Tips for eBay Buyers for Filing a Complaint or Dispute

How to Avoid Problems When Confronted With an eBay Dispute

Frustrated Chinese woman using laptop
••• Getty Images/JGI/Jamie Grill

eBay's dispute process and Buyer Protection program claim to protect buyers' investments, but decisions about whether or not to reimburse the buyer (and reverse funds sent to the seller) are made by real people inside eBay evaluating claims on a case-by-case basis according to fairly general criteria.

Whether you're a buyer or a seller on eBay, being able to prevail in dispute situations can be key to your financial health and eBay experience.

Buyer Tips for Filing an eBay Complaint

Don't make the mistake of imagining that as an eBay buyer you'll always get your money back simply by complaining. In fact, eBay often sides with sellers, even in some cases in which it is unfair to do so. Keep these tips in mind to ensure that disputes you file are decided in your favor:

  • Delay communicating with the seller until you know you're satisfied (and won't be filing a complaint). Sad as it may seem, sellers will use this against you in communication with eBay. More importantly, never contact a seller thanking them and/or telling them how much you appreciate your product. If you do this, the seller will immediately respond to any disputes you file with a copy of your satisfied message and eBay will decide against you.
  • Don't leave positive feedback if there's any chance you'll dispute. If you've left positive feedback about the transaction, your position is significantly weakened. Don't leave positive feedback until you've had the item in your possession for long enough to know you absolutely won't be asking for a refund or exchange, no matter what.
  • Be reasonable, clear, and firm. In all communication with your seller and with eBay, remain calm, use clear, simple language, be reasonable, and be firm in your request for a refund or exchange. Never use all caps, salty language, or threats to sue or call your "legal representation." These don't impress sellers or eBay workers.
  • Track and refer to exact dates. Know the date on which your item arrived and the dates of all communication that you have with eBay and/or your seller. Refer to these dates in your exchanges.
  • Contact your seller first about your complaint. eBay's immediate reply to your complaint will be to instruct you to contact your seller. To head this off and seem prepared, contact your seller first. Wait up to three days for a reply before contacting eBay.
  • Use the eBay or PayPal websites, not phone or chat. If you do have to ask eBay for a refund or an exchange, don't try to do it by calling or using the online chat system, even if you much prefer "talking to a real person." Because of eBay's own internal system and the ability to use supporting text and evidence, you have a much better chance of winning your refund or exchange if you do it using the web system.
  • Don't split hairs about your dissatisfaction. An unsatisfactory item is an unsatisfactory item. Don't weaken your claim by saying things like "I really like it, it's just that it's so big! If only the description had been more clear..." or "it worked great for the first three days, but then it suddenly broke." In the first case, eBay will rule that you are at fault for not having shopped carefully and that you are at fault because you received an item as advertised and broke it yourself. Instead, say "the item description was incorrect," since it did not correctly indicate size, or "the item arrived broken," since any item that breaks within the first three days is essentially defective. The key is to make clear that you are entirely dissatisfied and in the right, not that you are partially satisfied and/or that both parties are "sort of" in the wrong.
  • Make clear that you're willing to return the item. Whether you require a refund or an exchange, assure eBay that you're happy to return the item to the seller first, though you're unwilling to do so at your own expense--return shipping must be paid for by eBay or the seller (unless the auction terms stated otherwise, in which case you should offer to comply with them).
  • Make clear that you'll take the case to your credit card issuer. State clearly and simply that if eBay and/or PayPal are unable to address your complaint, you will dispute the purchase with your credit card issuer, who is likely to rule in your favor.

    The Buyer Complaint Bottom Line

    Remember as you navigate the buyer protection system that patience, firmness, promptness, follow-through, and professionalism are all keys to your success. Your goal is to convince eBay and PayPal that you're a reasonable, thoughtful buyer who has thoroughly been let down and that a refund and/or exchange is rightfully owed to you.

    For Sellers

    If the tips for buyers presented above irk you and make you feel as though buyers are getting an unfair advantage, ask yourself whether you're running a tight enough ship as a business. Do you pay attention all of the following, which can keep you safe from most potential payment reversals?

    • Be a professional and run a professional business. Make your item descriptions meticulously clear. Have explicit, prominently stated payment, shipping, refund, and exchange policies. Pack your items well, ship them promptly and with a tracking number and insurance (as well as a signature requirement if the value is over $250), and keep all of this information meticulously in your records. Sell good quality merchandise at a reasonable price. All of this ensures that it really isn't your fault if and when a buyer is dissatisfied with a transaction-and being free of culpability is the first key step in hanging on to your earnings.
    • Answer buyer communication quickly and professionally. Never dismiss or belittle buyers' concerns, much less threaten or badger a buyer, since any communication that you send will quickly end up in eBay's hands if a dispute arises. Instead, firmly and clearly address all concerns and refer buyers to the item description in question for clarification of all policies.
    • Respond to all eBay communication quickly and professionally. eBay notes not only the responses that you send but the promptness with which you send them. Include descriptions of good packaging, all tracking numbers, insurance information, and the dates of shipment, arrival, and communication with the buyer.
    • Point out unreasonable buyer expectations or telling details of the transaction. If the buyer is making requests that clearly conflict with the item description in question, say so and point out the relevant phrase(s). Quote any positive feedback or non-negative email received from the buyer and cite these as evidence of satisfaction. If there is a gap between the item's arrival date and the first time that they contacted you, say so and suggest that the buyer may have damaged the item themselves. If the buyer did not contact you before contacting eBay, or was rude or threatening in their communication with you, point these facts out. If none of this applies, simply suggest that the buyer is experiencing buyer's remorse.
    • Assert that you have acted correctly and in good faith. Ensure eBay that the item you shipped was exactly as described, functioning in exactly the way promised, packaged well, and delivered on time--and that any problems that have arisen are thus likely to have been caused by the shipper, in which case an insurance claim is in order, or by the buyer, in which case the culpability and liability alike are not yours. Note that you have communicated promptly with the buyer and that you do your best to fairly and honestly serve customers.
    • Repeat that it's not your fault. Say at least once per exchange to all parties that you do not believe yourself or your business to be at fault in this instance or liable for any reimbursement or other expense.

    At the end of the day, most situations of this kind result from failures of diligence by both parties in one way or another, though in rare and regrettable cases either one party or the other has acted in bad faith or neither party is at fault in any way.

    No matter the cirumstances, though, it is generally the most professional, agreeable, meticulous, and firm party that wins the day--and the case--when buyer protection disputes occur.