Reporting Bad Buyers to eBay

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The figure shows report buyer to ebay

Q: "There's a buyer who has been playing games with several eBay sellers and violating eBay policies for some time now. I have reported him to eBay, but they haven't done anything. What can I do to get eBay's attention so we can stop this person once and for all?"

A: It's always frustrating when buyers (and, to be frank, other eBay sellers) game the system and seek unfair advantage over folks who are following all of eBay's policies to the letter. Whenever you see bad stuff happening on eBay, eBay wants you to report it to them. There's a link called Report This Listing at the bottom of each eBay listing, and anyone can click on that link to report a violation of eBay's rules.

The problem is that eBay's resources, while considerable, are not unlimited. It costs a fortune to have hundreds of employees investigating and chasing down violations of eBay policy, and eBay's Trust and Safety team simply cannot investigate all of the alleged violations that are reported to them. Still, whenever you see bad stuff happening on eBay, it's always a good idea to report it, for the following reasons:

• To see what's happening on the site, eBay reviews seller (and buyer) complaints. If eBay's Trust and Safety department sees patterns or trends in the complaints being filed that indicate new or repeated abuses of the system, they will act eventually, either by programming their search bots to shut down members engaged in those abuses, by developing or tightening policies that prohibit or regulate that specific behavior, or both.

• If several members allege multiple violations of eBay policies by a specific user ID, those allegations are more likely to be investigated than a single complaint by a single seller.

• If the alleged violations are new or particularly egregious, especially if they threaten eBay's or PayPal's business models (for example, a new and creative way to avoid paying listing or final value fees), they are more likely to be aggressively pursued by eBay's Trust and Safety team.

Q: I always try to diligently report problems with bad eBay buyers whenever I see them, but I get frustrated sometimes that people on eBay get away with murder. It seems that in almost every dispute between sellers and buyers on eBay, PayPal and eBay take the word of the buyer. If the buyer claims an item is not as listed, or not received (if tracking is not available), PayPal reverses the transaction. I am concerned with eBay's policy on seller performance, since all of the negative feedback I have gotten is from customers who had no reason to leave negative feedback but just left it maliciously after they received refunds from me, or even if they never even asked for one. How can I be held accountable for these people? It seems that both eBay and PayPal take the position that the customer is always right, and, of course, I agree with that. But I have noticed an increase in dishonest buyers taking full advantage of this policy, just as they do at big stores like Lowe's and Nordstrom, where they can easily return items after they have been worn or used for a time, or even return items that they bought somewhere else or just decided they do not want anymore. This eBay policy does not allow me to set up any policies and do business in a fair and balanced way. I am not a large corporation that can absorb the costs of dishonest buyers who make false claims. What exactly are the eBay policies designed to protect sellers from malicious buyers?

A: This isn't so much a question as what our French friends call a cri de Coeur— literally, a "cry from the heart." It really hurts when you're doing everything you can to play by the rules in selling on eBay and you bump into the occasional buyer who's gaming the system and stealing stuff from honest sellers who are so concerned about maintaining a high positive feedback rating that they sometimes have to let the bad guys get away with murder.

I really, truly believe that eBay and PayPal have made the world a better place overall. Still, that doesn't mean that you will always have a perfect experience selling on eBay. Bad stuff happens sometimes, and there are bad people buying on eBay, just as there are bad people buying everywhere. Here are a few thoughts to give you some consolation.

Based on my (admittedly nonscientific) research of the questions posted on eBay's community Answer Center, slightly more than half are from buyers who are having trouble with difficult sellers, and the other half are from sellers who are having trouble with difficult buyers. Although that doesn't excuse bad behavior on anyone's part, I think it shows that sellers are not the only victims on eBay, and that eBay's system probably works as well as it can in the rough-and-tumble world of e-commerce. As we used to say on Wall Street, "If everybody walks away from the table a little unsatisfied, it means the deal probably was the best one that could have been negotiated."

Too many eBay sellers, in my humble opinion, are obsessed with trying to maintain a 100 percent positive feedback rating at all costs. While that's essential for newbie sellers, who need to earn their reputation on eBay, it becomes less and less important as your feedback score (your total number of transactions on eBay) grows. Only the most neurotic buyers on eBay will quibble with a feedback score of 99.5 percent if the seller has completed more than a thousand transactions on eBay, because everyone knows there are just some people you can't make happy no matter what you do.

Think you're alone? Go to any local department store on December 26 and watch what's going on at the returns desk. Do you honestly think every item being returned is defective? People shopping online want to have the same easy return privileges that they have in brick-and-mortar stores; they feel entitled to these, and they will feel cheated and angry if you deny them, even though your refunds and returns policy is crystal clear that they're not entitled to return merchandise just because they feel like it.

Just about every retailer recognizes that a small percentage—from 1 to 3 percent—of their transactions, on average, will turn sour. Accordingly, they establish a reserve for bad debts and build that into their chart of accounts (see Chapter 17). While you cannot deduct your reserve for bad debts on your income tax return, you can deduct actual bad debts as and when they occur. So the federal and state governments share in your loss to a certain extent.

Finally, I think it's important to realize that dealing with difficult buyers is just part of the retail lifestyle—when things get rough, remember that this is one of the many reasons why God invented liquor. ©

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