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Marketplaces Are Horrible, So Why Do We Sell On Them?

By Matthew Ferguson

Every day marketplace sellers deal with returns abuse, unfair metrics, rude buyers and declining sales. Why do they put up with it?

Marketplaces Are Horrible, So Why Do We Sell On Them?

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Steven Thompson

A great read. The last straw is when an account is suspended! Fortunately there are lots of precautions you can take to keep your account in tip top shape.


Replying to Steven Thompson

Agreed! Proactive procedures are the best method.

Mark Hetherington

Sorry but reading that, and with all due respect, with regard to eBay that’s a ridiculous response

You stated: Use tracked couriers and make sure your refund policy is clear on what is, and isn’t, allowed to be refunded. eBay will mediate when you and a buyer are in disagreement, so simply make sure if, and when, that happens, your position can be strongly argued: “I gave the buyer the exact information on my policies page”.

That’s total garbage, and I’ll tell you why (and sorry if I’m not exactly being subtle here but this really angers me). The reality is no matter what the situation is, ebay absolutely do not give a toss about ANYTHING except not upsetting the buyer. They will not give a damn what your terms and conditions are in the event of a dispute, they will find in favour of the buyer.

For example, my terms are that if a new item is returned used we will refund up to 50% of it’s value depending on it’s condition. That’s fair – by law we don’t have to accept it at all. But ebay don’t care about that. In a few cases they allow you to choose what to refund, but if the buyer appeals they will find in the buyer’s favour. Every time. That’s only if it’s a voluntary return because the buyer doesn’t want it. But most buyers claim the item is faulty, or not as described, mostly to get free return postage costs but it’s the knock on effect that’s the problem.

It was mentioned that Amazon will refund the customer who claims an item is not as described even if you have hundreds of sales from buyer who are perfectly happy with the item. Well guess what. Ebay do EXACTLY the same thing. A buyer simply needs to file a claim choosing the reason as “Item not as described and that’s it. He doesn’t need to quantify the claim, describe the problem, reply to requests for more details or photos or anything. You are FORCED to accept the return request, FORCED to pay the return postage and FORCED to refund him in full, INCLUDING his outgoing postage costs even if he has opted for an expensive next-day service, which you are not legally required to refund.

It does not matter if the item comes back with nothing wrong with it, thus indicating the buyer lied, or if it comes back completely wrecked. If you refuse to refund the buyer escalates the claim and eBay find in favour of the buyer EVERY SINGLE TIME. In fact they do so instantly and automatically, and to reverse it you have to appeal. If you do appeal they use the same excuse every time: “We have no proof of the condition of the item to begin with so we have to take the buyer’s word.”

Even worse, you get a defect for “cases closed without seller resolution and you only need 0.5% to put you below standard. For me this means three cases, within a 3 month period. It happened to me 2 years ago when two buyers both escalated cases on “seller assessment day”, which took me 0.01% over the limit. My account was then classified as Below Standard and my sales were decimated for months. In fact it took me over 18 months to get back to the same level, even though all three defects were removed on appeal. So basically what that means is it’s better to allow yourself to be ripped off than try to appeal and get some help, because the truth is you won’t get any.

I also sell phones, and have just had an item returned where the buyer clearly lied, first saying it wouldn’t work then changing the supposed things wrong with it along the way. The item was new and boxed with accessories. Nothing else was returned and the item came back smashed. None of this matters to ebay, despite the fact that he has been on ebay for 2 weeks and has 9 feedback, against my five-figure 100% feedback. Ebay rejected my appeal on the basis I had no proof of the condition of the (brand new and boxed) item to begin with), this DESPITE the fact that he had never mentioned that the item was damaged in any of his messages.

In another case I had a buyer overseas who said the item was damaged. Now it’s a criminal offence to ask a buyer to ship a damaged item containing a lithium battery so I asked for more details of the damage to establish whether it was safe to send back or not. Several times. He ignored me time and time again, not a single word from him. He then escalated the claim and ebay told me to send a shipping label within 5 days or they would find in his favour. I argued time and time again over those five days that I could not ask him to return it unless I knew what the damage was, as I would be committing an offence and asked ebay if they would contact him for the required information.

Same result, they completely ignored the facts and refunded him without him having to return the item, or in fact even having to respond at all. I did get payment off him in the end by finding an aggressive debt collection agency to pursue him and threaten him with legal action, but that’s not the point. Ebay put me in a position of either having to potentially break the law, and potentially put a flight at risk carrying a damaged item containing a lithium battery, or to simply write it off and refund him all because he would not reply. All he had to do to achieve this is open a claim and type two words: “Item damaged”.

