eBay Customer Service is not fit for today’s world of Cross-Border Trade

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David Brackin is the managing director of Stuff U Sell, the leading trading assistant in the UK and a regular Tamebay contributor. In this post he looks at his recent eBay customer support experiences concerning international sales.

I love the guys in Dublin. You call up and they are delighted to help, but you get the sense that as soon as the transaction is international they are mired in an arcane and impenetrable system that must be as frustrating for them as it is for the poor seller trying to resolve things. “I’m sorry I can’t deal with that: the buyer was on ebay.it” are words to strike desperation into even the most resilient seller’s heart.

You don’t even have to have made the choice to sell into Italy or listed on ebay.it – an innocent ebay.co.uk listing with the option to ship to Italy can see you corresponding with Italian customer services using Google translate and losing your time and your money. In a time when eBay is promoting cross-border trade harder than ever, it’s time they took an overall look at Customer Service from the view of the customer and not just what suits its peculiarly non-global organisation.

Over this past week I’ve had escalated to me five refund cases where the wrong result has occurred, amounting to nearly £2,000 which we’ve wrongly refunded. One was a Global Selling Programme item where the item was lost after arriving in Derby, another was an error by eBay allowing and escalation and closure of a case just fifteen minutes after it was raised on a Sunday morning; a return from an unusually canny new eBayer in the US, an INR item delivered with tracking to Tajikistan and a signed-for package sent to Japan that the buyer said they didn’t sign-for. All the usual slip-ups. “Edge cases” the product team would no doubt have referred to them – but all strikingly international.

There are always edge-cases and that’s why it’s important that there are humans who can see what is going wrong and ensure the right decision is made and that is where Customer Services becomes important. We only list on ebay.co.uk – but buyers can buy on any site which show the UK inventory, so as a hapless seller you are often thrown around various departments with no-one taking ownership.

This week, it has often taken me twenty minutes or more to speak to the right person in the right country about what odd rules they have in place on their particular flavour of eBay site. If you are accepting a return in the US, then you need to send an amount – any amount that is reasonable – via Paypal to pay for return postage: if you ask the buyer how much their preferred courier would cost, or ask eBay CS to clarify what is required then when the case times out after five days and you will lose the item and the money – no appeal to be considered.

If you send an item using GSP to Austria and it is damaged, then you will find that Austrian customer services tell you that since they do not offer GSP in Austria, they will not cover the damage they make. That particular one took me three months of chasing to resolve a £500 claim. Heaven help you if you were dealing with Italy in January – the customer service team there rely on Google Translate to deal with UK sellers by email only – and needed chasing every two weeks by the Dublin team to respond at all to an item with clear tracking numbers and proof of delivery. We still lost the case. I still don’t know why.

It’s time that eBay stepped-up on this one and took a leaf out of the playbook of their own Global Shipping Programme: use the fact that they are global to make it easy for both buyer and seller to deal with cross-border trade. That eBay is split into such rigid international silos is historical accident rather than good matrix design. That may be hard to change now, but it’s not fair that customers suffer as a result. One CS agent that I discussed this with suggested that it was international law that made this tricky, but I can hardly see how one team in Manilla can legally deal with things whilst another cannot. UK sellers should be dealing with UK CS and Italian buyers should be dealing with Italian CS and then the two CS teams should be speaking with each other and agreeing how to resolve situations.

It is surely easier for the two CS teams to communicate with one another and have an agreed framework for resolving issues than it is for either the buyer or the seller to be working with unfamiliar rules and language. This would have the further advantage of driving a harmonisation of seller and buyer rules and expectations across eBay globally and allowing it to flourish as a marketplace. At the moment there is just far too much that can go wrong with international trade, and every expectation that eBay will not put things right when it does.

40 Responses

  1. I sent an item from the UK to the USA the customer decided they didn’t like it returned it back and leaving me with a £45 customs bill to pay.Called eBay to help but they said this was the first time they have had this problem and told me to contact customs.
    Not happy.

  2. I have this issue a lot. Seller support outside of the UK do not understand global shipping. They only reply in their native language and shout at you if your respond in English. When it is an issue in Aus or US their customer support does not open until after closing time.

    The local support teams always stand by their customer and do not see common sense.

  3. I am one of the lucky ones on the Concierge programme. I cannot speak highly enough of them.

    They are real experts in all areas and have helped my eBay business grow. They even sent me a Christmas Card (take note Amazon)

  4. That explains something that happened to me. CS in the Far East said i should send money to a buyer to return an item without knowing how much it would be. CS just didn’t understand the geography, the information available to either buyer or seller in the countries where they were working, or the availability of postal services. It sounds like they decided based on ebay.com rules. However, is it significant that the User Agreemet is not with ebay.com, and it states that UK law applies? If so, then Sales of Goods and Services requirements kick in which says that Ebay should operate with a level of competency that offers a satisfactory quality of service. If Ebay aren’t doing this, and they aren’t, then they are not meeting their legislative requirements.

