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How does eBay Buyer Protection work?

What you need to know about eBay's Buyer Protection program

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How does eBay Buyer Protection work?

eBay advertises its Buyer Protection program widely, but for many shoppers, details remain hazy. Here's how it works.

Image: eBay / Aron Hsiao

Because eBay is primarily a forum in which to connect buyers to sellers, rather than an online retail site in its own right, eBay has struggled to maintain the same reputation for safety and good customer service that attaches to retail platforms like Amazon.com.

To address this problem, in recent years eBay has taken steps to impose some basic requirements on sellers with regard to return policies, but the centerpiece of their customer assurance push has been the Buyer Protection program.

What it Means

eBay Buyer Protection is a promise to shoppers on the U.S. eBay site (eBay.com) that eBay will intervene in disputes between buyers and sellers and make things right when they have gone wrong for buyers and the seller has failed to act adequately to resolve the dispute.

Buyers that file a successful claim under the program are usually:

  • Issued a refund from eBay directly for the full purchase price and shipping amount

  • Required to return the unsatisfactory item to the seller

  • Absolved of any further connection to the transaction or obligation to the seller

In rare cases, the buyer may not be required to return the item to the seller but will be refunded anyway.

After a decision in a buyer's favor, eBay takes responsibility for recovering funds from the seller in question, since the buyer has already been made whole.

Eligible Buyers and Items

Buyers are eligible for a buyer protection claim so long as they:

  • Made the purchase on the U.S. eBay site

  • Paid through eBay using the eBay checkout process (i.e. PayPal, Bill Me Later, direct credit card purchase through eBay checkout, or another approved payment method

  • Made a purchase that is not specifically excluded from protection

  • Made the purchase within the 45 days preceding the claim

  • Have a good faith dispute with the seller

This last point catches many disputers unawares. Buyer Protection is not an "unconditional guarantee" or a "no questions asked" refund policy.

To win a claim, eBay must believe that the buyer fundamentally did not get what they paid for. Some examples that surprise buyers:

  • If you purchased a product, it was delivered in a timely fashion, and it is substantially the same as other products of the same make/model, eBay will not refund you simply because it turns out that you're very dissatisfied with the product.

  • Similarly, a product that is inexpensive and generally recognized to be poor in quality is not likely to be refunded even if it breaks within the first 45 days you have it.

  • A used item purchase is rarely refunded for breakage even if it was originally a high quality, brand-name item. eBay usually rules that previous use has resulted in normal wear and tear and that buyers knowingly take a risk when buying a used item that the item will break soon after purchase.

Items that arrive very late, in a condition not matching the description, or with obvious damage or defects (no matter the cause) that were not disclosed in the listing, are generally covered.

How it Works

To take advantage of the program, a buyer that believes they're entitled to a refund must:

  • First contact the seller and try to resolve the issue without eBay intervention

  • Contact eBay within 45 days after purchase if the dispute can't be resolved directly

  • Respond to messages and required actions from eBay as the case is being processed

  • Return the item to the seller if eBay requires this step

Once eBay has been contacted and the process begins, it's anybody's game. eBay will remain in contact with both buyer and seller, asking questions or requesting evidence for claims.

For this reason, there's more to Buyer Protection that just knowing how to file a claim—it's also important to know how to persuade eBay and win one if you want to be sure of receiving a refund.

How Buyer Protection is Different from Credit Card Disputes

As a final step, buyers that are unable to win an eBay Buyer Protection case may in some instances find that their credit card issuer is willing to refund their purchase price through a credit card dispute. This is becuase there is somewhat more attention available on a per-case basis inside credit card processors, and credit card companies have a clear pro-buyer orientation—the protection policies offered by many credit card issuers fall much more clearly the "customer is always right" side of the equation.

On the other hand, credit card disputes typically take much longer to process and often require much more intensive communication from the buyer as well in order to document the case as it proceeds.

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