The thing is, these are not one-offs’ this sort of thing happens regularly. EBay’s Managed Returns portal and the fact that ebay actually encourage returns by asking the buyer if they have a problem has increased returns four-fold. No business owner in their right mind encourages returns, but for ebay it’s a no brainer because it keeps buyers happy and costs them nothing – it’s all done at the seller’s expense. Over 90% of items returned as faulty are in fact not faulty at all, buyers are simply choosing the option because they get free return postage, but less than 20% come back in a condition that allows them to be resold as new.

Like many ebay sellers we’re only a small family business and returns alone is now costing us thousands of pounds more each year. That’s bad enough, but the lack of support and eBay’s “The buyer is ALWAYS right” stance is disgraceful. Note I said buyer – eBay actually forgot who it’s customers were a long time ago, probably because they never actually sold an item.

As for Amazon I gave up on them years ago. I’m not well off but I don’t need the money that badly and would drop eBay in a heartbeat if I could. We all understand the value of a platform that reaches millions of buyers and just like a shop will always have shoplifters, we realise we can’t stop every scam. But we’re all in it to MAKE money, not be ripped off at every turn and all we ask for is some genuine support, not for eBay to help us to get scammed every five minutes.

Incidentally I thought Toys R Us had filed for bankruptcy everywhere? Or am I missing something?

Andy Geldman

Replying to Mark Hetherington

Thanks for commenting Mark. I’ll leave most of that to Matt, but on your last point, Toys R Us have filed for bankruptcy in US and Canada only: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41316205


Replying to Mark Hetherington

It’s bad and getting worse, and much of it is due to “international” buyers. They mask themselves in the US through a US buyer, and commit fraud consistently without repercussions. It’s especially bad with electronics, iPhones,… eBay is effectively a scummy swap meet which I now avoid at all costs.


Replying to Paul

Electronic’s is affected by this, agreed. I saw first hand a colleague sell his secondhand iPhone, have it returned, only to find a knock off case in the box!

Thankfully, after 2 months of hassle, he got the funds pack through PayPal.


Replying to Mark Hetherington

The overall picture is what you’re failing to catch here. Manufacturers / suppliers are undercutting retailers. That is already in play and will continue to be the wave. So you’d best be asking yourself if you can even stay selling. Does a site like “webretailer.com’ by its very nature want to advertise or much less address this aspect of the problem — no, so I give them mad props for that.

Sellers did a mass exodus from eBay many years ago – I know, because I was one of them. I’d been with eBay from the beginning. Did it hurt eBay? To a degree, but they’re obviously still thriving. Did I simply switch marketplaces? No, because as this article has pointed out so well – it wouldn’t make a difference where I am. I changed what I sell, to something that I make myself. I dabble in eBay now.

My best tips: communicate with your buyer more than ever before. Short notes, adhered with removable tape to the item itself, explaining that you are a small seller who caters to its buyers and strives to ensure happiness, requests that if there are ANY issues whatsoever the buyer “message you through eBay’s system or call you at such-and-such first”. That if they do anything other than that, your hands are tied. From there, as you get contact, you determine if its worth it to you to make an issue of something or simply please your customer. 99% of the time I’m nice as can be and simply get them to agree to get me the return within seven days (screw what’s in writing, you’re dealing with them practically in person now). Most of the time, with that oneness on them and if they know there’s really nothing wrong with it especially, I never get a return — nor do I get bad feedback. That 1% of the time if the buyer is a complete jerk right out of the gate and hit me on a worst possible day, I will try to get them to state in writing exactly what is wrong with the item. If there’s bs involved, such as ‘my son ordered this on my account (and miraculously paid?), or they indicate something that shows they did not bother to read a description or look at a picture or title … I’m possibly in the driver’s seat. Okay, I don’t want to jinx myself, but this has thus far always worked. I then, as sweet as syrup, reply that ‘gee, I really wish I could help you — however per the terms you agreed to when signing up to buy on eBay, yada yada yada (explain how they’ve violated terms). eBay has changed their procedures a bit ago to be certain the seller has further protections on things just like this, or we’d not be able to stay in business … however, perhaps you’ll have luck if you contact them?” They know then that I have it all in writing, that I’m not accepting a return, and if they want something further done they’re going to have to make an ass of themselves to eBay.

What I’m saying is, face facts as harsh as they are. They’re not changing and you’re only giving yourself an ulcer. Change your own buying practices and buy outside of the marketplaces when you can – goes against what we do, but if I can find that same vendor in their own website even after finding them on a marketplace, that’s how I’ll buy. I share your — let’s face it, it’s hatred — for being ‘owned’ by them. Think outside the box and find ways to play outside of their own rules. Get creative. Or hire an experienced consultant to review your systems to see if they can come up with flaws or creative solutions for you.


