Learn to buy and sell antiques and collectibles

Overcoming eBay Seller Frustrations

I asked my readers to tell me about the frustrations they encounter when selling on eBay. This article explains the frustrations, and my suggestions for overcoming them.

eBay Seller's Most Common Frustration Is Buyer Complaints About Shipping Costs

For example, an eBay seller in Canada complained about buyers giving her low Detailed Seller Ratings for shipping charges. The low ratings caused her to lose her Top Rated Seller Discount.

I also got emails from U.S. sellers about the same problem of buyers complaining about shipping. I removed this problem by RAISING my shipping costs. I added $3.00 to the shipping cost of every package I send. I also made sure the costs seem calculated by using odd numbers like $14.56, $12.78 $19.77 and $21.01.

Lately I've begun shipping everything over 5 pounds that won't fit in a Priority mail flat rate box by either UPS, or USPS standard shipping. I tell the bidders I'll ship the item by ground so they'll save money on shipping charges, then charge them the Priority Mail rate.

My intention was to make enough money on the increased postage that I wouldn't care about the loss of the discounts. I've more than reached that in most months.

Oddly, I continued to get the discounts, but I'll be losing them when eBay requires 14 day return periods and 1 day shipping to get the discounts in June 2012.

One note here. I pack very well. Here's an email I got recently from an eBay buyer who paid me $75.01 for shipping and handling on a $1650 purchase:

Hi Terry. Thanks so much for the world class packaging job. I wish other sellers were as skillful and considerate as you are. Of course I left you positive feedback and 5* DSRs.

Best regards,

This was a large fragile item that weighed less than 5 pounds. The buyer is happy. Packing well increases the buyer's willingness to pay higher shipping costs.

There are some additional reasons my buyers tend to be happier today than the changes in the shipping amount I charge and the way I pack. Two of them are:

  1. I charge flat rate shipping and tell the buyers in the auction description to factor the shipping costs into their bids to figure their final cost. This means there are no surprises.
  2. I sell expensive stuff so the shipping cost as a percentage of the buyer's total cost is under 10%.

This second reason is a big reason my buyers are happy with the shipping costs. (I looked at my most sales in April 2012 before the $1650 sale, and my average sale on eBay is for $128. My average shipping charge is $13 which gives me the 10% figure.)

So my recommendation is to ignore DSR, stop worrying about the Top Rated Seller discounts, and just concentrate on squeezing every penny from your buyers.

Before you chime in and say gouging buyers on shipping costs isn't a long run strategy, let me remind you that 35 to 50% of my buyers are repeat buyers, and this number has been increasing over the same time period that I raised my shipping charges.

Another Frustration Is EBay Buyers Leaving Neutral Or Negative Feedback

Another frequent eBay seller complaint is buyers leaving neutral or negative feedback without contacting the seller to resolve the problem. Assuming you're already packing the items well, and have adequate descriptions and photos, I don't think there is any way to combat this.

I say this because historically, I've run about 1 negative or neutral feedback for every 200 transactions. If you sell enough you'll end up with buyers who have unrealistic expectations, or worse, buyers who are trying extort discounts from you.

My latest negative feedback was from a buyer who claimed the World War 2 era military surplus telegraph key I'd sent him came apart in the mail. He wanted 'remuneration' for the hassle of putting a screw back in. I refused because I doubted the item had come apart in the mail, he admitted he put it back together again in a few minutes, and he has a history of leaving feedback for people even after he extorts partial refunds from them.

He filed a complaint with eBay who found in my favor and closed the complaint. From my point of view no matter what I did, I was going to get a negative feedback from him, so why give him a few dollars in 'remuneration' for the imagined trouble of putting a screw back in.

Note: Beginning in June 2012, eBay will do partial refunds when buyers complain about items missing small parts or needing small repairs.

I think eBay found in my favor in the above case because having the man send back the item because he had to spend a few minutes (his words) putting it back together wasn't fair to me. Under the new policy, eBay may make a partial refund if the buyer provides a third party estimate of the costs of repairs. This might change the situation going forward.

Here's the announcement from eBay on partial refunds:
A provision has been added to the eBay Buyer Protection Policy that goes into effect on June 19, 2012 stipulating that in some cases we may refund part of the cost of an item to the buyer, and receive reimbursement from the seller, to cover differences between the item described and the item actually received, such as items received with small parts missing or minor repairs needed. Buyers may be asked to provide written proof from an authorized third party detailing the cost of such repairs. In these cases, we will not require the buyer to return the item to the seller.

Hmm. Another nail in the coffin of offering refunds on eBay.

The only negative I got last year was from a buyer who bought an assortment of small toy trains made in the 1970s from me. I don't deal in these trains, but got a shoebox of them with some other items I purchased. Knowing some of the Japanese made ones are valuable, I listed all 35 pieces in one lot and was happy to get $160 for the box load.

A week after shipping the box out, the buyer called to complain the trains ran poorly. I pointed out that my description said "these trains are used and if my notes say they run they were tested by attaching test leads. You'll need to clean and service these trains before running them on your layout. This lot is sold as is with no returns."

I told the unhappy buyer I'd give him advice on cleaning the trains, but wouldn't take them back. He went on to file a complaint with eBay who found in his favor and had him send the trains back. He left me a negative feedback because eBay didn't refund his return shipping.

A note here: eBay never sent me an email about the complaint. The first I heard about it was in an email saying they'd found in the buyer's favor because I hadn't responded to the complaint.

I relisted the trains on eBay with even stronger no-returns-these-will-need-cleaning language and got $235 plus shipping for them.

