eBay Nightmares

I recently had a horrendous experience selling an item on eBay. In this post, I wanted to write up my feelings about how I think eBay has failed to retain the balance of safety for both buyers and sellers.

It’s a little bit of a departure from my normal more technical posts, but I felt strongly enough about what happened to write things up. Hopefully it will help someone avoid some of the pitfalls I fell into.

16th January - Best Intentions

The item is a gaming laptop. £2500-ish retail price tag, very nice specification. I didn’t need the laptop any more, so eBay seemed like a good way to rid myself of it and recoup some of the cash value.

The laptop was pristine. Not a mark on it, anywhere. In original packaging and with everything included. You’d think it’d just come off the shelf.

I listed the item for sale and a week later, the auction finished for ~£1400. I was happy with the final value. The buyer paid instantly via PayPal, then contacted me to say he’d like the item quickly as he was going away, so I obliged and shipped the item next day on a 24-hour service.

23rd January - Problems

A day later, I checked the courier’s tracking site. The item had been delivered just a few moments ago, signed for. Great.

Then… 15 minutes later… an email.

Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2018 03:18:55 -0700
From: eBay <ebay@ebay.com>
Subject: Return approved: <my item name>

I begrudgingly checked the return case. The reason was that it does not fit in [his] carrying cases and that it was larger than [he] had anticipated (despite the fact that the laptop size was in the listing title). Great 🙄.

I was annoyed, but these things happen. People change their minds and buyer’s remorse sets in. I wouldn’t have handled it this way, but whatever. The return case was automatically approved because I did say in the listing that I’d accept returns.

I messaged the buyer, imploring them to keep the item, reminding them that they’d got a great deal. No response whatsoever.

No response for two whole weeks in fact - the maximum allowable time for a buyer to return an item before the case is automatically closed by eBay. During that time, my PayPal account was in negative figures as eBay held the payment in escrow until the case was resolved, meaning I couldn’t even use it for small purchases.

9th February - Arrival

Then, on the very last day of the return case period, the laptop rocked up. I unpacked it to find that it was not in the condition I had sent it in. There was noticeable damage to the display bezel. Not impressed.

I opened a case against the buyer immediately. I took very clear macro photographs of the damaged part of the display bezel and uploaded them to the return case page.

I spoke to eBay support on the phone and via the Live Chat feature. They told me that they couldn’t discuss the case process with me but reassured me that they’d be in touch within 5 working days with a resolution.

5 working days later… Nothing.

I spoke to eBay support again. “24 hours”“48 hours”… Every time I contacted them, they gave me another estimate for a resolution. They also said each time that they’d contact me. They never did. I had to chase them every step of the way. On several occasions when I contacted eBay support they seemed completely clueless as to what was actually happening. A few times I had to fully explain the entire case to them, as though they didn’t have access to any of the history.

23rd February - Case Closed

Another two weeks later, I finally received an email. A cold, hard automated slap in the face.

Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2018 09:28:30 -0700
From: eBay <ebay@ebay.com>
Subject: Case #2621975150 has been closed with a refund to the buyer

I once again contacted eBay support. They couldn’t tell me anything about how they came to the conclusion. It sounded as though eBay’s resolution staff had neglected to look at the photographs and commentary I’d added to the case myself and via eBay support. I asked if there was anything else I could do. The representative told me that I needed to file a police report and submit that to eBay.

I gave up. I’d been defeated. A damaged laptop is a kick in the teeth in my world, but it’s not a police matter. I don’t think I’d be taken seriously and quite rightly so. It’s eBay who should arbitrate and decide on issues like this, not the police.

Final Value Fee

The item sold for ~£1400.

The 10% final value fee imposed by eBay for this sale. £140.

In the past when I’ve had items returned to me, I’ve been able to claim a Final Value Fee credit to claw back this money, at least against other eBay fees. Not this time.

eBay’s support pages say:

We don’t issue a final value fee credit if one of the following situations happens:

  • The buyer or the seller asked eBay to step in and help and the case is decided in the buyer’s favour

It’s almost as if that rule exists to discourage you from opening a case as a seller, even when something is genuinely amiss. It’s insulting and unfair.

I’m appealing this ridiculous situation, but I don’t hold much hope given what’s happened so far.


I think there’s a few things I’ve learned from this horrible chain of events.

  • Do not accept returns - No returns accepted sounds scary to buyers, especially on high-value items, so I used to try and accommodate for that in my listings. I won’t be doing that any more. The eBay returns process (particularly the ridiculously long period for which buyers can delay actually returning an item) is flawed and open to abuse.
  • Do not put too much (any?) faith in the eBay case resolution process - It’s slow, the support staff are fairly useless both on the telephone and on the Live Chat. If something goes wrong, you’re really better dealing with it yourself.
  • Read every policy relating to your situation - eBay has many surprising policies that are often quite counter-intuitive and confusing. Make sure you’re clear about what happens at every stage, especially around the periods of time that are allowed for various things.

Honestly, this experience has made me think twice about using eBay as a seller. For larger, higher-value items, it may be best to find someone who can collect an item via something like Facebook Marketplace or otherwise. Do the deal yourself, cash in hand, no fees and no risk of being pranged by strange eBay policies and pitfalls.

Damien Walsh

I'm a 26 year old Computer Science graduate working in software & electronics development. I like electronics, programming, a variety of weird music and I sort of have a thing for motorbikes too.

Manchester, UK damow.net