Replying to Chris

Good input, thank you Chris!


Replying to Mark Hetherington

Hi Mark,

No worries on being subtle. I like honesty. Allow me to reply in the kind.

Firstly, are you making money on eBay / Marketplaces? I assume so, or why bother. If yes, we’re still debating buyer actions and systems we cannot control or change. I’m a firm believer in the common biblical motto of accepting what you cannot control, working on what you can, and learning the difference between them (paraphrased). I’m not religious, but its good wisdom to live by. If you’re not making money, maybe you should drop the topic and move on to something else?

Secondly, the eBay refunds… well. Those are rapid fire snap shot ideas that we advise most of our clients. Sure, they don’t fix all the problems. They just help minimize and control them. It takes time and far more data to find root causes. If you were a client of ours, we’d likely want to:

– Get exact YTD numbers. You’re throwing terms like “regularly” around. What does that mean? Once a week? A day? I am not suggesting to post them here publicly for the world to read eating Cheetos, but past experience tells me this tone has too much emotion and not enough raw facts. I suggest you spend time making accurate long term tallies on all this.

– Analyse your data. Are you tracking ever single refund/return in detail? Are you creating a spreadsheet to track all these events with details? If you’re not, you’re guessing in all honest. Scientifically, its proven we’re all emotional beings who logically explain our actions after we do them. Logic isn’t in control of us all, emotions are. Its very easy to let them carry us away with the winds. If you log all this data in more detail, tracking reasons, events, types, profiles, buyers, etc, the data will start to show patterns. Maybe they prove your ideas. Often however, they highlight things you missed by administering this day by day, case by case. Those highlights can be meaningful. We had a seller start to do this, and soon realize all their defected product were from a single PO, which they later claimed back with the supplier. Thats easy to miss if you’re not tracking the data over a longer stretch of time. Heck, maybe your competitor is doing this to you with new eBay accounts all the time so his listings rank higher. You just dont know until you start following the data.

– EMOTION. Cap’s in typing suggest a shouting tone. Don’t get me wrong, you have reason to be frustrated. But do prize fighters get taught to use emotion? No, they are taught the opposite. We’re not thinking straight when we’re channeling the dark side. Avoid letting this get to you emotionally. Its clouding your judgement, not helping and likely going to put you in an early grave. We’re all dust specs on a blue spec, circling a tiny light in the sky, among a sea of specs, in an ocean of other galaxy size specs so vast in numbers, there are more of them than grains of sand on every beach. Sorry, don’t mean to preach. Try to get the emotion out of all this. It will help see the wood from the trees more.

Lastly, Chris sort of beat me to this below but just to reiterate, you cannot change these platforms. Sure, always believing the buyer over the seller is morally wrong. Sure, buyers will abuse it. Sure, its unfair at times. But your choices are binary – put up with it and try to make it work better, or move on.

Its hard to meaningfully offer help like this. Contact me directly and happy to set up a call and see if I/we can help.

I do sincerely wish you luck in all this.

Mark Hetherington

Hi Matthew,

It’s good of you to reply. Just to explain, my biggest gripe with some of the advice I read – and I am generalising here, I’m not pointing at WebRetailer who are better than most, otherwise I would not be here – is that if offers “solutions” or advice on the basic everyday problems which in most cases the seller posting should be aware of, otherwise they are not sufficiently astute enough to be in business.

I also get the old favourite, “if you don’t like it then don’t sell on ebay”, i.e. if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen. But many people, myself included, have made a career out of selling online and it’s no easier to pack up and walk away any more than it would be to throw in your job if you were not happy at work. We all have bills to pay, a living to earn and it’s often tough so in the majority of cases it would be near impossible to just walk away, yet that’s the advice we’re generally given. And that annoys me. If somebody were in debt and depressed and struggling to cope with their job, would you expect the doctor to advise them to give up their job?

On refunds, your advice is spot on but my point is that if sellers doesn’t know when it’s fair to refund, i.e. when a buyer has a genuine complaint and the item is missing or faulty, then that’s what I meant at the top – the seller should not be in business. My complaint is about ebay procedure. Buyers should not be allowed to open a case, do nothing, then get refunded because the seller is FORCED to accept what the buyer says. I have one open at the moment, the buyer has opened a return case stating that the item is fake (even more absurd as it’s actually an unbranded item and is sold as such) and I’m FORCED to accept that because ebay do not give me the option to contest it. That’s not right. The buyer is in fact committing two criminal offences – libel and defamation of character – and in a court of law he would be expected to prove his case, so why is that not so on ebay? It’s a very serious accusation and ebay should be telling the buyer that he must (at the very least) explain his position, NOT force the buyer to accept the return because the buyer says it is fake. That is just wrong, and that’s my point about ebay, the one sided stance they have that is heavily biased in support of the buyer and the lack of support.

