I Totally Blew It! Now What?

How to save your eBay reputation after you've made a mistake

by Auctiva.com staff writer
- Oct 17, 2008

As an eBay seller, you strive to create the best possible experience for your buyers by providing quality merchandise and top-notch service. And most likely, customers have rewarded your vigilance with positive feedback and high Detailed Seller Ratings.

But occasionally things go awry—maybe you sell an item you don't have in stock, or packages get mixed up and sent to the wrong buyers. Blame it on lack of sleep, an inattentive employee or planetary alignments, everyone messes up from time to time—from the newbie seller learning the ropes on eBay to the seasoned merchant with a tried-and-true "system."

There's an old saying that we learn from our mistakes. But for true learning to happen, two things have to occur. The first is to admit you blew it. Not just to yourself, but to your buyer—or buyers, as the case may be. The second is to think about what caused you to make the blunder and how you can avoid doing it again.

Now if you've just realized you sent a $10 item to a buyer who purchased $150 worth of goods from you, don't panic. Yes, it could mean you ultimately take a blow to your hard-earned, heretofore perfect feedback score. But if you're proactive and apologetic—instead of being unresponsive or indifferent—usually, the customer will be forgiving.

"Buyers like honesty," says Christopher Keel of Bargains on the Spot. "And most good buyers understand that sellers are just human, and mistakes can and do happen."

All mixed up

Keel, like so many others, has felt the stinging embarrassment—and the nagging anxiety—of having sent the wrong items to the wrong buyers. His mistake? Pulling one too many all-nighters in order to make his holiday shipments.

Buyers like honesty. And most good buyers understand that sellers are just human, and mistakes can and do happen

"During Christmas one year, I was working overtime at my regular job, getting home at 3 a.m. and then spending a few hours packing up items that sold during the day," he explains. "I somehow mixed up six of the paid shipping labels—meaning six buyers got someone else's item."

He didn't realize his error until two customers e-mailed that they had received the wrong order. Gulp.

"Since I had no idea how many packages I could have mixed up, I e-mailed every buyer that had purchased from me on that particular day, telling them of my huge mix-up," he says. "I asked each person to contact me once they got their item so I could figure out who got what."

Once he had that sorted out, he gave each customer the option to ship the item back, forward it on to the correct party or receive a full refund. Luckily, all were obliging and chose the second option. Within a week, everyone had the right item and was reimbursed for their shipping expenses. Disaster averted.

"It ended up costing me an extra 50 bucks [in postage]," says Keel, who is wholly aware that his mistake could have cost far more in terms of his reputation as a seller. "I was lucky to have very easy-to-deal-with buyers, who could have put me in a difficult situation."

You're in good company

In fact, the old package-switcheroo mishap seems to be one of the most common errors sellers make. In a recent survey of Auctiva users, numerous PowerSellers and long-standing eBayers admitted that, at one time or another, they have slapped the wrong shipping label on the wrong box. One other commonality among these users: All have maintained feedback scores of 99 percent or better—in spite of their mistakes.

eBay seller kitchikoo reports that she once inadvertently sent a box of games to a man who had purchased model car parts—while his order wound up with the woman who had bought the games.

She asked each buyer to kindly forward the parcel to the proper person, and refunded them, via PayPal, more than enough to cover their shipping costs.

"I was very apologetic and expressed my appreciation to them repeatedly," kitchikoo says. "The man thought it was funny and took it all in great stride. The woman was not amused and left me negative or neutral feedback."

Someday we'll look back and laugh

Whether you rely on eBay for your livelihood or to support a hobby, it's nerve-wracking to think that a single, avoidable gaffe could tarnish your flawless reputation. And the lower your transaction volume, the greater the damage even one negative mark will do to your feedback score.

Give buyers every reason to trust you, and then follow through

That's why it's so important to establish a good foundation with every buyer you encounter—starting with professional-looking listings, and continuing through your post-sale communications. Give them every reason to trust you, and then follow through.

Keep records of all inventory—everything you have in stock, what you have listed, which items are waiting for payment and so on. You can do this on a spreadsheet, on paper or by sorting items into plastic bins. Use whatever system works for you; just make sure you stick to it so nothing that's already spoken for sits in the "available to list" pile.

It's also a good idea to create step-by-step procedures that you follow for every listing, from start to finish, and every item that you pack and ship—especially if you have employees or family members who help out on occasion. For example, Brian of busybeas_books says he now completely wraps and labels one item at a time to avoid mix-ups.

And if you decide to pre-box items to save packing time later on, don't rely on sticky notes to tell you what's inside, recommends Auctiva's resident PowerSeller Rebecca Miller of bertthedog, who once put the wrong shipping labels on two similar-looking boxes. "Now if I pre-box anything, I use a pen to write on the actual box," she says.

As for Keel: "I no longer ship packages when I'm dead tired!" he says. "I triple check my packages against my invoices AND my shipping labels." And if he somehow over-estimates shipping charges or accidentally sells something he no longer has in stock, "I admit to any mistakes I might have made—before the buyer has a chance to let me know."

Of course, nobody's perfect all the time. But when we understand where we went wrong, we can hopefully make the appropriate changes to ensure the same mistake doesn't happen again.

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