This thread is meant to serve as a resource for buyers. Sellers have existing resources available to them, as sellers make up the majority of active/frequent posters on FWOA, but we recognize that many sellers are also buyers, and that many FWers are primarily buyers. Therefore, problems are addressed from the buyer’s perspective, and some advice offered may be contrary to the best interests of sellers (for example, buyers are encouraged to pay with a CC, while sellers for many reasons prefer not to accept CCS).
The majority of the content in the OP was written by Nariokotome. I contributed to it, but Nario deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the excellent guide.
Buyers and sellers alike are encouraged to give input on this, either by posting in this thread or by PM. While I know a lot about eBay, there are many areas about which I have passing familiarity but others on FWOA are experts. Your input and information is invaluable, and will be fully credited. Suggestions for both content and form (how the information is organized) are appreciated.
This guide is intentionally somewhat vague. it can't possibly address every potential problem buyers may experience. When certain kinds of problems appear to be on the rise, they may be addressed here, but if you have a problem as a buyer that is unique in some way, feel free to post about it in a separate thread so it can get more attention and advice specific to your situation can be offered.
Tips for buying stuff on eBay.
Before you buy: Or, successful problem resolution through prevention.
1. Do your comparison shopping elsewhere. The stock information eBay provides for a given item is often inadequate. The information provided by most sellers is often inadequate, or worse (but rarer), flat out wrong. You're better off using a well-known, large internet retailer for finding the information you need. I use Pricegrabber.com & Amazon.com the most often as both sites have just about any product you'd want listed. Nothing beats seeing the physical product itself, so use a b&m retailer for that, especially if you're thinking about buying a more expensive item.
I recommend using eBay to look for specific products, not a type of product - but this doesn't apply in all cases (i.e. old stuff that wouldn't be on a retailer's website or in a big box store).
If you're not sure about a specific product, you're better off paying more for it at a b&m retail store with a lenient return policy before buying it on eBay.
Now that you've identified what it is that you're buying,
2. Learn how to use eBay's search features. Do a completed listing search to get an idea of how much you should expect to pay for a product on eBay. If there have been enough of the product sold, try to identify any patterns in its selling price: are they selling for less at certain days, or times of the day? are they selling more frequently now than a week ago (this means the price could be either going up or down depending on other factors)? are there a lot of unsold listings for the item (likely means prices will be/already are dropping)?
Use eBay's result sort features as needed. The default sort is now "best match" - this combines keyword matches, time ending, seller feedback and detailed seller ratings, and some other eBay voodoo. You can adjust your settings to show results by ending soonest if you like. You can also try doing a search for lowest price first or newly-listed (this is especially useful if you're looking for buy it now items).
So you've found something that looks good,
3. Check the seller's feedback. Then check it again. 100% positive feedback is meaningless. 95% or even 90% positive feedback might not necessarily be a bad thing. You need to pay to attention to the patterns in the seller's feedback.
Do they have 96% positive because they have 100 feedbacks & 4 are negatives from the a year ago? This wouldn't worry me at all. Usually if they haven't received any negative feedback in recent sales, you're in the clear. Do they have 99% feedback, but have 10,000+ feedbacks, & have received an increasing number of negatives recently? That would concern me.
Don’t forget to actually read the feedback your seller has received. Toolhaus is a great resource for quickly checking a seller’s negs and neutrals. You also should at least skim the positives; trading partners will often leave “soft positives” when the seller wasn’t fantastic, but not a complete jerk. A lot of comments such as “great product, slow shipping”, “fast shipping, item ok” or a simple “thanks” often signal some underlying problem with the seller.