Quick example, is it fair to be forced to accept a return because the buyer claims the item is damaged, without as an absolute minimum, asking the buyer to upload a photo? Is it really too much to ask? Again, in a court of law he would have to prove his case, on ebay the seller is automatically proven guilty.

What I believe we should be doing, and that “advice” websites should be doing , is in cases where the system is abused sellers should be advised to report each and every single case. Sellers don’t because they know ebay don’t really do anything. How bad is it? Well I’ve seen buyers leave over 20 negative and no positive feedbacks inside 6 weeks, each and every one claiming he did not receive the item ordered. I found him after he claimed the item we sold him wasn’t delivered. These were all low value items that it’s too expensive to send tracked (they always are, so advising the seller to use a tracked service is pointless). I contacted every single seller and asked them all to report the buyer to ebay. Over half responded and said that they would. I checked back a few weeks later and the number of negs left had gone up to over 40, so the buyer/scammer was obviously still buying and still claiming and ebay clearly did nothing.

I do not accept we should shut up and accept it, I believe we should all be making more of an effort to do something about it and I would like to see a more pro-active attitude, otherwise nothing will ever change. In fact it’s because of these policies and our automatic acceptance of them that the problem has got so bad. In a High Street store a shoplifter would be arrested; (do you call them that in the US? People who pocket an item from the shelves and leave without paying); online we’re supposed to just accept it and that’s wrong.

Numbers? Doesn’t matter because it will be different for everybody. For example, mobile phones are particularly volatile. I can’t imagine somebody selling bedsheets having the same problems. By regularly I mean all the time, constantly, and I don’t need a spreadsheet or calculator to know it’s getting worse, as others have said. Since Ebay started Managed Returns, the number of returns has gone up x4 (and is 95% higher than on the website). It’s not that buyers are particularly unhappy, it’s ebay, in their pursuit of making sure buyers are happy no matter what, that are encouraging returns.

I noticed recently that if you now open Help and Contact you now get a new Help-Bot AI pop-up which says “Didn’t get your item or need to return it? Our new AI powered assistant is here to help”. Now the buyer might have opened the Help page for a completely different reason but he is now reminded he can return an item if he wants to. There’s only going to be one result: MORE returns. You’re not encouraging people to spend more because at that point they have already bought the item. I predicted right at the very start that Managed Returns would do nothing to help sales but would significantly increase returns, and that’s exactly how it has turned out. None of this is helping anybody and it’s no surprise to me that eBay’s income is down this year. I would dearly love to know how much of that is due to the much higher number of FVF fees they have had to cancel. It’s lunacy.

As for my data, for a start ebay is ridiculously time consuming and most small business owners work extremely long hours. There just isn’t time to analyse everything. But no, I’m not guessing. I am simply talking about the large number of people who are deliberately claiming that items are faulty or not as described for one reason and one reason alone – it forces the seller to pay return postage. None of this happened prior to ebay starting this Managed Returns bollox. The only numbers that matter is that over 90% of items claimed faulty are not faulty at all. This is simply buyers abusing the system and with respect, I don’t need a spreadsheet to work it out. If you took away the buyer’s right to return postage fees until after the item had been returned and checked the number of returns would drop substantially. People don’t want to pay return postage, it’s that simple. That’s the reason for the “fake” claim above. I’ve politely asked him why he thinks it’s fake. He won’t reply, they never do. This is what we’re up against.

Emotion? I can assure you I’m completely calm and rational. Typing sentences in caps suggest emotion, typing a few words here and there is merely done to emphasise the point. I deal with customers extremely well, there’s no way that on ebay I would have 100% feedback in what is generally considered to be the most difficult sector, particularly when it comes to dealing with customers. I’ve been in business for over 30 years, I know the script.

I also have a small but successful business – my sales are actually up 80% on last year although a lot of that is because I have had two opportunities to add new funding this year. But my advice to the original poster is change your stock regularly. Ten years ago you could list something and it might sell well for months. Nowadays you can have something that sells well for a couple of weeks then dies, even if there is nobody selling cheaper. Drop the price, even sell it off at cost and get something new in. Keep changing and adding to your stock and it gives people reason to come back to the ebay shop, even if they can’t find something they like the first time. Basically, if something is not selling get rid of it and use the funds to get something in that will. I don’t advise joining in the race to the bottom, you’re on a road to nowhere.