  5. Ebay has clearly reached it’s Corporate understanding limit. Probably because of its size and profitability it clearly thinks that it can make the rules up or have no rules as it likes.
    I had a problem today on a UK to UK sale which somehow was switched to a USA sale.
    Don’t believe that Ebay exists to serve it’s small customers or that it is international.
    The proof is in its operations and smiley faces and voices don’t help either buyers or sellers.

  6. I entirely agree with the international CS problems. I have had many similar experiences. Additionally, about a year ago I was stopped by ebay selling in Germany Austria and Switzerland after a few issues. Despite solving all the issues and having no problems since, I cannot get my listings back into these countries as ebay UK CS say they cannot help reinstate me. They cannot tell me who to speak to either. I get the same response every time I ask. Ridiculous.

  7. You should consider yourself lucky to be able to speak to a Dublin agent. As a Top Rated Seller the support I now get could only be described as bottom rated. If our buying customers are all stuck with Philippines support they will probably never buy from eBay again. It’s enough to make your hair fall out. Complainming is not worth the pixels

  8. ebay are stealing money for posting items. ebay are making millions from this.
    final postage fee is theft.

  9. At least on eBay even non-concierge sellers can speak to someone. On Amazon its non-existant.

  10. The seller protection is useless, and so many buyers wanting free stuff it’s very risky sending abroad especially to places places with hardly any police help and red tape involved, for example don’t send expensive items abroad anything can happen your not protected your PayPal account becomes negative straight away the buyer can say anything and your screwed I, I sent a iPad Pro abroad and tracking said delivered and buyer said I sent him a old laptop crazy people eBay didn’t do nothing

  11. I have to say the US has been the biggest surprise to me over the past week. They are running a very strict policy where if a buyer raises a claim you lose the item and the money unless you have provided them with a postage label or a paypal payment to cover return postage within five days. Since a postage label is hard to source from here, this usually means paying any complaining buyer a significant sum.

    If you email the buyer and ask what’s wrong with an item and offer to help them find the on button to “fix” it, then you lose the case.

    If you email to the buyer to find out how much they’d like to post it back then you lose the case.

    If you email the buyer to find out how large or heavy the item is when they have repackaged it to calculate the correct postage then you lose the case.

    If you email customer services then you find that the email queue for the US customer services team is well over five days at the moment, so you lose the case.

    If you call up then you are told that this is just a cost of doing business. I was genuinely surprised to have a CS agent tell me that they have many people who sell more than I do, and if I don’t like their policies then I shouldn’t sell on eBay. I mean I appreciate that — at the bottom of it — that is the deal on offer, I was just surprised to hear it spoken out loud.

    However, even that option isn’t as easy as you might like to think. When we decided to stop selling to Italy a few weeks ago, we selected that option on the account pages and said that we do not ship to Italy. Nothing changed. We still have Italian orders coming through. It turns out that functionality does not work. You can check out any time you like…

  12. I sent Alienware laptop to japan the buyer claimed it wasn’t what he ordered, and opened up a dispute total cost £1300 and ebay gave him back the money didnt even send back my laptop, ebay didnt do nothing and paypal did nothing and now we are leaving the EU expect more of nothing

  13. I now only sell to a handful of premium Western European countries, plus Northern America. Anywhere else is just too much hassle.

    The US may soon be struck off my white list.

    It would take a lobotomy for me to sell to countries like Italy!

  14. Customer services/seller support are not fit for domestic support never mind international.
    The staff in Dundalk (not Dublin) are undertrained and many not paid well I know a few. They have very limited scope to actually do anything and are really there to provide lip service. Even so that lip service is even better than some of the other places we get through too. We had an issue with eBay.de and ended up getting transferred all over the world, we even got through to ebay.de STARTED speaking German to them as we can communicate and they sent us back to IRELAND.
    Amazon are as bad, but at least you can email them and send bullet POINTS till someone actually gets to the issue.
    Compare the service of A+E to some of the niche markets we deal with they are light years apart. Suppose the saying is correct size does not always matter. A+E support along with RMG is shocking for business. Epic Fail.

  15. When a very very senior person at Ebay admits to me personally they do all their shopping on Amazon, that says a lot. Ebay CS is woeful. Domestic or otherwise.

  16. I live in Ireland, am a small business seller, and I’ve never been able to speak to Dundalk customer services. Philippines always, who can never solve a problem. Email (and oddly) twitter have been worthwhile in some cases, but.. It. Takes. So. Long. 4 days to resolve a simple issue last week – eight emails back and forth, plus 3 phone calls and one live chat. Bizarre.

