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Win the Buyer Protection Battle

How to come out ahead when buyer and seller go head-to-head


Win the Buyer Protection Battle

Results aren't automatic in eBay's Buyer Protection program—you have to earn them.

Image: eBay

eBay's dispute process and Buyer Protection program claim to protect buyers' investments, but in fact decisions about whether or not to reimburse the buyer (and reverse funds sent to the seller) are made by real people inside eBay evaluating claims on a case-by-case basis according to fairly general criteria.

Whether you're a buyer or a seller on eBay, being able to prevail in dispute situations can be key to your financial health-not to mention your eBay experience.

For Buyers

Don't make the mistake of imagining that as an eBay buyer you'll always get your money back simply by complaining. In fact, eBay often sides with sellers, even in some cases in which it is unfair to do so. Keep these tips in mind to ensure that disputes you file are decided in your favor:
  • Never communicate with a seller before you have a complaint. Sad as it may seem, sellers will use this against you in communication with eBay. More importantly, never contact a seller thanking them and/or telling them how much you appreciate your product. If you do this ten minutes after you receive the product and it breaks down ten minutes after that, the seller will immediately respond to any disputes you file with a copy of your satisfied message and eBay will decide against you.
  • Don't leave positive feedback if there's any chance you'll dispute. If you've left positive feedback about the transaction, your position is significantly weakened. Don't leave positive feedback until you've had the item in your possession for long enough to know you absolutely won't be asking for a refund or exchange, no matter what.
  • Be reasonable, clear, and firm. In all communication with your seller and with eBay, remain calm, use clear, simple language, be reasonable, and be firm in your request for a refund or exchange. Never use all caps, salty language, or threats to sue or call your "legal representation." These don't impress sellers or eBay workers.
  • Track and refer to exact dates. Know the date on which your item arrived and the dates of all communication that you have with eBay and/or your seller. Refer to these dates in your exchanges.
  • Contact your seller first. eBay's immediate reply to your complaint will be to instruct you to contact your seller. To head this off and seem prepared, contact your seller first. Wait up to three days for a reply before contacting eBay.
  • Use the eBay or PayPal websites, not phone or chat. If you do have to ask eBay for a refund or an exchange, don't try to do it by calling or using the online chat system, even if you much prefer "talking to a real person." Because of eBay's own internal system and the ability to use supporting text and evidence, you have a much better chance of winning your refund or exchange if you do it using the web system.
  • Don't split hairs about your dissatisfaction. An unsatisfactory item is an unsatisfactory item. Don't weaken your claim by saying things like "I really like it, it's just that it's so big! If only the description had been more clear..." or "it worked great for the first three days, but then it suddenly broke." In the first case, eBay will rule that you are at fault for not having shopped carefully; in the second, that you are at fault because you received an item as advertised and broke it yourself. Instead, say "the item description was incorrect," since it did not correctly indicate size, or "the item arrived broken," since any item that breaks within the first three days is essentially defective. The key is to make clear that you are entirely dissatisfied and in the right, not that you are partially satisfied and/or that both parties are "sort of" in the wrong.
  • Make clear that you're willing to return the item. Whether you require a refund or an exchange, assure eBay that you're happy to return the item to the seller first, though you're unwilling to do so at your own expense-return shipping must be paid for by eBay or the seller (unless the auction terms stated otherwise, in which case you should offer to comply with them).
  • Make clear that you'll take the case to your credit card issuer. State clearly and simply that if eBay and/or PayPal are unable to address your complaint, you will dispute the purchase with your credit card issuer, who is likely to rule in your favor.
Remember as you navigate the buyer protection system that patience, firmness, promptness, follow-through, and professionalism are all keys to your success. Your goal is to convince eBay and PayPal that you're a reasonable, thoughtful buyer that has thoroughly been let down and that a refund and/or exchange is rightfully, unambiguously owed to you.

Not the buyer? Read on for a similar list of hints, dos, and don'ts for sellers.

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