I don’t have e a problem with selling on ebay. I get it. But as for lying down and rolling over when it comes to fighting those who are trying to buck the system and rip me off? Never. I report every single one and will continue to do so, because if everybody ignores it then it will just get worse and worse and become a free for all and the best sellers will cut and run. We’ve been near that point once with buyers AND sellers, but eBay’s answer to getting rid of bad sellers is simply to side with the buyer every time, and everybody suffers as a result.

Believe me, if I got enough from my website to sustain me I would drop ebay, amazon and the rest in a heartbeat. It may never happen, but I’m working on it.

Critical Bill

Sweet Mother of God!
I’m just a beginner to online selling. I have a number of items, according to my research, that are quite rare and “should” bring a decent price. What the heck am I supposed to do when I read these horror stories about 100% honest, reliable, reputable online sellers,who are in possession of a solid gold “moral compass” and then have to go through in this type of nonsense just to run their business. Man, did that take the wind out of my sails going forward to sell these “niche” collectables that I was going to try and sell online. I’m confused, and I feel your frustrations. I think I’ll go into the bathroom and walk around in a circle for about 10 hours to rethink my original strategy.
Thanks for all of your insights, and I am truly sorry this is happening to your businesses. Your means of making money, whether it be a regular job or selling online, should not resemble a form of punishment. I’ve actually had jobs that resemble a form of punishment. Now I’m just rambling on. It’s 4AM EST, and I worked a 12 hour shift in the construction industry today.So I better sign off.
Thanks very much everyone.
Critical Vic

PayPal Terminator

Might be a little later in answering but here’s why.

1. the reason why sellers change descriptions can be for past disputes filed by buyers for not as described. They are changing descriptions to remove any compatibility or opinon based statements. Any information that gives the buyer an impression or false conclusion. Buyers will take any ammo you can shell at them to use against you to try to get the item for nothing. Leaving out opinon based information and sticking to the facts. Dont ever talk about compatibility because you just dont know, tell them to go to the manufacter for those types of questions. But most of that type of revision of the product details maybe for disputes about not as described.

2. amazon, paypal, and any other procesors are not banks or credit card companies. they are glorified merchants with a credit card machine. They are not banks either. these companies are under written by banks which have a legal presence and operate under guidellines. As with banks, paypal amazon, etc have to follow guidelines which are stated by Visa, Mastercard, Amex, etc. If they want to process these types of cards, they have to follow their rules. With that being said, buyers are allowed to file fraud dispute up to 6 months because thats what credit card companies allow them to do. 120 days from the none authorization, 90 days for non receipt etc. If the buyer doesnt like what Paypal or amazon concludes, or doesnt kiss the buyers ass, the buyer will simply charge back the transaction on their credit card. Thats why its that long because the credit card companies say they can.

3. Thats the game Amazon plays, they dont care of the seller. They are so fearful that the seller will disappear and hold amazon with the negative account balance, and they are also afraid of the buyer filing a credit card dispute and have the seller disappear as well. The less of two evils from that decision is that Amazon says, well this seller needs us to make a living and if he doesnt like it tough xxx. Well we have a 100% hold over the seller and we can do what we want, however, the buyer is who want to kiss buts and never have them file a credit card dispute so the stated scenario is not initiated.

4. Feedback is the worse thing that was ever created for online purchases and should be abolished. Buyers will only use it as a weapon to blackmail sellers with and hurt their business. Thats all its good for. Buyers dont leave feedback because they got what they wanted and couldnt care less about you unless they want something from you. Feedback extoration is rampid on Ebay, if you dont give me 1/2 off i’m going to leave you negative, if you dont give into my demands i’ll leave negative, and 90% of the time if you do give in, buyers still leave negative feedback. Its an abuse that ebay and others like them do nothing about it.


Certainly a valuable perspective on the topics and questions. Im not sure these points are as nefarious in nature, and they are understandably through the lens of sellers. Feedback for example is much appreciated from the everyday buyer, so to say its ‘the worst thing’ is really a matter of what part you play. One can argue the buyer’s power is a little more inflated than it should be for a fair outcome to always be reached, but the buyer drives the success of the marketplace and the seller at the end of the day, so attracting them to make consistent reoccurring transactions has to be priority for all.

Surely however we need to focus on solutions to facing and managing these problems if the goal is success with marketplaces. To put it another way, why focus on things you cannot control or change. Focus on what you can.

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