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Refunds and Exhcanges for eBay Purchases

Not every transaction can go as planned


Returns are part of the retail experience. Purchases made on eBay, like purchases made anywhere else, can sometimes go wrong—perhaps the merchandise is the wrong size, suffers from compatibility issues, or is just plain nonfunctional or arrives damaged. When this happens, a refund is often the solution to the problem.

Unlike a traditional store, however, there is no “customer service counter” or “refunds and exchanges” counter on eBay. Instead, returns and refunds have to be coordinated through direct communication between buyer and seller until both parties are satisfied.

Expectations and Procedures for Sellers

Any discussion of refunds or exchanges on eBay begins with the auction listing for the item in question, which is the final “official” word on the seller’s refund and exchange policy for the item in question.

If you’re an eBay seller, take care to ensure whenever you list an item to clearly spell out a refund and exchange policy for all prospective buyers of the item in question. The things to think about when spelling out refund terms and conditions include each of the following:

  • Is there a time limit on refunds? What is the maximum amount of time you’re willing to give to buyers to evaluate the item? Remember to account for shipping time as well in this consideration. A typical time limit reads something like “Refunds must be requested within seven days of item arrival.” Take care to ensure that you purchase tracking information for the parcels that you ship if you want to be sure of the time of arrival.

  • Return of item required? For more expensive and durable goods items, you’re almost sure to want an item to be returned to you before you issue a refund. Be sure to mention this so that buyers realize what their obligations will be if they buy your item and decide that they are unsatisfied with it.

  • RMA required? Most sellers want to know that something is being returned before it shows up on their doorstep. If this is you, be sure to point out in your terms and conditions that the buyer must contact you for an RMA (Return of Merchandise Authorization) before they ship an item back to you expecting to be reimbursed.

  • Who pays for shipping? Depending on the shipping costs surrounding the item in question and on your own preferences as a seller, you may wish to include in refunds the original shipping amount or even the return shipment to you. Clarify this in your auction listing so that buyers understand their responsibilities when push comes to shove.

  • How will the return be credited? Do you issue refunds or merely credit toward other items? Do you mail checks or refund directly via PayPal or your merchant account provider? All of these questions can create opportunities for miscommunication with antsy buyers if you don’t make these things clear up front.

Of course, if you're a buyer rather than a seller, then these concerns aren't really yours—the refund policy comes to you from the seller without your really being able to affect it. Even so, there are steps that you can take to help the process to go more smoothly. Read on to find out what they are.

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