Since then I've started checking the no returns box when listing items sold as is. (I've now gone to a no returns at all policy since the spring 2012 eBay seller update.)

This brings up another frustration mentioned by a number of readers. The eBay Complaint system seems slanted in favor of buyers.

The eBay Complaint System Is Biased Towards Buyers

I think it is slanted towards buyers based on the fact that eBay doesn't send emails when a buyer opens a case. In neither of the cases I've had did I get emails from eBay. I think they expect me to watch the number of messages on the my eBay page messages tab.

Additionally, I think the way the complaint system is staffed it has to be slanted towards buyers. After all, the eBay staffer dealing with the complaint has no knowledge of the item being discussed.

The staffer only has a few tools to use when making his decision. I'm sure he's looking at the number of other complaints filed by the buyer, the number of complaints the seller has had recently, and then all he has to look at are the complaint and the response.

Think about it further. Sellers are already complaining about the arbitrary nature of the eBay Buyer Protection Policy. If eBay cared about seller complaints, they'd make changes.

Obviously, eBay cares more about buyer complaints than seller complaints.

This makes perfect sense.

For the past 10 years, we sellers have been incrementally abused by eBay policy changes, but continued to list items. We continue to list items on eBay because there are buyers.

EBay's business model is to keep the buyers returning to the site so the sellers will list items while pulling every possible cent of revenue out of the seller's profits.

I know this can be frustrating when you're caught in the process, but the number of complaints as a percentage of your total sales should be quite low.

I've only had the two complaints I mentioned above since the buyer protection program started at least 5 years ago. So I cannot make a percentage estimate, but will say that if more than 1% of your buyers are filing complaints either you aren't doing a good job of describing your items, or you're in a niche that caters to unrealistic buyers.

So my suggestion here is not to get caught up in buyer complaints if you run less than 1 complaint per hundred sales. (EBay won't use buyer complaints as a reason for limiting your selling account unless you go over 1% or have more than 3 complaints in a year. There are exceptions for high volume sellers.)

Instead of worrying about eBay Buyer Protection Policy complaints, concentrate on doing a good job describing and shipping your items and when you get a complaint, think about all the other sales you've had without complaints.

One note. . . Including your phone number inside the package with a message telling the buyer you want him to be happy and to call if there are any problems will allow you to head off buyer complaints quickly.

I have buyers call me about 2 times a year with problems. In almost all cases I can either solve their problem on the phone, or explain why there really isn't a problem in a way they accept.

On to more eBay seller frustrations. . .

EBay Fees Are A Common Seller Frustration

EBay fees were a source of frustrations. Specifically the amount of the fees, but also waiting for eBay fees to be credited after a sale is refunded.

EBay makes their money on seller fees. It's a cost of doing business. My fees have gone down as a percentage of sales since I opened a store.

WARNING: Watch Out For EBay Promotions

I've learned to pay attention to eBay's promotions with an eye toward making sure they really will end up with me saving money.

For example eBay recently ran a promotion for free insertions on fixed price listings. I mostly run auctions with low starting prices. Taking advantage of the promotion would have cost me almost $100 in extra fees because the final value fees on fixed priced listings are higher.

As a reader of this newsletter, you'll get announcements by email about these promotions with their hidden costs. You also get articles about how to avoid paying additional fees for unhelpful listing upgrades, and information comparing the fees associated with different types of eBay listings.

The information I provide will help you keep your fees down. Accept that the fees are a cost of doing business and then concentrate on other aspects of your business where you can increase your profits.

Back to eBay fees. . .

As a bit of perspective, my costs of selling on eBay are lower than if I had a store and paid rent, employee wages, insurance, utilities and everything else involved. I know a number of people who have closed their stores and now sell only on eBay and at antique shows.

They've closed their brick and motar stores because eBay is cheaper, and they enjoy a better lifestyle.

While there are other frustrations sent in by readers like you, the ones I've listed are the most common. I think all of these frustrations can be overcome by an adjustment in attitude, and by some simple skills improvement.

When you know you're not wasting money on eBay fees. . . when you know you're getting the highest possible prices in your auctions. . . when you know that you'll always have a few bad apples mixed in with all the pleasant-easy-to-please buyers. . . you'll feel better.

Can You Learn From A Dog?

Ugly Poodle

I'm going to take the dog for a walk. She likes to see the neighbor's horse, and has to check to see if the kittens under the portable building at the school made it through today's rain storm OK.

Next to eating, the nightly walk is the highlight of her day.

Speaking of the dog and attitudes. Her biggest challenge every day is deciding which area of the grass she's going to pee on. She spends about 5 minutes moving around and sniffing before doing her business.

Our lives are a bit more complex and our challenges make hers seem meaningless, but there is a lesson she can teach us.

You see, my little 'ugly poodle' doesn't do resentments.

If you're worried about wasting money on eBay fees, or about getting the highest prices in your listings, check out my Auction Revolution manual.

The Auction Revolution will help you keep your fees down, get higher prices in your auctions, and systemize your selling activities so you'll have more time to take your dog for a walk or do whatever you enjoy.


PS The dog doesn't even mind me calling her an 'ugly poodle.' She knows she's an ugly poodle, but she also knows she's a beautiful miniature pinscher.

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Many of the articles and free reports here on IWantCollectibles were originally sent to readers of my Antiques and eBay Newsletter. Not all articles make it onto the website, and readers also get notices of free reports and special offers.

Ted at his desk.

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Selling Public Domain Items on eBay

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