How do eBay sellers stop buyers from ripping them off?

By Sue February 14, 2011 - 12:07 pm

Once upon a time…

there was a girl who put a thousand quid shirt in the post, the ordinary post, with no tracking. It went to Australia, to a buyer with -1 feedback, who’d paid with a credit card (this was before PayPal was even thought of). And she thought nothing of it.

This same girl regularly used to put wads of dollar bills into envelopes and send them to sellers in the US, and she always got her stuff. And nobody thought anything of it at all.

eBay’s changed a lot in the past 15 years. Not least, that sellers (and buyers) are more and more concerned about being ripped off by one another. It’s not unreasonable: I’ve had buyers claim non-receipt and been reasonably sure they were lying, just as I’ve had sellers claim they’d sent me something “and it must have been lost in the post”, and been reasonably sure they were lying too. As a recent commenter asked, how do we, as sellers, protect ourselves from false claims of non-receipt?

Here’s the bottom line: you can’t. If a buyer wants to rip you off, they will – and they’re probably going to get away with it. Everything about the eBay system, PayPal and the law goes in their favour. The trick is to tip the odds as much as you can towards this not hurting you.

Proof of Posting
I still see sellers on eBay saying “I always obtain proof of posting”. PoP is not proof of delivery, but it is a good indicator that if a buyer doesn’t receive their item, the seller is going to say “claim from Royal Mail then”; I run a mile when I see this. If you’re relying on PoP, you’re going to have some unhappy buyers pretty soon – and you’re putting off plenty more. Not worth the paper it’s written on.

Trackable Delivery

If you send goods big enough or expensive enough to need to go by courier, your life may be a little easier: tracking is *usually* better and *usually* online. There’s probably a way to claim for lost items, and you may even have a good enough relationship with a courier that claiming isn’t too painful. Even so – check what you’re covered for. Loss? Damage? Buyer claims non-receipt, courier swears delivered? It may not be as simple as you hope it’s going to be.

If you’re relying on recorded or special delivery “insurance” for lost items, bear in mind that you’re only covered for the cost price of the item, not its sale price. You may also have to wait for the buyer to confirm non-receipt of the item to RM before your claim is processed. In any case, the claims process is slow, and clunky – so unless you’ve sold something expensive, claiming is going to waste more time than it’s worth.

Then there’s PayPal seller protection, which requires online tracking. Though RD and SD qualify, they don’t protect you against negative feedback and buyer complaints. Handling your customers with courtesy and avoiding the official eBay complaint channels is probably a better way to do that.

Things are particularly difficult for those of us who sell small, inexpensive items that can only really be sent by post. Do you double your item price by insisting on recorded delivery, or stick it in the post box and cross your fingers? Personally, I always went for the latter, figuring that lots of lost sales cost me more than a couple of lost packets. And that’s alright, so long as you allow for it –>

Here’s what I used to do: I knew that some of my packages would go missing. I knew what percentage that was (less than 1%) and I made allowances for it in my pricing. I’m told that retail stores do the same: apparently one large chain adds 2% to everything to allow for shoplifting. You’re going to get losses: stop worrying about whether they’re lost in delivery or nicked by buyers, just allow for them. Stop looking at profit on a per-transaction basis, and look at the bigger picture. Your business will thank you for worrying about something more important.

In conclusion, I’d say this: if what you’re most worried about in your business is buyers ripping you off – you’re in the wrong business. Sell in a different category, sell in a different marketplace, or give up selling online altogether. Because if you can’t trust your customers, who can you trust?


PS Someone in the comments is just warming up to have a go at me about this. How dare I suggest that buyers be allowed to get away with it? This is theft, it should be stopped, etc. etc. Well, yes – it should be stopped. But you can’t stop it. Make a decision with your head and your spreadsheet – not with your righteous anger. It’s a business decision to build this into your costs, and concentrate on the things you can control.

  • Warren
    11 years ago

    Distance Seller Regulations will always back up buyers rather than sellers, but don’t you feel that certain market places seem to prompt buyers into making claims and leaving negative feedback. I sell over a few channels and on only one do I get lost items in the post, all the others are fine. On the same channel most of the customers can’t write their addresses properly. To me this channel appeals to a certain person, one that seems a little uneducated and they proberly don’t have a lot of money or a well paid job. Not that there’s anything wrong with this. It just that they don’t shop on other channels I sell on. Can anyone guess what marketplace I’m talking about? Answers on a postcard.

