What do you do if a buyer doesn’t return an item?

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Tamebay reader Rich has written in with an interesting problem. He had a buyer open an item not received case, so as any good seller would he immediately shipped a replacement item. The customer then told him they’d eventually received the original and the replacement items.

Rich asked for the replacement to be returned, asked the customer to get proof of postage and said he’d refund the costs. Since then he’s not heard back from the customer. eBay support have told him that they can’t help and suggested he contact PayPal, although quite what PayPal could do I don’t know.

So this is an interesting problem with lots of ways to forestall it, but once it’s happened it is tricky to figure out what to do. Shipping with tracking would obviously help, but even there tracking such as Royal Mail Signed For wouldn’t have helped – Signed For only gets a signature when the item is delivered.

Asking the buyer to wait for longer would make sense, but how long is it reasonable to ask a buyer to wait? Royal Mail don’t consider an item lost until a couple of weeks have passed by which time if you’ve not taken action that eBay complaint would in all likelihood have been escalated.

Providing a pre-paid return label might prod a buyer into action, but not everyone has an arrangement set up to do this.

Of course you could take legal action against the buyer – but who wants the reputation of being a seller who takes their customer to court?

What would you advise Rich to do? Would you write the item off as a bad experience or is there something he can do to get the replacement item returned?

13 Responses

  1. Would depend on what the value is of the item. If low cost then write it off, if of high value then I would probably not of sent out a replacement in the first place. All items that I send out are tracked with either MyHermes or UPS so can see where there are up to and if they have been delivered or lost in transit somewhere. If they are lost in transit then get in touch with the courier and wait till they come back to say it is lost before issuing a refund or send out another.

  2. if the value warrants
    contact a local mini cab firm ask them to request and collect the item that needs returned and post it on to you,
    or ask a courier or similar to request and collect

  3. I would advise rich stop selling on ebay, it is the only solution unfortunately.
    ebay will insist sellers abandon their legal rights, or just take away sellers legal rights (ie refunding before a seller has the opportunity to inspect the return, which is a legal right) and then not support them through the consequences.
    when Rich sent another item, he basically gave the guy two, should the other arrived by knowingly sending a second, David has accepted responsibility for it, the buyer is under no obligation to return either (other than a moral obligation, which ebay literally does not understand).
    ebay’s advice in this scenario is to appoint a lawyer and press criminal charges, as if that solution is actually productive for anyone, it’s their equivelent of a middle finger response.

  4. I had a similarly tricky experience a few weeks ago:

    I sold a £100 to someone in Italy. They did not want to use the GSP so paid for Royal Mail tracked.

    Item was posted on the 3rd of January.

    Two weeks later, the customer opened a case item not received. Tracking stopped on the 4th of January at Heathrow.

    I could not open a case with Royal Mail as for international items you have to wait 3 weeks after the expected delivery date.

    I told the customer to wait and a week later, as the parcel still had not moved I refunded the customer.

    I opened a case as soon as I could according to RM rules and received a reply on the 6th of February telling me the item was delivered on the 2nd of February and they were sorry for the inconvenience.

    Online tracking was indeed showing as delivered.

    I tried contacting the customer to ask for payment for obviously got no reply.

    Did I do anything wrong? I don’t think so. The main issue is eBay allowing only 7 days to sort out a delivery issue before stepping in.

    Any advice welcome.

  5. Problems like this are rare and most transactions work out fine.

    Block the so-and-so and move on. People who try scams are either attention seekers or sad. They are to be pitied.

    You, as a successful business person, have achieved far more in your life than they ever will.

    Move on and forget about it. At all costs, don’t let them get to you.

    Tomorrow you will still have a successful business and they will still be a saddo.

  6. “I would advise rich stop selling on ebay, it is the only solution unfortunately.” NOT the answer! Nor even the truth!!

    Every so often, every seller is going to encounter some sort of problem with a buyer, whether that customer is merely difficult or downright dishonest. It’s a part of doing business, and the consequences are often a cost of doing business — such as the occasional item lost by the mail service or as in this case, an unreturned item. Write it off, report the buyer to eBay (so as to put their scam on record, thereby helping to build the documentation eBay needs in order to do anything about that buyer, such as suspend them), and move on. Block the buyer as well, if you like.