There are three types of eBay sellers: casual sellers who clear out stuff from their house once in a while, part-time sellers who try to make a couple extra hundred dollars a month reselling hot deals, clearance items, etc., & full-time (or close to full-time) sellers who are making substantial amounts of money selling on eBay. Unfortunately, I've never been able to figure out which type of seller is the best to buy from. I find casual sellers often simply don't know what they're doing, don't know how to pack items well, take their time shipping, and/or freak out if you complain. High volume sellers, I've found, either don't give two sh!ts about buyers (what's a negative or 20 a week when you're selling >1,000 items in the same time frame?) - or will be very good at what they're doing. I'm probably biased towards part-time sellers because that's what I am, but I've found other part-time sellers value each purchaser enough to try to do everything they can to ensure a smooth transaction - they (we) simply don't want eBay to take up any more time than it requires - which means taking extra care making sure a listing is accurate, packaging well, & shipping quickly. However, these are just generalities - and feedback trumps all! Basically - if the seller is low volume & has a few negs, move on. If the seller is medium volume & has a few negs, don't necessarily move on. If the seller is high volume - well, check their feedback - with high volume sellers pay particular attention to their ratings on shipping time & communication.
How does the seller respond to their negative feedback? By leaving retaliatory negatives, using immature language? That's a concern. By replying, "Sorry, refunded the buyer's payment"? That's less of a concern - unless that's a standard reply to all of their negatives & the follow-up from the buyers is always, "No they didn't!" Sellers can no longer neg buyers, but you can still see what they have done in the past. You can also check responses to feedback they have been give.
Who has left them negative feedback? High % eBayers who have left few negative feedbacks & have themselves received few negative feedbacks, or buyers who are leaving lots of negative feedback &/or receiving lots in return? The former is definitely a cause for concern while the latter, ehh, not so much - some people are just idiots.
Watch out for feedback rings, or meaningless feedback. Feedback rings are usually fraudulent accounts that all give each other feedback for auctions of items that are 1 cent (or very low cost) & have no shipping cost - meaningless feedbacks. Look out for a seller who has been inactive (as either a buyer or seller) for an extended period of time (>1 month), & now has tons of stuff for sale, especially expensive stuff - that's probably a highjacked account.
The new detailed seller ratings (DSRs) (aka the gold stars on the FB page) may also help you decide who to buy from or avoid. Sellers need at least 10 FB before the stars show up, so if you’re looking at a casual seller, don’t be alarmed if you don’t see DSRs yet. Ideally you want a seller with high marks on all four DSR categories. An average of 4.5 or better would be good, but consider the whole seller profile in assessing the DSRs.
Seller looks ok?
4. Read the auction description. And its terms. Look for auctions that are devoid of spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, or stupid sh!t like lots of smiley faces & awkward formatting. Look for clear, concise descriptions of whatever it is that you're buying. Look for clear pictures as well.
Watch out for disclaimers like, "stock photo", or what are obviously stock photos the seller is just stealing from some other website. If they can't take the time to take an actual photograph, do you think they'll take the time to package well and/or communicate with you if something goes wrong? This doesn't really apply to high-volume sellers, but it certainly does to low- & medium volume sellers. Actual photos are critical for items with a value materially affected by condition. You just don't buy a crystal sculpture without seeing photos to ascertain that the "mint" description is correct. For other items, however, actual photos aren't always necessary. Do you really need to see a box of a sealed hard drive? Use judgement in deciding whether you need to see actual photos. If they aren't in the listing, and you want to see them before bidding, either move on or ask the seller to take some for you.
Watch out for "untested". Untested usually means 'we tested it & it didn't work', unless it's obviously some random item the seller might not be very familiar with. If you're buying computer parts that say "untested" from a computer parts seller, I can practically guarantee you they did, in fact, test it, & it didn't work. Otherwise they would be selling it for a higher price and some sort of guarantee.
Watch out for "no refunds". This is pure BS, plain & simple, at least for most items. You can very often get a refund through PayPal even with that language in the auction. Usually, I interpret it as an indication that the seller will do anything & everything in their power to fight giving you a refund. For some items, like concert tickets, or adult toys or lingerie, this is not a concern - if a normal b&m retailer wouldn't let you return it, then don't expect an eBay seller to let you return it.