    • northumbrian
      11 years ago

      peckham market

  • BigPoppa
    11 years ago

    The DSR’s are only in place to help ecommerce grow, they are not a permanant fixture. There will be no admition of this of course.

    One day soon, the DSR’s will change/morph to not be so heavily weighted in the buyers favour.

    Buyers remorse will not be allowed etc. This is teh only way that ecommerce will continue to grow.

  • 11 years ago

    Shrinkage = Shop Lifting. Actually it doesn’t. It covers all such losses and usually the largest category is Theft by Employees. Most ebay sellers are quite small often one-man organisations so this part should not be a problem, But if you do employ staff then you could have stock or even assets driving out in the boot of their cars. Obviously the loss is a cost to the company but its not all Shop Lifting.

  • Gary
    11 years ago

    Sellers do make mistakes like putting the wrong address labels on packages or writing the wrong address. This can lead to a failure to deliver.

    Self adhesive address labels do come unstuck and fall off unfortunately. More so in damp humid conditions.

    Cheap weak packing tape could mean that packages fall apart in transit.

    Mail does get stolen. Mailbags do go missing. This leads to a failure to deliver.

    Postie does not always put a collection request card through a letter box. Buyer does not collect and assumes package gone missing.

    Packages sent airmail do sometimes go surface mail by mistake. This can take 60 days to reach Australia. Buyer claims gone missing. Then there are the customs issues.

    Sellers are always suspicious of buyers who claim an item has not arrived.

    How to mitigate?

    Always put a return address on a package and and invoice within the package. That way at least there is a chance of a package being returned if it goes missing or is not collected.

    In the last year I have had 2 packages returned from distant parts overseas that had not been delivered/collected. Both buyers had claimed non receipt.

    Always use the high adhesion address labels and not the standard cheap variety.

    Put clear selotape over address labels to further protect them in cases where there is a risk of humid conditions.

    Use strong quality tape when packaging not the economy version.

    I could go on but I will stop here!

  • Stuart
    11 years ago

    Well I think it is great post Sue and has some good points.

    What I would say is always claim for lost items, even if just sent through Royal Mail.

    I only recently learnt that RM follow up on this and have perused and prosecuted customers who regularly say items have not been delivered!

    Also if you have collections from them and have a regular loss, they monitor this to, to check if anything is ‘wrong’ with their system.

  • Simon L
    11 years ago

    Unfortunatly it’s an ebay that has got worse since -ve feedback for buyers was canned. It always amazes me I have had 1 item not received through our website, lost count how many through ebay

  • northumbrian
    11 years ago

    dont post to S E Asia
    is the best way of avoiding being ripped off
    apart from Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan,

  • Jack
    11 years ago

    Like Sue I have always sent standard first class with the customer’s choice on special or Airsure etc. I upgrade their postage if a they buy a lot or I donn’t like the look of the address.
    Since January I have only used trackable for international sales because I have had too many claims. If the post (especially to the States) settles down again I will return to standard airmail for lower value items.
    I don’t reckon I get more than 10 spurious claims a year. I think you can keep these down by communicating with your customer and being meticulous with your admin.

  • northumbrian
    11 years ago

    we are Ebay TRS sellers being ripped off is in the job description
    we dont worry about it
    the bottom line is what concerns us

  • Henrietta
    11 years ago

    Words of truth and wisdom from Sue
    “If a buyer wants to rip you off, they will – and they’re probably going to get away with it.”

    Brilliant advice for new sellers from Gary and Chris is right too, as usual Norf cuts right through all the wittering straight to the point. What a great start to the week.

    Valentine greetings to all!

  • 11 years ago

    I think the question that needs to be answered is ‘how does Amazon avoid being ripped off?’ They have free returns and a very liberal policy to engender customer loyalty.

    They are a big success.


    • Gary
      11 years ago

      Amazon don’t charge fees on their own direct sales. They can afford a liberal policy.

      eBay UK claim their sales are 4 times that of Amazon UK. Who is it that says that Amazon are a big success?