    That said, it does help to make it as easy as possible for the buyer to return a redundant item. That’s why eBay developed Hassle Free Returns (which wouldn’t work in this case because you won’t be refunding the buyer). I would recommend sending the buyer a prepaid return label. You can purchase 1 through Stamps.com’s free eBay service, for example, or you can also buy a 2nd shipping label via eBay, editing it to make your return address the “to” address and the buyers address the return address before you click “Purchase”.

    Then instead of printing the label thus generated (whether by Stamps.com or eBay); save it as a PDF; and email it to the buyer to print out and use for the return. You can even convert the PDF to a JPG and send the label via My Messages. Or print out the label (on a self-adhesive label if possible, so the buyer doesn’t even have to look for tape in order to affix it to the package), and snail mail it to the buyer.

    I also tell the buyer that they can either drop the package in any mailbox (very small packages only, obviously, such as our jewelry that ships via USPS First Class Mail) or give it to their carrier. They don’t have to go to the post office. Because some buyers aren’t necessarily dishonest; they may just be lazy. Remember, buyers don’t ship every day like sellers do. Going to the post office is usually a time-consuming process, plus the buyer might not know what mail class to choose, etc., which makes returning the redundant item an inconvenient and intimidating chore for them.

    Having to front the postage cost makes the process that much more unpleasant, plus the buyer may doubt that the seller will reimburse them, and if the seller does, when or how will that happen? Much easier to simply put it off and/or forget about it!

    Sorry you encountered this challenge, but you can and will rise above it!

  7. I just add a 10% margin on all international orders as its inevitable a few percent will go missing. In the run up to Christmas i have over 10 international orders (All international tracked/signed) not be delivered within the time frame so escalated to ebay and full refunds given by support. 2 Months later and two of these people have contacted me to say they received the good. (I would put good money they have all now been delivered)

    Best option. Build in margin for lost/stolen items and you have not lost anything even when things dont go your way every time! Hard though when so many sellers are happy to make a few pence per sale and think there the best business men around!

  8. I never send out a replacement. I always refund. Ebay’s system actually discourages a seller from offering a replacement service for exactly the reasons outlined here. It doesn’t solve the problem of dishonest buyers, but at least it limits the loss.

    In the past I used to book a drop-off shipment on Hermes and then e-mail the label. It takes a little finessing of Hermes system but is relatively easy. I still had a few people who didn’t return, so i lost both the cost of the label and the item. In those days I only shipped a replacement when Hermes tracking showed the return in their system.

    As others have said, block the buyer and move on. It isn’t worth stressing about. Most transactions work smoothly and well.

    as

  9. Ebay do not realise they are feeding the huge increase in corrupt buyers with their policies. We see 1 in over 300 problems on Amazon and yet 1 in 40+ on eBay. Another issue is couriers do not return undeliverable items free. So you lose the initial outgoing shipping cost and then get a bill for the return shipping cost. When you deduct the return cost from the refund and the outgoing shipping cost only for eBay to step in and issue a full refund spouting distance selling. I have telephoned UK trading standards about this and was told if an error or inability to deliver occurs at the customers end the seller has fulfilled all parts of distance selling and is totally within their rights to withhold both shipping costs.

    But yet again eBay are a law unto themselves

  10. Try to stall the situation as long as you can by calling the customer – don’t e-mail – actually speak to them to form a bit of a relationship – hearts and minds – the human touch – let them know that the post is delayed a bit sometimes, when do you need it by etc etc. Sound them out. 9 times out of 10 for us these people are legit and they actually haven’t got the item. When your time is up then send another item. That transaction will be a neutral profit so to speak i.e. you will have sold 2 items instead of 1, but you won’t have lost any profit, just not made any if you work on say 2-2.5 x mark ups. It will happen occasionally and the chances are you won’t ever see the original item again, either because it has been snaffled by a RM employee or the customer has eventually received it and not let you know. It’s on their conscience.
    Occasionally an item will be returned as the customer didn’t collect from a RM depot or some other reason.
    It will largely depend on the type of customers that comprise your market. Our customers are mostly housewives or at least ladies 25-65 yrs old and they are less likely to try to rip you off.
    But do try to phone them and do hearts and minds to get them on side and demonstrate customer service which either way they will appreciate and are then more likely to respond positively too and even come back and re-order at some point because you made a fuss of them as they will remember you when they need something you sell. It works for us!
    However, maybe once a year we come across a moron! They are out there!

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