Watch out for sellers who advertise a manufacturer's warranty, especially for electronics. Many electronics manufacturers demand a retail receipt before doing warranty work - and eBay sales are rarely (if ever) covered by them. This is common for digital cameras & camcorders (of which there's a big gray market on eBay - do not buy a camera on eBay from a seller in NYC, haha). Nikon, Canon, Kodak, & Sony all need receipts for warranty work. If the auction does not explicitly state that the seller is including a copy of the retail receipt or an original gift receipt, don't buy it. Period. Many (most?) of the digital cameras sold on eBay are made for overseas markets & have no US warranty. Maybe this isn't an issue on a $60 point n shoot, but it certainly is on a $600 SLR. Other electronics manufacturers do NOT require a receipt, like hard drive makers (i.e. Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor, Hitachi), RAM makers (i.e. Crucial, Mushkin, Kingston), & cpu makers (neither AMD nor Intel require a receipt last I had to RMA a chip, but neither warranty OEM chips anymore). If you don't know - call the manufacturer! A simple, "I bought this item two months ago & can't find my receipt, can I still send it in for warranty work?" is all it will take.
Check the seller's return policy. Do they have one specified? If not, that's not a selling point but it's not necessarily a bad thing, either (again check feedback to see how they've handled this before). Does the seller make it easy or difficult to return things? Do you need to go through some PITA RMA process & ship it back in 3 days? That's never a good thing. Do they plainly state items must be returned in their original selling condition within 1 week? That's fine.
If an item is expensive (for me, that's just about anything over $100), I contact the seller first with some question or another. I'll confirm that a detail in the description is correct, ask about combined shipping, or something else (even if I don't really need to know the answer) - simply to establish that the person is half intelligent in their response, as well as to see how quickly they respond.
Look at the shipping information each seller provides. Many sellers will indicate their shipping time frame in the listing. Some sellers may ship only once a week, others ship twice a day. If you need your widget in a hurry, look for a listing that promises prompt shipment. Don't forget that prompt shipment via Media Mail probably won't get you your rhinestone tiara in time for the prom. Many sellers offer a choice of shipping carriers and services/classes. If you need something in a hurry, look for a seller who has some sort of expedited shipping service offered, but remember that you do pay for the privilege of fast plane over slow boat. If you need something by a specific date, consider what carriers offer guaranteed delivery. From the USPS, only Express Mail has a service guarantee (which is 1 or 2 days after shipment depending on where you are in relation to where the seller is). UPS/FedEx/DHL are typically better choices if you need your widget on time. If you can locate an item close to you, and choose a private carrier, you're likely to get your item by when you need it. Otherwise, suck it up and buy from a B&M.
The shipping fee matters, too. A favorite tactic of many sellers is to increase the shipping/handling fee while decreasing the item price. This reduces some of the fees the buyer pays, and due to buyer psychology tends to attract more bids. Make sure that you consider the item price plus any s/h/i fees in determining what to buy. A $5.99 widget with free shipping will cost you less overall than a $2.99 widget with $4 shipping. eBay now offers the ability to sort by total price in searches.
You also need to think about how you can get packages. if you have a PO Box, then don't spend time looking at widgets that ship only via UPS. Also, you need to know that most sellers will require signatures on delivery for sales of $250 or more. This isn't to hassle you, or delay you getting your package, but a PayPal requirement for seller protection. So while you may need your rhinestone tiara by Friday, and UPS says they can get it to you on Friday, you may still need to arrange to have someone available to accept it, or you might have to go out to the UPS depot yourself to pick it up and sign for it.
IF A DEAL IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT'S BECAUSE IT IS NOT TRUE.