      What can eBayers learn from the Amazon selling experience with reference to rip off risk reduction?

      Amazon may be growing faster but at what cost? They could simply be playing at being busy fools on extremely low or non existant margins.

      How do we know if Amazon are being ripped of or not? What evidence is there that they are not being and that their liberal policy is working?

    • Gerry007
      11 years ago

      We traded on Amazon for about 9 months & the INR losses were still there.

  • Gerry007
    11 years ago

    In general we just have to accept that some buyers will rip you off.

    We have a 15 working day replacement policy (an extension of Royal Mail’s policy on lost items). This is a part of our T&C.
    We have found that it is a good ‘cooling off policy’ as many buyers do not then come back to us. This may well be RM does actual deliver the packets, but we’ve also had reports of packets taking 21 days to do the straight run London to edinburgh.

    Just when the snow started last year we sent a packet out (2 orders packed n 1 packet). The buyer advised us NINE DAYS after dispatch email, it had not arrived. Weresponded as above.
    THIRTY FIVE later , he emailed us again daying it had not arrived, so I started looking at his feedback. 3 INR claims in 1 year with only 23 feedbacks.
    Smelling a rat, we reported it to RM, but clearly peeved we were challenging him he opened a dispute on ebay.

    Waiting for RM to investigate, he approach ebay & they gave him his money back (our money).

    Ebay asked us to reimburse them, flagging an ID with messages every time we signed on & I was livid.

    All comms with the buyer had been via ebay, or so we thought!!.
    On looking through our spam, we found an email which the buyer had just clicked reply to & hence it came directy into our email account.

    In that email he complained again, but foolishly tried to complain about the P&P paid, but wrote ‘ I paid £XX for ‘a small packet’

    BINGO, got him, how did he know we’d packed the 2 orders in 1 packet, if he had not got it??????.

    We then made a complaint on buyer protection abuse to ebay, they did not reply of course, but rrmoved their demand for the refunded money…….

    But of course, this was only one & as Sue says not worth the sleepless nights…….

  • board_surfer
    11 years ago

    Attract a better class of buyer, problem solved.

  • 11 years ago

    Trust your customers, give great service and don’t argue with them. You’ll get massive loyalty, massive reccomendation to other customers and a massive boost to your own good feelings – or get furious about every claiming lying cheating pig of a buyer, and let me get their business next time………

    • 11 years ago

      Can I add another point. If there is an error at your end. Admit it and apologise for it and try to sort it out to your customers satisfaction. We all try to be perfect but just occassionally something does go wrong. Certainly I am not perfect and make mistakes. So admit it and sort it out. I have a couple of regular customers who in the early days of our relationship I made errors and I sorted out the problems. I think that they now come back to me because they know that I will try very hard to sort out any such problem.

  • northumbrian
    11 years ago

    trust no bugger

  • Glenn
    11 years ago

    Thanks Sue, great article
    Soapbox time –
    There will always be a criminal element in society and these individuals will always seek to steal, cheat and lie their way through life regardless of deterrents.

    The easier it is to commit a crime then the more likely that a crime will be committed.

    Anybody can be tempted to steal or cheat but most of us don’t either for moral reasons or the fear of the consequences.

    Unfortunately eBay have through a series of policies weakened both moral and consequential reasons for not committing crime. Much has already been said about Feedback and DSRs and I’m not going to flog a dead horse, but the reality is that there is less trust between buyers and sellers since the changes.

    You will never eliminate crime, but you can build systems that reduce it. However until such time that eBay experience a significant decease in profits they have no interest in implementing any changes.

  • Lino
    11 years ago

    We claim for everything Royal Mail ‘lose’ in the post, domestic and overseas.

    But Sue, what concerns us about this is that incidents of items reportedly lost in the post is increasing month on month on eBay. I don’t believe Royal Mail are getting worse, I believe eBay buyers are wising up to an easy scam.

    If I wanted something relatively low value (knowing that it would be unlikely that it was sent tracked) and didn’t want to pay for it, eBay is the place I’d go.

  • Gary
    11 years ago

    Just curious as I don’t know but are all Amazon shipping services signed for?

