How eBay Sellers Can Prevent Returns

a woman packing a box for shipping
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eBay offers a money back guarantee that states, “If the item isn’t exactly what you ordered, eBay covers your purchase price plus original shipping on virtually all items.” So regardless of if your listing has a return policy or not, eBay has the last word on returns. The best way to deal with returns on eBay is to prevent them.

Sellers often complain that buyers are out of line or eBay isn’t fair when it comes to backing up the buyer on return issues. Let’s look at the big picture. Without buyers, sellers have no customers. eBay should support them so that buyers enjoy the eBay experience and return to buy more items. eBay uses common sense when deciding return cases.

If an item is returned damaged, eBay isn’t going to side with the buyer. Sellers should include a disclaimer in their return policy that says, “Items must be returned in original condition, with tags if applicable, within 30 days of purchase.” Learn more about eBay’s return policy. There are a few steps sellers can take to reduce the likelihood of returns and the hassle that goes with them.

Avoid Selling Frequently Returned Items

Frequently returned items include designer handbags, phone cases, formal wear, and electronics. Designer handbags are frequently returned within the 30-day period because women will use them for a few weeks then return them, and buy a different one to use for another few weeks. Some women use eBay like a handbag or phone case library—borrowing these items for a little while then switching them out 2-3 weeks later.

Formal wear is often returned after homecoming, prom, weddings, or college formals. Electronics, especially mobile phones, can be returned after an unscrupulous buyer has inconspicuously taken parts out of the item. The gold inside an iPhone and other mobile phones can be taken to “We buy gold” stores and sold for cash. If you don’t want to hassle with returns, avoid selling items with a high return rate.

Authenticate Designer Items

Authenticate designer items including handbags, high-end blue jeans, sunglasses, and watches. Did you know that selling counterfeit items is illegal? While selling fakes may seem harmless, the counterfeit goods market supports all sorts of illegal activities. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the profit from counterfeit sales supports organized crime, prostitution, drug trafficking, human trafficking, child labor, and terrorist organizations.

Furthermore, no one involved in the counterfeit industry pays taxes since the manufacturing and distribution is done under the table. These organizations are corrupt and give nothing back to the communities they operate in. When you buy or resell a fake, you are supporting illegal activities whether you know it or not.

If you wish to sell higher-end handbags, blue jeans, watches, or sunglasses, have them authenticated by an authorized organization. Authenticate First can determine if the item is authentic or fake and provide a certificate of authenticity that can be included in the eBay listing. A post-purchase evaluation costs $20. Simply email photos of the item to the site and Authenticate First’s staff of professional authenticators can determine if the item is real or fake. According to Authenticate First:

“A professional authenticator has studied, looked at, collected, bought, and sold more brand names than most sales associates see in their lifetime. Sales associates sell the bags, and may be familiar with current or recent past styles, but they do not know the intricacies of those bags. They do not know exactly how many stitches per inch a bag should have, the variety of factories that any one style is made in, the variations in date code fonts from year to year or even location to location.”

Include Accurate Measurements

Include measurements not just on clothing but all items. When buying clothing on eBay, many buyers measure a similar item they already have that fits well and compare the measurements to the eBay listing. If measurements are missing or inaccurate, the likelihood of a return increases. It is best to spoon-feed buyers as much information as possible to ensure a good fit and prevent a return. Take the guesswork out of buying clothing on eBay.

Measurements are important for non-clothing items, too. Photos are not shown to scale on eBay so a 3-inch item could look like a 12-inch item in the photo. Include measurements on everything you sell including children’s items, home décor, collectibles, electronics, art, sporting goods—everything.

An effective way to show the size of a small item is to include a coin such as a dime or a quarter next to the item in one photo. The buyer will understand the scale of the item as compared to the coin. By including measurements on all items, you’ll give the customer valuable information up front and save time answering questions about the size of the item.

Verify the Item Works and All Parts Are Included

A common reason for returns is that parts are missing. When selling unfamiliar items, do the research to confirm that all parts are included. Common items with multiple parts include toys, small appliances, electronics, sporting goods, tools, and lawn, and garden equipment. Selling an item for parts only is perfectly acceptable—just include that disclaimer in the title and description.

A common scam on eBay is for a buyer to purchase an item with multiple parts, remove the desired or needed part, and return the item back to the seller. Always take sufficient photos of items with multiple parts so that if a return occurs, you will have proof of the complete item shipped to the customer.

Make sure the item works properly. You can’t win a dispute about a camera if you don’t know anything about the take-up spool or the ISO speed ring. Know the product before attempting to sell it. Not only will you be more informed to answer any questions (that could prevent a return), but you will know if a buyer is trying to pull a fast one stating that something isn’t working correctly.

Take Photos as If There Is No Description

On the Internet, as in retail stores, countless people are visual shoppers. They would rather look at photos than read a description. This really frustrates eBay sellers but it is a fact of life. You may have every detail explained in the description area, and buyers just don’t read it. Take the time to tell the story of your item through photos.

eBay suggests 8-12 photos for the best buyer experience. Show all sides of the item, close-ups, and include photos of any flaws or defects. The objective here is full disclosure. An item may have a flaw but that doesn’t mean it won’t sell. Give buyers complete and accurate information about the item via photos. Download eBay's free photo guide.

Write the Descriptions as If There Are No Photos

Some buyers prefer to read about an item rather than studying the photos. Write a clear and thorough description including the material the item is made of, measurements, color, special features, manufacturer, country and year of manufacture (if known), UPC code if the item is new and a UPC is present, and any flaws or defects. A clear concise description will also come in handy if a buyer opens an Item Not As Described (INAD) case.

Take your time and write a clear and comprehensive description so if eBay ever has to step in and decide a case, you have already done the work. A good description also helps with Search Engine Optimization as the search engine reads words not photos. Again, an accurate description provides full disclosure to the buyer. The objective is to inform the buyer before the purchase is made. Review eBay's suggestions for writing good titles.

Package Items Carefully to Prevent Damage

Nobody wants to receive a broken item. People come to eBay to purchase items they want, not to receive a damaged item in the mail. A large portion of eBay sellers have had little or shipping training and don’t know how to package items for shipping. This is a skill that must be learned. Fortunately, eBay provides great resources on how to package items safely and securely for shipping.

There are also numerous videos on YouTube showing how to pack items properly for shipping. The key with breakables is to wrap and pack so the item doesn’t move when you shake the box. Also, consider double boxing fragile items. Double boxing involves packing the item well in a box, then “floating” it in packing peanuts or other material inside a larger box.

Consider shipping fragile items in double-walled corrugated boxes as they are stronger and provide greater protection. Order double walled boxes from Uline, Bubblefast, or pick up at office supply stores or Home Depot in the moving boxes section. Post office employees suggest not marking items as fragile as those packages can receive more abuse and suffer more significant drops than regular packages.

Use common sense when shipping items in flat rate mailers. Some eBay sellers pride themselves on how much they can fit into a USPS Flat Rate Bubble Mailer, such as a large pair of jeans or a coat. These mailers can burst during shipping. If the buyer receives a package that is ripped, torn, or one side has exploded, the item inside may be damaged and a return or refund will be the seller’s responsibility. It isn’t worth saving a few dollars on shipping if you run the risk of a buyer receiving a damaged item.

Most problems on eBay can be avoided by thinking like a buyer and planning ahead. Use common sense and take steps to treat customers the way you would want to be treated. Learn from your mistakes. If returns are a continuing problem, examine why returns are happening and make adjustments to your business to reduce returns.