Fakes, forgeries, frauds, charlatans, & mountebanks abound on eBay. This is especially true with certain items such as designer jewelry, clothes, & just about any electronics item that's coming from Asia. DVDs being sold at far less than retail price are bootlegs from Asia. Flash drives being sold at far less than retail are fakes from Asia. Lest I sound like I'm picking on Asia, fossils that are too awesome for the asking price are fakes from North Africa. Or China. Sorry, I can't help it.
Don't be the sucker out of all the people who were born the same minute as you. Pay a few dollars more to buy your DVDs from an American selling retail American DVDs. This doesn’t mean that an American-purchased widget is guaranteed to be authentic, just that the odds of getting a real widget are much better when buying American.
So the item looks ok? Then go for it.
5. Paying for your purchase. Use a credit card. Most buyers will use credit-card funded PayPal, but if you and your seller can agree on another service that lets you use your CC, that works too. You just really want to be sure your payment is CC-funded (whether processed by Paypal or any other processor), because a chargeback may be your only recourse if something goes wrong. (Unless you're buying porn, then use a USPS postal money order.) As a seller I hate to say it because I'd rather cash out USPS postal money orders, but as a buyer I won't use anything else. There is no real way to recover any money sent in the form of a personal check or money order. eBay won't let sellers take Google Checkout (yet). If you absolutely must send a postal money order, I wouldn't send one for more than you can afford to lose without getting too bent out of shape over (i.e. that last Playboy you need for your collection). Note I keep saying USPS postal money order - most sellers prefer this type of MO, & if they try to screw with you, you can at least send the USPS after them for mail fraud. With other MOs, you do still have the mail fraud option, but the USPS looks even less kindly on fraud committed with the USPS x 2 (USPS MO + mailed through USPS).
A note about payment methods: eBay has severely restricted paper payments. Sellers may no longer advertise they accept checks and money orders in most categories. If you wish to pay with a check or MO, contact the seller before bidding/buying to ensure they are willing and able to accept it.
We'll assume, for the purposes of much of this guide, that you are using CC-funded Paypal. If your CC was processed some other way (using a seller's merchant account, for example), then some of this info applies but clearly not all.
Anyway, onto PayPal payments. First, if you have any balance in your PayPal account, withdraw it to your bank account or send it to one of your other PayPal accounts before paying*. Second, pay with a credit card. If something goes wrong, & PayPal refuses to help, a credit card chargeback is your last resort. PayPal will discourage you from using your credit card. The default option is to pay with funds in your bank account, you'll need to click on the 'more funding options' link. Then, you'll need to select your credit card. Then, you'll need to turn down PayPal's nice reminders that there are no finance charges or bills to pay when you use your bank account, and insist you want to use your credit card. (What good FWer pays interest anyway, what with our glorious finance forum and all?)
*Yes, you may have up to three Paypal accounts, one personal and one premier or business, plus one for micropayments. If you find yourself needing to shuffle funds in order to pay with a CC, then send the money to the other account, make the payment, then refund it. Alternatively, send the money to an email address you control that is not attached to any PayPal account, make your payment, then cancel the first transaction.
Send your payment, & immediately start sending harassing emails to your seller that you haven't received your item, that you want your tracking number now, that you've changed your mind, etc. Just kidding. Sit back, & wait. At least a full week before contacting your seller (unless it's a concert ticket you needed overnighted, in which case, don't wait a week.)
After you buy: Or, resolving problems that arise post-sale.
How to handle an INR. (That's Item Not Received.)
So you bought your stuff, waited a week (that's seven calendar days/five full business days), & you still don't have your stuff?
First look at the listing. Did the seller say he shipped only on Saturdays? Then start the clock from that day. If you bought on Monday an item scheduled to ship Saturday, and it’s now Tuesday (8 days after EOA), you need to wait a few more days before starting to worry.
Contact your seller through eBay. Give them at least three full business days or a full weekend plus two business days to respond. No response? Contact them through eBay again. Wait at least three full business days or a full weekend plus two business days to respond to your second email. No response? Request their contact info through eBay & call them.
