An eBay Horror Story
This story is here In Internetto Permanente so that the next time I think about selling a guitar on eBay, I won’t. It’s a cautionary tale from me to me. Dumb me to dumber me.
Here we go …
On December 11, I sold a guitar via an eBay auction to a Buyer in Quebec, Canada. He contacted me the day after the auction and asked for some additional time (three more days) to pay for the item, and I agreed. When his payment finally went through, I shipped the guitar w/ gig bag and strap to him via the International Shipping Program.
A few days after the guitar would have reached him, he filed a return request based on the guitar’s condition; he sent me a photo of what appeared to be a two-inch scratch, and described it as being along the bottom right of the guitar’s body. I hadn’t noticed or documented the scratch or the area of the body where the scratch was supposed to be in my photos or description; it might have been there when I shipped the guitar, and it might not have been. In any case, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and approved the return. This, of course, put a charge on my PayPal account equivalent to the amount he’d paid for the guitar.
Up until this point I didn’t realize that the International Shipping Program had no process for Returns. This is information that they, for good reason, do not highlight while encouraging you to use the program. As I explored the nooks and crannies of eBay, trying to find a way to generate a shipping label for the return, I eventually stumbled on the fact that if an International Buyer requests a return, you’re going to have to navigate that minefield all by yourself. Great!
I contacted the Buyer to let him know that I would reimburse him for return shipping expenses via PayPal when I issued the rest of the refund: on receipt of the returned guitar. The Buyer, however, was under the impression that instead of a refund/return I would issue him a discount or partial refund for the damage. Since he had requested a Return, and the full amount of his purchase had been charged to my PayPal account, I explained that it would have to be a Refund/Return. And since I didn’t willingly sell him a damaged item, and couldn’t verify that the scratch had been on the guitar before I sent it to him, a Refund/Return would be more appropriate.
This resulted in a flurry of messages accusing me of criminal activity, threatening to have his lawyer contact me, etc. Obviously, I’d hit a sore spot. Here’s a sample.
Eventually, I received a message from eBay recommending that I go ahead and issue a refund and pay for return shipping in order to “close the case.” [Just FYI: That is the only message that eBay ever sent directly to me regarding this transaction, and it was likely an automated message.] I did so, and sent the Buyer an additional $50 USD to cover return shipping, no questions asked.
Afterwards, I messaged the buyer several times, using the politest language I could muster, trying to ascertain when the guitar would be shipped. No answer was forthcoming.
Finally, I received an automated notice from eBay that the case was closed. So that meant I should’ve gotten the guitar back already, right? There was still no response from the Buyer, so before writing him a 5th time, I requested a refund of the $50 USD via PayPal, as I’d not received any information regarding the return shipping. The Buyer quickly refunded the money without any explanation or information regarding shipment of the guitar.
Taking this as a sign that the Buyer was indeed alive and merely ignoring my messages, dumb me, I sent another message via eBay, trying to confirm whether or not he was returning the guitar.
This time, he did respond:
It now appears that dude got himself a free guitar. It even shows up that way under my “Selling” menu in eBay:
Have I learned anything from this experience — that is, besides “don’t sell a guitar on eBay”?
Well, I’ve learned that language and cultural differences can certainly complicate business matters. Of course, I feel that I was very clear and specific in every message I sent, but how clear was I really to someone who doesn’t regularly communicate in English, as evidenced by the Buyer’s sometimes incoherent messages. And how much did the Buyer’s struggle with communicating his ideas an unfamiliar language complicate the situation. Would this transaction have gone differently if we were both using our primary languages for communication?
Or maybe I’m still being too kind and trusting. Maybe this is this just another case of someone using “the system” — in this case, an online marketplace that has replaced human interaction and human trust with policies, procedures, and automated responses — to take advantage of someone else.
Anyway, I hope he enjoys the guitar.