smelling a rat, we reported it to RM, but clearly peeved we were challenging him he opened a dispute on ebay.

    Waiting for RM to investigate, he approach ebay & they gave him his money back (our money).

    Ebay asked us to reimburse them, flagging an ID with messages every time we signed on & I was livid.

    All comms with the buyer had been via ebay, or so we thought!!.
    On looking through our spam, we found an email which the buyer had just clicked reply to & hence it came directy into our email account.

    In that email he complained again, but foolishly tried to complain about the P&P paid, but wrote ‘ I paid £XX for ‘a small packet’

    BINGO, got him, how did he know we’d packed the 2 orders in 1 packet, if he had not got it??????.

    We then made a complaint on buyer protection abuse to ebay, they did not reply of course, but rrmoved their demand for the refunded money…….

    But of course, this was only one & as Sue says not worth the sleepless nights…….

  13. Trust your customers, give great service and don’t argue with them. You’ll get massive loyalty, massive reccomendation to other customers and a massive boost to your own good feelings – or get furious about every claiming lying cheating pig of a buyer, and let me get their business next time………

  14. Thanks Sue, great article
    Soapbox time –
    There will always be a criminal element in society and these individuals will always seek to steal, cheat and lie their way through life regardless of deterrents.

    The easier it is to commit a crime then the more likely that a crime will be committed.

    Anybody can be tempted to steal or cheat but most of us don’t either for moral reasons or the fear of the consequences.

    Unfortunately eBay have through a series of policies weakened both moral and consequential reasons for not committing crime. Much has already been said about Feedback and DSRs and I’m not going to flog a dead horse, but the reality is that there is less trust between buyers and sellers since the changes.

    You will never eliminate crime, but you can build systems that reduce it. However until such time that eBay experience a significant decease in profits they have no interest in implementing any changes.

  15. We claim for everything Royal Mail ‘lose’ in the post, domestic and overseas.

    But Sue, what concerns us about this is that incidents of items reportedly lost in the post is increasing month on month on eBay. I don’t believe Royal Mail are getting worse, I believe eBay buyers are wising up to an easy scam.

    If I wanted something relatively low value (knowing that it would be unlikely that it was sent tracked) and didn’t want to pay for it, eBay is the place I’d go.

  16. I ship all my sales either RD, SD, ISF or AS and the tracking numbers are all entered into paypal as I bag and tag up the parcels.

    This triggers a paypal email to the seller with all the postage information including the tracking number.

    Since adopting this three years ago I’ve not had one INR claim on around 1000+ packages.

  17. we’ve just had a buyer advising non-receipt of an item sent at the start of the month. upon corresponding with her, it turns out she put her work address for the item to be sent to, but left her postcode as her home address. she said she’s already had things posted to her like that. it has been explained that the Royal Mail won’t agree to a compensation claim, so she should go check with her sorting office. Just know that her clear mistake is going to end up with us losing out.

  18. All UK addresses/postcodes should ideally be validated by reference to RM database.

    eBay/PayPal should do this, they would be able to get a knock down rate from RM for the DB use.

  19. Pragmatic yes,and yes we have to pay that’s simply the way it is, but sellers are prevented from placing negs if they think they have been ripped off, and even writing a negative attement. So thumbs down to this rather drippy article.

  20. Does the Royal Mail have any sort investigative arm?

    Here in the US, if a seller uses delivery confirmation, signature confirmation, registered or certified mail, or Express Mail with signature required and the buyer makes an INR claim when the record shows otherwise, the seller can request the USPS Postal Inspector to investigate.

    Punishment is jail time and/or fines.

  21. What I do is when I send the goods, inside the packet I put a slip of paper saying, more or less, if you encounter any problems please email me at this email address….I then give them an email address which is not associated with Ebay so the only way the buyer can know THAT email address is if they got the packet !.
    I have had loads and loads of “Wheres my item” emails and when I point out that the only way for them to actually KNOW that email address was if they opened up the packet to get the address from the slip inside the packet and to make them sweat I tell them that I will also notify Ebay, paypal and Royal Mail Protection that they are trying to scam us….You would be amazed at the number of times the Husband, Wife, Kids, Grandkids or the milkman ‘must’ have had the post and not told them !!

  22. As you say if you do not like it stop selling on ebay that has the tendency to attract the bad buyer. But with the ebay mentality that a buyer can do no wrong then why wouldn’t it.

    Royal mail in the past have gone after the sender rather than the recipient so most sellers do not bother claiming.
    Ebay have made it impossible to alert other sellers of problem buyers, so anyone that does want to go free shopping can get away with it as much as they want.

    As you say move on and leave ebay, as a lot of sellers, especially auction sellers do not have the option to add the loss into the price. So there really is no other alternative, when your only defense is hope the thief does not buy off you.


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