  • David
    11 years ago

    I ship all my sales either RD, SD, ISF or AS and the tracking numbers are all entered into paypal as I bag and tag up the parcels.

    This triggers a paypal email to the seller with all the postage information including the tracking number.

    Since adopting this three years ago I’ve not had one INR claim on around 1000+ packages.

    • Gary
      11 years ago

      1000 packages x 70p = £700 minimum additional shipping cost and probably more.

      Time entering data into Paypal = ???

      Additional time spent on recordable packages over standard packages = ???

      Against maybe 4 INR claims per 1000 packages shipped.

      Does the buyer pay for the extra shipping cost and what is the impact on DSR scores?

    • David
      11 years ago

      The shipping costs are met by the buyer, my DSRs are 4.9 across the board and I have TRS.

      It takes 5 seconds to enter the deatils and an extra whole 2 seconds to stick the RD label (of which I have a large roll supplied by my local sub PO)

      It’s been a very worthwile exercise as losses have been reduced to zero.

      Some people few losses (theft) as acceptable. I’d sooner view them as avoidable.

    • BigPoppa
      11 years ago

      Your extra costs are in excess of £1000. You could send everything without tracking and the potential losses would not add up to anywhere near £1000.

      You may feel better that no one is stealing from you but profit is profit.

    • David
      11 years ago

      My costs are an extra £0.00 as the cost of RD / SD are met by the buyer.

      I’ve adjusted my P&P upwards and it’s impacted my sales / feedback in no way, shape or form.

      I’m hardly a new seller and went through the figures, factoring in extra fees for the higher costs etc.

      So, no extra cost to me, no impact in performance and INR reduced to zero. Win/Win as far as I’m concerned.

    • Gary
      11 years ago

      You could charge the extra shipping anyway and pocket the difference saved by not sending recorded.

      Are there any Tamebay visitors out there who have paid out in excess of £1000 in INR claims in the last 12 months?

      Please advise if you have.

    • 11 years ago

      I think you’ve been very lucky not to have had any problems with the RD packages.

      In my experience, RD is *more* likely to go missing than ordinary post – it is no more secure, often not signed for and if anything, can flag up that the item inside is of value, so worth nicking…

    • Gary
      11 years ago

      Put another way if your average packet value is £25 then at say a very conservative cost of 70p a time you require an INR claim at least every 35 packages to make it worthwhile financially.

      *****To all Tamebay visitors – If you get an INR claim every 35 packages please tell us!!!*****

      I’ll hold my hand up and say I don’t by a very big margin.

  • MediaTrader
    11 years ago

    we’ve just had a buyer advising non-receipt of an item sent at the start of the month. upon corresponding with her, it turns out she put her work address for the item to be sent to, but left her postcode as her home address. she said she’s already had things posted to her like that. it has been explained that the Royal Mail won’t agree to a compensation claim, so she should go check with her sorting office. Just know that her clear mistake is going to end up with us losing out.

    • Gary
      11 years ago

      It shouldn’t do if you used eBay/Paypal registered address details to send the package.

      Or you agreed in advance with the buyer and have a saved message that the buyer acknowledged that they would not be covered under any Paypal/eBay buyer protection scheme as an alternative address invalidates the terms.

    • 11 years ago

      Item 20 is a classic case. A garbage address made up of elements of 2 addresses. I am sure that we all have had these over the years. Surely that is what the return address is for. The RM finds that the address is wrong and they can’t deliver it so they send the item back to the Return Address. I am also a buyer on ebay and I am astonished by the number of deliveries I get without a Return Address. If there is no Return Address the RM has to open the packet and look inside for such as an invoice or other document with an address on. Again I am astonished by the number I get with the item I have ordered and a bit of packing and no paperwork. So the RM has an undeliverable parcel with no idea where to return it to. So you end up not getting your INR’s back to have another go. Its all down to discipline when sending items out. Always include an invoice and always put on a Return Address.

  • JD
    11 years ago

    All UK addresses/postcodes should ideally be validated by reference to RM database.

    eBay/PayPal should do this, they would be able to get a knock down rate from RM for the DB use.

  • Kinny
    11 years ago

    Pragmatic yes,and yes we have to pay that’s simply the way it is, but sellers are prevented from placing negs if they think they have been ripped off, and even writing a negative attement. So thumbs down to this rather drippy article.

