Avoiding Problem Customers

How, and why, to cancel and block unwanted bids

by Auctiva.com staff writer
- Mar 10, 2008

From time to time, eBay sellers run into customers who—for whatever reason—they'd rather not trade with. It could be the bidder is someone who has been a nightmare to deal with in the past. Or maybe there's something in their feedback record that raises a red flag.

Any number of reasons might lead a seller to consider another user to be an unsuitable trading partner. But what can you do if an unwelcome customer bids on your auction?

If this happens, you're not stuck by any means. eBay allows sellers to cancel unwanted bids at any time, and even block bidders from participating in future auctions or sales.

Now, don't go mad with a newfound sense of power and righteousness. Yes it's nice to have a feeling of control amid the free-for-all of cyber auctions. But abuse of this power can backfire and leave you with a reputation as a bad seller. So practice restraint, and use your block and cancel capability only as a last resort.

To cancel or not

While recognizing that it's sometimes necessary for sellers to cancel bids, eBay warns against it. Cancelling a bid can create buyer ill will and set you up for a negative experience with that customer down the road.

However, there are legitimate reasons for doing this, including:

  • The bidder asks to back out. You're not obligated to let them off the hook just because they had a change of heart. But if theirs ends up being the winning bid, you might find you have a non-paying buyer on your hands. In that case, you can file an Unpaid Item Dispute and get your listing fees credited, but why not save yourself the time and trouble?
  • You can't verify the bidder's ID. If you are unable to contact the person using the information on file with eBay, they might be a deadbeat or a fraudster. Cancel it.
  • User has excessive negatives in the last 30 days or a negative feedback score. This bidder may have had a run of bad luck, or they could truly be the customer from hell. Read their feedback history for clues. If you're uneasy, remove the bid.
  • You need to cancel the auction. Yes, you can cancel your auction for any reason—if the item gets lost or damaged, there was an error in the description or the minimum/reserve price, or even if you decide you can't bear to part with your great-grandmother's ugly china after all. Just know that if you cancel bids and end your auction early, you risk being branded as a non-performing seller.

To cancel a bid, go to the cancelling bids placed on your listing page (login required), or open the Site Map and click on Cancel Bids on Your Listing. Enter the appropriate information, including a reason for cancelling. It's good form when you cancel a bid to e-mail bidders and explain why. Be courteous and professional. They might still be ticked off at you, but at least you tried to keep the peace.

Once a bid has been cancelled, it can't be reinstated. So make sure it's what you really want to do before you hit the button. Cancelled bids also become a permanent part of the auction's bid history, so any comments you leave should be clear, to the point and unemotional. This isn't the place to air your grievances.

Getting the timing of a cancellation right takes some strategic planning. Chances are, if you allow an unwanted bid to stand, someone else will come along and outbid them. Delete the bid too early and you might end up with a lower final price than you would have otherwise received. Wait too long and you risk keeping the price artificially high, potentially discouraging late-stage bidders.

A good rule of thumb is to hold off until the last 24 hours of the listing. By that time, the interloper may no longer be the high bidder anyway.

Block bad bidders

Once you cancel a bid, it's a good idea to block the user from bidding on any more of your auctions. Scorned users have been known to come back and make trouble for hapless sellers by placing high bids and then refusing to pay—or worse, completing the transaction and leaving negative feedback.

Under eBay's new feedback policy, sellers don't have the ability to leave negative or neutral feedback for buyers, even if the buyer struck first (although you still have the option to post a response to any feedback you receive). If you have reason to expect a user will be problematic, head 'em off at the pass.

To block a bidder open the Site Map, click on Block Bidder/Buyer List, select Add eBay User to My Blocked Bidder/Buyer List, and enter the appropriate information.

Of course, there's still a danger that the bad bidder will create a new eBay user ID and continue to make your life miserable. That's one of the risks inherent in operating in a faceless economy. It's a drag when you have to do it, but you can block up to 1,000 user IDs. No one has that many accounts!

No dogs allowed

An even better approach is to put up an electronic "no trespassing" sign to deter those unwelcome guests from crashing your party in the first place.

You can stipulate buyer requirements to keep out bidders based on certain criteria. Maybe you don't want to sell internationally, or to anyone with Unpaid Item strikes or a negative feedback score. Or perhaps you only want to deal with bidders who have a PayPal account (though if you also accept other forms of payment, you can't force a buyer to use PayPal).

To set up buyer requirements, go to My eBay. Under My Account select Preferences, choose Seller's Preferences, click Edit and select your buyer requirements. You can still let specific eBay members slip through the gate, even if they meet your blocking criteria, by adding them to your Buyer Requirements Exemption list.

However, sellers can't block bids solely based on a zero feedback score. Everyone has to start somewhere. But if you really don't want to be bothered with newbies who don't yet understand that a bid is binding, state it (politely) in your seller's terms.

If the zeros go ahead and bid anyway, send an eBay message thanking the user for bidding on your item, and request that they contact you before continuing to bid. If they are unresponsive, request the user's contact details to obtain the member's name, home city and phone number. eBay will also send your details to the other person. Just knowing that you know where to find them will usually scare off anyone who's not a serious buyer.

Having the option to cancel and block problem customers can be a saving grace, but it should be exercised with care, and only as a last resort. Practice good customer service, being proactive, responsive and professional, and with any luck you'll be free of problem customers.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

Other Entries by this Author

Follow Us