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Selling on Ebay: What you really need to know December 22, 2008

Posted by James in : all, ebay help , trackback

After selling on ebay for years, I have found out what happens when you face “problems.” When you face problems on ebay, it’s not always clear what you are supposed to do. Although most problems can be resolved without too much difficulty, some problems seem to slip through the cracks without the appropriate help from ebay (or paypal).

I will discuss the following:

  1. Ebay’s fees
  2. International prohibitions
  3. Refunds
  4. Delivery confirmation
  5. Disputes
  6. DSR statistics
  7. Ebay’s Rules

Part 1: Ebay’s Fee

This is the easiest problem to understand about Ebay. Expect Ebay and PayPal to take about 20% of the money you make. If you buy something for $10 and sell it for $20, you didn’t make $10 of profit. Ebay/Paypal will take $4, so you only make $6 of “profit.”

Part 2: International Prohibitions

No matter what you sell, some country might forbid you from selling your item to people in that country. “Playing cards” are not allowed to be sold to people in Italy, and even Magic cards are considered to be “playing cards” by people in Italian Customs. They might throw out the item you sold.

It is possible to stop people from a country from buying your items by doing the following:

  1. Make your seller account settings say that people from a country you don’t sell to are blocked from buying your items. Go here for more information.
  2. Don’t list a “worldwide” shipping option. In order to stop people from Italy from buying your items, you can’t ship to “Europe” (but you can ship to Britain and Germany.)
  3. Right after the shipping options, there is a place that asks about whether or not you ship worldwide. Do not do it. Select what regions you will be willing to ship to (or none of them.)

What if you want to exclude Italy, but not all of Europe? Sorry, but there is almost nothing you can do about this. If you know of any person in Europe in particular who wants to bid on your items, you can add him or her to your Exemption list. There is no official link to this page for some reason.

What if someone buys an item, but it is not legal for you to send the item to that person? In this situation, ebay will still bill you. However, you can try to get a refund for the listing fees in two different ways: One, you can wait 8 days later to tell ebay that this is a non-paying bidder. (Go to the item page and click on the ‘resolve a problem’ link.) If you do this, the buyer will get into trouble and might give you negative feedback for that reason. (It might also be possible for the buyer to pay and to dispute your claim.) Two, you can ask the buyer to agree to cancel the listing (also on the resolve a problem area). If the buyer disagrees, then you will not get your money back.

I noticed that when you want to cancel a listing that there are a list of reasons for wanting to do so. “This buyer wants me to do something illegal” is not one of them!

There might be a way to report to ebay when buyers want you to do something illegal, but that is something I have not figured out yet. If it is possible, then it might help you get your fees back, but I’m not sure.

Part 3: Refunds

It is generally a good idea to allow a buyer to return an item if it is not as described. In this case you will give the buyer a refund. Generally you will refund the amount and the shipping, so you will lose some money. Also, some sellers will refund the money that the buyer had to pay for shipping.

However, what if your item isn’t worth much more than the shipping cost? In this case it is pointless to allow returns but it might still be a good idea to refund the money. In fact, you might not have a choice if the buyer says that it is not as described.

When you give a refund, ebay will still want to take your money. Therefore, you might try to cancel the transaction, but the buyer will have to comply. (I don’t think that saying the buyer is a non-paying bidder is appropriate in this situation.)

Interesting fact: None of the “reasons” ebay lists for canceling a transaction is that you gave a refund. Ebay lists that “the item was returned” as a reason, but not giving a refund without a return.

Part 4: Delivery Confirmation

Whenever you sell on ebay, you have to get delivery confirmation. If the item is worth a lot, you will need a signature confirmation. This is because you have to prove that the buyer got the item. (Paypal has mistakenly said that you have to prove that you sent the item, but this is false. If the item never arrives, you will get into trouble.)