  17. I’m another one lucky to have been chosen for the Concierge program, which has been excellent. Prior to that, I had an ebay.com sale that led to my dealing with ebay.uk CS when there was some sort of issue, I forget exactly what. eBay’s US CS actually transferred my call to someone in the UK — wasn’t I surprised, but I had the UK policy up on my screen and we were still speaking English, so resolution of the problem was easy-peasy (and in our favor; I do remember that much).

    We currently have a cross-border case (which I need to check on, actually; thanks to this article for reminding me!) where a buyer got a Customs bill of £4,800 for an item bought on ebay.com for about £30. (She attached a photo of said Customs bill through My Messages, on which we could read our delivery confirmation number, so she’s not making this up.) Obviously a mistake, but her post office wouldn’t help her with getting it put right, and she even got in touch with Customs, who also said they could do nothing: told her just to refuse the package, let it go back to the sender (us) and have it reshipped.

    Meanwhile, her post office scanned the package as delivered, which is not supposed to happen until the recipient has either claimed the parcel at their local post office or it’s been put into their home mailbox. PO should have scanned it as “Held for pickup”. Since it shows as delivered, under ebay.com and eBay UK policies alike, we are officially off the hook as to refunding her; being sellers of integrity, however, we told her we would refund her payment in full once the item (a 14k gold ankle bracelet) is back in our hands. That will leave us out of pocket by about $10 for the postage, but such is the cost of doing business.

    She opened a case with eBay, and we put the above into our messaging. Now I need to go see where we stand, since I have heard nothing more!

    eBay CEO Devon Wenig’s recent LinkedIn post reiterates eBay’s striving for more unified globalization, so hopefully cross-border CS will improve accordingly. I agree that it should be the buyer and seller dealing with their respective CSs and the 2 countries’ CSs working it out from there. If there’s a conflict between the countries’ eBay policies, let it default to ebay.com policy.

  18. Generally have a good experience with the customer service of late. If I end up getting through to a agent the other side of the world where you have to repeat your question to them and then have to confirm your question again as they tell it back to you. I now just hang up and phone back till I get through to the Irish call centre who can sort a problem with in a few minutes compared to Manila where you spend 10 minutes just explaining the question.

  19. Mos’ def’ you want a native of your own country! They may have an excellent work ethic in The Philippines, but they don’t have much knowledge of eBay. Concierge CS reps get it right off the bat.

  20. A native ? broad Geordie accents are much harder to understand than anything manilla can offer

  21. we have had many of the issues mentioned in above posts but the problems vanished when we were chosen for Concierge. From my experience, they always understand the problem – no matter what the country and come up with a sensible solution. Concierge has reinforced our faith in selling internationally.

  22. we have nothing but praise for the guys at ebay Concierge
    they actually appear to be concerned and willing to help
    though often hobbled and restricted by many of ebays rules and regulations

  23. sadly reading all the stories above its just confirmed why we stopped selling abroad. We run an extremely tight ship and simply dont have the time to be dealing with all the issues we have had… Mainly fraud.
    The fact is ebay are unlikely to do anything as there is no money in it for them…. Just keep letting the sellers get screwed.

  24. it sounds a lot like “ebay concierge” or “ebay we dont view you as scum” is the service we want to be on.
    how much more money do i need to throw at ebay to get myself on the treated-like-a-human service?
    i’m paying about £5k a month to ebay at the moment and receiving the “sellers are scum” service, where i’m lucky to speak to someone who understand english or the concept of distance selling .

  25. I have to concur with the Author of the article about the guys in Ireland. I had a challenge with a buyer yesterday and got through to Dublin. I explained the issue once, they understood straight away, but because it was a GSP transaction, it had to be transferred to another department.

    The Lady I spoke to in Dublin was great to deal with, but then I got transferred and ended up somewhere else (USA or Phillipines, not sure). After explaining it all three times, I got the usual clap trap about communicating with my buyer, and because no case had been opened, they could not do anything. So, talk to the customer, when they open a case, let it escalate and E-Bay will carefully review.

    To be clear, I was not asking for action, I was asking for clarification of their rules (which I did not get). The process suggested by CS is just rubbish, I have been down this road before, the reality of that advice is:

    a) The customer and I are not in agreement as to a solution, so I should keep messaging and delaying anyway, just to ensure we are both as irritable as possible.
    b) When the customer is suitably irritated by a), they will open a case. I should then irritate then some more by doing nothing for 8 days.
    c) The case will escalate after 8 days and E-Bay wil carefully consider the issue for two and a half seconds, taking nothing into account at all, side with the buyer and empty my Paypal account.

    I then realised my mistake, which was to pick up the phone in the first place !

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