If they don't answer your call, leave a message & wait two full business days or a full weekend & one business day. If they don't return your message, call again. If they don't pick up, leave a second message.
If/when they answer/call you back, ask where your stuff is. If they say they mailed it already, ask for a tracking number. If they haven't mailed it yet, politely state you expect it to be mailed that day or the next business day. If they say that's not possible, tell them you want a refund, but be polite, ala 'No harm, no foul, no problem - I'd just rather not keep waiting'. Don't get suckered into the "I'll ship it in a few days" gambit (they won't ship, ever, let alone in a few days). If they flat out state they won't refund you, just hang up. If they say they'll ship it that day or tomorrow, wait two full weeks before filing an INR (more on why you should wait this long before filing an INR later).
No widget after four full weeks? File an INR complaint through eBay (which will route you to PayPal) – unless the item was advertised as being shipped via media mail or parcel post. Media Mail & Parcel Post can take over a month to arrive.
Why should I wait four full weeks before filing an INR complaint through PayPal?
Because if your stuff shows up after you've filed the INR complaint but before PayPal has closed it, you can't file a SNAD claim if the item arrives SNAD.
Well, actually you can convert an INR to a SNAD, but it takes persistence to get it done. PayPal’s system is set up not to allow buyers to convert claims, but the paypal reps can do it if you call. They’ll likely tell you it can’t be done, but if you can reach a supervisor and make your case, it is possible. It’s often much easier to turn to a chargeback if you end up in this situation.
The seller says they shipped it & that it must have been lost. They say since I didn't buy insurance, I'm screwed. Am I really screwed?
No. At this point, you can either:
Politely state to your seller that the language in their auction that states that they aren't responsible for items lost in the mail is irrelevant & that PayPal's terms state that the seller must prove to PayPal that the buyer received the item or the buyer will win any INR claim. This will either piss the seller off & they'll refuse you a refund or intimidate them into issuing you a refund. If they issue a refund, great, if not, well, file an INR claim.
You can simply state that you're disappointed. And then file an INR claim.
How to handle a SNAD. (That's Significantly Not as Described.)
The stuff I got wasn't what was advertised, what do I do?
If it's an electronics item, do yourself & the seller a favor & read the damn manual - it might not be broken. It also might not be compatible with your existing equipment.
Email your seller & describe, as precisely as possible, how the item does not match its description. BE POLITE. Do not accuse your seller of deliberately trying to scam you. At this point, you really do not have any reason to assume anything other than that the seller made an honest mistake. Did the seller use poor packaging, or do something else just plain stupid? Possibly, but that's not the same as trying to scam you. Even if you have reason to suspect you've been had, don't let on that you think as such. It just makes resolution more difficult, and the goal now is to get your money back, not vent your frustration/anger. Do not leave rash negative feedback.
Give your seller a full week to respond. Try to reach an amicable resolution. If you can't, file a SNAD claim with PayPal, & prepare to wait a while (weeks, to more than a month) while PayPal freezes the funds in the seller's account, lets that money accumulate interest in their own bank accounts, & then finally decides to either release it to you or give it back to the seller.
If you do reach an amicable resolution, most sellers will expect you to ship the item back before issuing a refund. Ship it back at this point only if the seller has explicitly stated they will refund you when they get it back (in other words, the seller consented to the return). Be sure to use a trackable method (i.e. USPS delivery confirmation or FedEx/UPS). Insure it if you think it's necessary. Get a signature on delivery if you paid $250 or more. Most sellers will issue you a refund within a week of receiving the item back. If the seller does not issue you a refund, file a SNAD claim with PayPal. This process can take a month (or more), so be patient.
Why should I use a trackable method and insure the return shipment?