Facts you should know about delivery confirmation:

  1. If the post office doesn’t deliver the item fast enough, then paypal will refund the money whether or not you sent the item. Sometimes the post office can take longer than a month to deliver a package.
  2. It is possible for the post office to mistakenly say that the item arrived, even if it didn’t. I had this happen recently. The post office said I got the item, but they actually just left a note saying that I had to get it from the post office. This could make someone think I am a liar when I say that I don’t have the item yet.
  3. Delivery confirmation only says that the item was sent to a zip code. The actual address is not listed.
  4. If you lose the delivery confirmation code, you are screwed. There is pretty much no way for the post office to find this for you.
  5. You can’t get regular delivery confirmation for any package that is deemed to be too thin, but you can still get certified mail, which is about the same thing, but it’s more expensive (over $2).
  6. If the order is worth too much money ($500), you will need a signature as proof of delivery. (updated 2-3-2008)
  7. In order to get delivery confirmation for international orders, you will need registered mail ($10 extra) or express mail to get a signature. (updated 2-3-2008)

Part 5: Disputes

If the buyer does not get the item (or it is not as described), then he or she can ask paypal to investigate. The only thing you can do is tell paypal the delivery confirmation number. This is not easy to do. In fact, sometimes ebay takes away your ability to do so!

Once I had a buyer who won my item and gave me positive feedback saying how fast the item arrived. Then several months after winning an item the buyer decided to tell paypal that they never got the item. (This was probably done by telling a credit card company that the item was not delivered.) I didn’t see any way to tell ebay what happened (or give the tracking number) and the person got a refund. I later had to call ebay with the delivery confirmation number… which was no longer listed on USPS.com, since so much time elapsed. Paypal had to wait to get information from USPS before reversing the refund.

One more thing: I just found out that if buyers win multiple of your items and pay for them separately, you have to mail separate packages. If you don’t and the buyer files a dispute, you can only use your delivery confirmation to prove that you sent one of the items. This makes me angry because my buyers want discounts for shipping, but it is a huge hassle to refuse their money and make them pay again! (updated 2-3-2008)

Part 6: DSR Statistics

Buyers can leave feedback concerning various things: item as described, communication,
shipping time, and shipping and handling charges. Many Sellers think that this is unfair for two reasons. One, because ebay gives misleading information concerning “rating sellers.” Ebay demands that sellers get near-perfect scores or they can get into trouble, but buyers are told that 3/5 stars means “satisfactory” rather than “get this seller off of ebay!” Two, Ebay’s system expects buyers to have a vast knowledge about how ebay works. Consider each of these categories:

To point out how terrible DSR’s are, consider how a buyer might see rating a seller’s shipping charges: If a 5/5 is “super-duper” and a 3/5 is “satisfactory,” then rating a seller 5/5 might mean “free shipping” and 3/5 might mean “I paid for the postal charges.” However, if this is how all buyers rate sellers, then a lot of sellers would get into trouble and might lose their selling priveledges for being unwilling to give free shipping!

Part 7: Ebay’s Rules

Ebay decided that the best policy was to act like a dictatorship and tell us what we can and can’t do. Ebay’s rules would make sense if they were made just to keep us from “circumventing fees” or committing fraud, but there’s a lot of rules that exist just because ebay feels “threatened” by it. Furthermore, it is impossible to know the rules. There are too many and I don’t know of any place that gives a nice neat list of them all. And if there is, then it has to list hundreds of them.

If you do not follow the rules of Ebay, you will get your listings taken down and you could lose your listing fees. If you have an unlimited inventory, then losing your listings is going to equal lost profit.

Some rules that I agree with:

Some rules that are rather unpleasant:

Basically the unpleasant rules are created so that ebay can “control” us and keep us from doing something that makes anyone money other than ebay.



1. michael - December 22, 2008

There is a “trick” to the Delivery Confirmation for small items.
1) if you are sending in a bubble mailer, put in some balled up paper or pieces of cardboard to make it more tha 3/4 of an inch thick.
2) if you are sending in a regular envelope, wrap the item in enough paper that it reaches the required thickness.

If you follow this, you can get Delivery Confirmation on any item. You will be paying Parcel rates instead of First Class, but you do not have to register the item. It just makes it slightly more expensive.

2. James - December 22, 2008

I’ve used popcorn to puff up a package. Also, you can fold a padded envelope for more thickness. Are you sure you have to pay for Parcel rates when you puff up a package a little bit?

3. michael - December 22, 2008

Yes. You do. If the package is more than 3/4 of an inch thick it is considered a parcel.
rules for bubble mailers
>Be no more than 12 inches high x 15 inches long x ¾ inch thick.
rules for envelopes
>No more than 6-1/8 inches high x 11-1/2 inches long x 1/4 inch thick.

If you excede those limits, you are not first class but a parcel.

4. James - December 22, 2008

Even though it is a parcel, I’m not sure that you mail it “parcel post.” When I mail packages they stamp “first class” on the package, unless it weighs a couple pounds or something.

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