  • Ming the Merciless
    11 years ago

    Does the Royal Mail have any sort investigative arm?

    Here in the US, if a seller uses delivery confirmation, signature confirmation, registered or certified mail, or Express Mail with signature required and the buyer makes an INR claim when the record shows otherwise, the seller can request the USPS Postal Inspector to investigate.

    Punishment is jail time and/or fines.

    • northumbrian
      11 years ago

      royal mail has what in effect is a secret police they do all manner of stings and set ups to catch thieves,
      they employ humans that steal.
      just like we sell to humans that steal

    • 11 years ago

      Every so often there is an item in the media. It usually follows the form of Postman has 20,000 undelivered letters at home. The RM may investigate but it takes a very long time for them to do anything. I can remember cases where Postmen have filled their houses with post that they have not delivered and finally either dump some in the dustbin and the dustmen notice it or they use it to light the fire in the back garden and the neighbours report it. What is needed is a system where the Postman who cannot deliver for any reason is identified early before it becomes a major problem and either helped(if it is caused by a problem that can be sorted) or sacked(if he is a thief or useless).

    • northumbrian
      11 years ago

      we have the odd thing lost or missing

      but truth be told without the Royal Mail! there would be no such thing as ebay uk, and no top rated sellers at all

    • Jimbo
      11 years ago

      The trouble with much of what we read in the media is that it is the extremes but we tend to see it as the norm.

      The “little” victories that Royal Mail has in stoping/catching mail fraud aren’t really news worthy.

  • Swifty
    11 years ago

    What I do is when I send the goods, inside the packet I put a slip of paper saying, more or less, if you encounter any problems please email me at this email address….I then give them an email address which is not associated with Ebay so the only way the buyer can know THAT email address is if they got the packet !.
    I have had loads and loads of “Wheres my item” emails and when I point out that the only way for them to actually KNOW that email address was if they opened up the packet to get the address from the slip inside the packet and to make them sweat I tell them that I will also notify Ebay, paypal and Royal Mail Protection that they are trying to scam us….You would be amazed at the number of times the Husband, Wife, Kids, Grandkids or the milkman ‘must’ have had the post and not told them !!

    • northumbrian
      11 years ago

      what a a palaver

    • UK-Vendor
      11 years ago

      We have a procedure for all buyers claiming INR. We always ask them to wait a reasonable time and tell them if the item is then still not received we will refund on the basis they resubmit payment when the goods are delivered. We then refund and block them. We have traded on eBay for over 5 years and never had a payment resubmitted…until this week, two separate American buyers, both had items sent out mid December, both claimed INR and were refunded both finally received their goods this week, both paid us back, both unblocked!

    • Warren
      11 years ago

      I think eBay are encouraging people to be make false claims and once they do one they get into a habit of it. I’m just glad I’m not eBay based no more.

    • northumbrian
      11 years ago

      we sell nowhere else other than ebay on line
      at least 1000 items a week over our various ids
      and we dont have a lot of trouble with false claims if any,
      most of our trouble is self inflicted by our own mistakes

    • Gerry007
      11 years ago

      Over the last 2 years we’ve probably had
      40-50 INR claims & in all that time ONLY TWO item has ever come back to us, via the return address on the rear of all packets.
      Both marked not called for.

      One has to wonder what happens to all these supposedly INR packets.

    • UK-Vendor
      11 years ago

      We sell clothing. Whenever we get suspect “Where’s my item” eBay messages we are very tempted to reply “You’re wearing it!”

  • northumbrian
    11 years ago

    thats us all Donald Ducked the government is on the case

  • martin
    11 years ago

    As you say if you do not like it stop selling on ebay that has the tendency to attract the bad buyer. But with the ebay mentality that a buyer can do no wrong then why wouldn’t it.

    Royal mail in the past have gone after the sender rather than the recipient so most sellers do not bother claiming.
    Ebay have made it impossible to alert other sellers of problem buyers, so anyone that does want to go free shopping can get away with it as much as they want.

    As you say move on and leave ebay, as a lot of sellers, especially auction sellers do not have the option to add the loss into the price. So there really is no other alternative, when your only defense is hope the thief does not buy off you.

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