Because if you can't prove to PayPal that you sent it back, you lose the SNAD claim you'll file if the seller hasn't refunded you a full week after they get it back. If the package goes missing on its way back to the seller, you lose the SNAD claim you'll have to file, because the seller wouldn't've received the item & therefore wouldn't've refunded you.
PayPal says I have to get an expert to state that the item is fake/broken/SNAD. Why?
In balancing buyer and seller needs, Paypal will often puts the burden of proof on the buyer. This is to ensure that sellers are not taken advantage of by buyers with remorse over purchases. It’s also to help PayPal settle claims. They don’t have the widget, you do, so you may be required to get a letter from an expert stating that the widget is SNAD. If you buy a watch that arrives broken, for example, you might have a jeweler examine it and write a description on letterhead. That letter would then be faxed to PayPal. The request for an expert’s review is not unusual in certain categories, and for more expensive items.
PayPal ruled against me! WTF?!
File a credit card chargeback. Paypal used to close the accounts of buyers who bypassed Paypal in favor of a chargeback, but this is no longer the norm. Instead, the UA explicitly allows buyers to file chargebacks without risl to their PayPal accounts. You do need to be aware that if you have a claim open and file a chargeback, the claim will be closed, and you will not be allowed to reopen it. If you have not yet filed a Paypal claim, and choose instead to go for a chargeback, you will not later be allowed to go back and file a claim if the chargeback is unsuccessful. For this reason it is often recommended to go through PayPal first, and if you lose then go for a chargeback. That way you really have two potential arenas for the win.
I'm a victim of fraud. What do I do?
Perhaps you didn't use Paypal. Perhaps you did use PayPal, but your purchase was not eligible for PayPal Buyer protection, or your purchase was for an amount greater than what was available to you via the BPP. Perhaps PayPal simply did not rule in your favor. Whatever the reason, as a buyer you may need to report fraudulent activity to law enforcement.
If the USPS was involved in any way (you mailed payment by USPS, or the item was shipped USPS, then you may file a mail fraud alert. This can be filed online here. You can also obtain the form at any post office.
IC3 is run in part by the FBI to help combat cyber crime. They take complaints about any Internet crime that may occur. You can file a report online here.
Local law enforcement may also be helpful. You can file reports with your local LE, and have them forward it to LE in the seller's jurisdiction.
FYI, PayPal does accept IC3 reports in lieu of a report from a local police jurisdiction when they request a police report during an active dispute/claim.
With changes in May 2008, sellers can no longer leave negative or neutral feedback for buyers. Buyers still can leave negative, neutral, or positive feedback for seller. eBay considers a neutral and a negative equivalent in determining buyer satisfaction, so if you are thinking that a neutral is kind to the seller, think again.
Generally it is best to leave feedback after the entire transaction is complete. That is, after you have received your widget and are happy with it and the seller's performance. Alternatively, after you have exhausted all means of working with the seller to obtain a reasonable solution to whatever problem might have come up. Don't threaten sellers with negs, and don't leave it prematurely (before you fully understand the entire transaction and its outcome).
This is a work in progress. More information will be added in the near future, and going forward as relevant policies change. Sections to be added include how to do common functions such as pull contact info, screenshots showing how to file disputes/claims, pay with a CC on PayPal, and info on leaving FB, etc. I have a lot of relevant screenshots from my own buying and selling, but welcome additional ones (with all identifying info blurred out).
7/27/07 update: Added, per psuJC's request, info about shipping time, overall shipping fees, etc. Clarified, per Sechs' great reminder, the utility of a CC-funded payment, and reminded readers that PayPal is not the only or necessarily best way to pay.
7/31/07 update: Clarified, per Hypersion's comments, what buyers should expect from photos of products
9/19/07 update: Added some links and info for reporting fraud.
5/7/08 update: added info about police reports and IC3 reports.
5/28/08 update: Removed bidpay references, modified/added info about feedback in light of recent changes
2/10/08 update: Updated references to feedback and seller/buyer protection