I Want My Money Back

The fundamentals of returns policies for eBay sellers

by Auctiva.com staff writer
- Mar 17, 2008

So you've successfully completed a sale on eBay; the buyer has received the item and left you great feedback for prompt delivery. Everything is rosy until a few days later when the customer contacts you with the dreaded news: "I want my money back."

What happened, you wonder. Did you send the wrong item? Was it broken or damaged? Did the seller have a change of heart? Do you even have a returns policy?

Starting in early 2009, you'll have to have one, if you want to sell on eBay. That's not to say you must accept returns. You just need to say so, one way or the other.

Still, if you used PayPal to conduct the transaction, it may not matter what your returns policy is. Buyers have up to 45 days to file a dispute through PayPal, and you could be forced to provide a refund whether you've stipulated "no returns" or not.

With any other forms of payment, you are free to live by whatever terms you choose. Indeed, many sellers choose to not include a returns policy with their listings out of fear that:

  • Buyers will think there is something wrong with the item.
  • Casual browsers will have an easy out if they decide to buy and then change their mind.
  • The auction will be targeted by scammers.

Sadly, dishonest people are all around, and it's a good idea for sellers to be aware of the more common forms of fraud on eBay.

But if you think you will be safer and attract a higher quality clientele without a returns policy, you might be missing the boat.

In a 2005 eBay study of consumer preferences, 21 percent of non-buyers cited "lack of returns policy" as a reason for buying a product elsewhere.

According to eBay, only a small percentage of items purchased on eBay are ever actually returned. And as a general rule, the more accurate and descriptive the listing, the less likely a sale will end up with a return. Yet, simply by having a clear returns policy, you can help buyers feel more comfortable shopping with you—and increase your sell-through rates.

If your returns policy is longer than your item description, bidders are more likely to be repelled than reassured

Here's another thing to consider: If you include a clear returns policy in your listings, a dissatisfied buyer will have an incentive to contact you personally to work out a resolution—instead of leaving negative feedback.

Even a basic policy is better than none. For example, yours might simply state "Returns accepted only if item is significantly not as described."

That's clear enough. But it can't hurt to give potential buyers a more thorough and even more personable description of your policy. Just don't write a novel. If your returns policy is longer than your item description, bidders are more likely to be repelled than reassured. And whatever you do, keep the tone positive, not hostile.

Instead of: "This is an auction, not a department store. If you want a guarantee, go to Best Buy."

Try: "I strive to describe my items thoroughly and accurately. If you have questions, please contact me before bidding."

To increase buyer confidence and drive more sales, eBay suggests these buyer-friendly policies:

  • Refund remedy—Money back or store credit
  • 100% satisfaction guaranteed—Returns accepted, no questions asked
  • Time limit—Returns accepted within X days of delivery.

You should also clarify any other details upfront. For example, will you only accept returns if the item is significantly different than described? Will you charge a restocking fee, and if so, how much? Who is responsible for shipping charges in the event of a return? Will you only take back an unopened box, or is an opened box with all the original materials acceptable?

Establishing a returns policy can take just a few extra clicks while you're setting up your eBay listing. In the Sell Your Item form on the Shipping Payment and Returns Policy page, check the "Returns Accepted" box, select a time limit if appropriate, and select the type of refund if any.

To add more descriptive information, click "Change" under the "Return Policy Details" heading, and insert as much detail as you wish using the free-form text box.

Your returns policy will be clearly displayed on the View Item page, in the section labeled "Shipping, Payment Details and Returns Policy."

Offering a returns policy—even if it can be overridden by PayPal—shows good will. And it helps buyers think of you as a seller they want to do business with.

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.

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