What's Top-Rated About This? Part 3

Unfriendly shipping and returns policies can disadvantage your business.

by Brad and Debra Schepp
- Nov 24, 2010

Welcome to our last installment of Top-rated Seller listings gone wrong. We're pretty confident that we could keep on going with this train of thought almost indefinitely, but by now, we're equally confident that you get our point.

This installment will include a look at shipping language, pricing and policies, as well as return policies. These two, combined, are vital to a successful eBay business.

Your shipping operation is the only opportunity you'll ever get to actually "touch" your customer. You get one chance when that customer opens the box to either delight or disappoint. The difference between the two can be both slight and subtle. Your return policies give you the opportunity to take all the fear and trepidation out of a customer's mind. We'll look at some examples of Top-rated Sellers who have totally missed the mark, and also at some who have made a good attempt but could be doing much more.

Talk about sticker shock

Let's start with a thoroughly absurd shipping statement. While researching, we must admit, it's tempting to imagine that we're actually shopping, and for something that one or the other of us would truly love to own. That's how we came upon a very nice listing for an amazing collection of vintage Superman comics. The listing was nearly perfect, including beautiful pictures and a great use of Superman's characteristic red and yellow color scheme. The presentation was enough to make a Superman fan drool. The $70,000 price tag was enough to make that same fan's wife say "forget about it."

Moving on to the shipping information proved quite surprising. The listing offered free shipping—well that seems right. With a price tag of $70,000, the shipping should be included. But the free shipping offer was only valid for media mail! If the wealthy customer wanted expedited shipping, it would cost an additional $40. How short sighted is that? We were absolutely appalled. Here's the deal: If we ever sell you something for a price of $70,000, we'll overnight and express it right to your door. This seller should have been willing to do exactly the same thing for the top-shelf customer he was trying to attract.

If you want fast payment after the listed item sells, then you should do your best to provide fast packaging and shipping

Show a little integrity, please

Next we'll turn our attention to a seller who is at least trying to sound polite. The shipping information for this seller's listing began with "Please note…" Please is always a good thing to say. But the seller continues by asking the buyer to please allow "two or three days" for the seller to ship the item.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with designating two days a week for shipping. Many successful sellers find this to be an effective way to manage the volume of their work. If you state that you ship items every Tuesday and Friday, we won't quarrel with you. But what exactly does "two or three days" mean? Does that mean business days, so that if we purchase on Friday, you don't have to ship till the following Wednesday? That's close to a full week.

Even worse, one Top-rated Seller actually stated the following:

"We typically ship out between one to five days after payment, but can vary."

Can vary? By how much? That's a pretty lenient span of time to fulfill a seller's part of the bargain. And what, exactly, are we supposed to do to figure out when we should be looking for our purchase to arrive? If you want fast payment after the listed item sells, then you should—by all that is ethical—do your best to provide fast packaging and shipping.

Along these same lines, we found one of our most dreaded statements in a Top-rated Seller's listing:

"We cannot [sic] be held responsible for orders lost in the mail."

Oh yes you can! As the seller, you promise to ship an item to the buyer. If it gets lost in the mail, then the buyer has fulfilled her part of the bargain, and you have not.

Even more curiously, this listing went on to state that the seller ships USPS with delivery confirmation! So, the seller can clearly determine, through his own shipping choices, whether the buyer is telling the truth, and this seller still thinks there's no need to make good on the undelivered items? Arrrrrrgh! By all means, use delivery confirmation as a terrific way to protect yourself from a buyer trying to scam you with the claim that he never received the item. Just don't delude yourself into thinking this little extra will free you from making good on an item genuinely lost in the mail.

Finally, the appearance of your packaging is incredibly important. It's the last and best impression you can make on your customer. Use only new or like-new materials, only careful padding, and only clear labeling, please. If you want to spotlight your careful packaging, that's terrific. Just don't use this language:

"I ship all clothes wrapped in new tissue paper. I don't believe in throwing clothes in a box or bag & sending them on their way. That's tacky and lazy. I do not place my items on the floor to take pictures."

Oh, goodness. Couldn't we just leave this at the first sentence? By all means, take pride in your shipping procedures, but do spare your customers the alternatives!

If you offer a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee, you are telling your customers they have nothing to fear from you

Many happy returns

Now let's look at return policies. We have had many successful sellers tell us they hate giving refunds, but they still do it. Trust and safety are huge issues when it comes to online shopping.

If you offer a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee, you are telling your customers they have nothing to fear from you. If you wish to stipulate a time period during which you will honor the return, no quarrels. If you need to ask the buyer to pay for return shipping, go ahead. But you can't reasonably expect someone to take a risk by purchasing from a complete stranger with no possibility of recovering the cost if the item disappoints. Well, actually, you might find some buyers willing to take that risk, but, as you'll see from our next example, you'll pay for it.

We watched a Top-rated Seller's listing end. It was for a sweater, brand new, with tags showing a price of $68 from a nationally known and exclusive department store. The seller stated very clearly that no returns were possible on this item.

The auction ended, and we saw the sweater bring in $20.30. Now, would that seller have gotten $68 if returns were possible? Of course not, but the buyers were clearly stating that they'd risk 20 bucks, but not much more. Any woman who shops for clothes knows that sometimes everything is right, but the item is still wrong. Returns, in this case, would likely have brought the seller a greater profit.

We hope you understand that we don't mean to embarrass or ridicule anyone. We just want to point out that, in the rush to get everything done, it's possible to overlook some basic practices that can either make your eBay business more professional or cast doubt in the minds of your customers.

In the end, buying and selling on eBay comes down to a moment when both parties have to take a leap of faith. You'll profit if you make that leap look more like a skip.

Read Parts 1 and 2 of this series here and here.

About the Author

Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Alibaba.com Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book, which Deb co-authored with John Lawson, Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-preneurs: It's Not About Likes—It's About Sales, was recently named the 2015 Small Business Book of the Year in the social media category.

For further information, visit Brad and Deb's website, bradanddeb.com.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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