Are eBayers going feral?


I sold this rare childhood poster for $75.
Despite my best packing efforts it vanished into hyperspace.


You know how some phenomena (divorce, road rage, vampire fiction, coral bleaching) are believed to reflect a broader malaise?

Well, I think eBayers are trying to tell me something.

If you’re not hip to the eBay groove, read this, this, this, this and this.

If you are, read on!


Funny feeling

Over many years, I’ve eBayed for funds, friends, family and floor space.

I was happily powering to 500 positive reviews.

In the last quarter, however, I felt a shift in attitudes – from buyers and sellers.

At first I thought I was just too busy and tired to handle the usual challenges of online commerce.

But I asked around, and others agree things are getting narky.


Lap dance

I was tracking a year-old laptop that cost $1700 new, listed at $500 and sold for $810.

The next day, I found another ad with the same photo.

Suspecting mendacity, I contacted the seller.

He told me he’d relisted the unit, as the successful bidder had offered to pay by instalments after the auction was over.

This isn’t merely impolite, deceitful and maddeningly inconvenient, it’s expressly forbidden by eBay.

Yet that hasn’t stopped similar things happening to me.

Dressing down

After I sold one of Fonnie’s dresses, the auction winner tried to haggle a few bucks off postage because she ‘only lives in Mornington’. This irrelevant parlaying vaporised my profit (and enjoyment).

On the other side of the coin, I bought two copies of Andre Agassi’s excellent autobiography. Listed as BRAND NEW, they came with dings, scratches and texta marks.

When I quizzed the seller, he flagged a microscopic line about remaindered titles in his ad.

When I pointed out that remaindered isn’t BRAND NEW, he admitted he’d had static from some buyers. But not enough to change his argot.

Back in laptop land, I reviewed the BRAND NEW items I was tracking. Even the fine print said they were new. But customer comments told another story: that these were refurbished warranty items (not always fully) restored to factory settings.

Vanishing point

Having not lost a letter in 40 years, eBay parcels I post have started mysteriously ‘failing to arrive’, forcing me to issue refunds.

The only option is to go for higher-priced trackable mail products.

Australia Post is making a killing from online shopping. (Just as well, given snail mail is in decline. They’ll have to restructure soon, but that’s another story.)

Meanwhile, they’ve introduced a range of trackable satchels.

I can’t afford not to use these.

But when trust has been eroded at every point in the sale, can I be bothered?


Meaningful looks

Our Bella Katz says:

‘I’ve been on eBay for ages too and am finding buyers are a rougher bunch. More and more they want something for nothing. Bad-egg eBayers have worked out the system to their advantage and seem to have realised there’s no punishment for petty crime.’

So what does it all mean?

My initial theories are that people:

  • Have lost their jobs, use eBay to make ends meet and ‘must’ cut corners.
  • Are terrified of a second global financial crisis and desperate to pay down debt.
  • Have become desensitised to glamorised crime by gorging on it in the media.
  • Are losing human decency by living insular, online lives.

What do you think?

Is stuff like this happening to you or your business?

Am I reading too much into it?

Or is eBay a sign of our times?



| Founder & Senior Writer – The Feisty Empire

  • Traff

    Just had the same thing happen to me this morning. I’m selling a laptop, the buyer accepted the buy it now price of $1749 and sent his invoice request with delivery instructions and a few sentences about how excited he was to have won this product. I then received a notification from eBay an hour later saying that the sale had been cancelled because the buyer reported unauthorised activity on his account. Clearly he has changed his mind, as a fraudster wouldn’t have sent me a personal email. But I don’t even have the opportunity to argue my case with eBay, despite it being clearly against their T&Cs.

    Feral buyers are infuriating as a seller, as it adds at least another week to the sale process, let alone the additional time, and means that buyers who were watching this purchase will now be suspicious of me!

    • I’m very sorry to hear of your misfortune, Traff. But grateful you’ve added your story – as I’m pretty thin on evidence. Thank you for taking the time.

      If you’ve a mind to keep us posted, I’d love to know how you get on. Best regards and good luck! P. :)

      PS. Feel free to add your ad URL in another comment. You never know; we may have a buyer among us!

  • i’m not a big Ebayer, though i enjoy a dabble. Am wondering are the people getting laxer because nobody bothers reporting them to ebay, so they continue to get away with these things, or is it ebay letting them off for ‘small’ infractions?

    • You got me there, Sheila. It could be neither, either or both. With kind contributions like yours, though, we may spot a trend. Many thanks! P. :)

  • On someone suggested posting your goods from Australia to a Hong Kong post office and paying them to forward your parcel to overseas as it is much cheaper to do it that way. Really just tongue in cheek.

    How on earth can AU eBay sellers expand to a global market? They cannot!

  • I have a question rather than a comment. Paul as you know I was thinking of selling some things on Ebay. For those of you who are experienced are you suggesting it might not be a good idea?

    • I was hoping you’d drop in, Susan, as you said you were a newbie.

      Your question is difficult, as my answer could send you to riches or ruin.

      Before letting my 50+ eBay auctions dwindle to zero, I introduced a new paragraph (see below) to my ads.

      I felt bad about this, as I strive to be a happy, trusting soul. And re-reading my words made me think the problem might reside within me (hence this post).

      While not my finest work, this para actually did the trick. The dress that two prior buyers had stiffed me on sold hassle-free when I stated my case in my third ad.

      It’s dangerous to recommend a course of action based on a single datum. And I’ve suspended all trading and experimentation to focus on work work.

      So I guess my short answer is: give it a go, but be explicit, watch your back, trust your gut and don’t take any crap from anyone.

      I hope this helps, Susan. And now, here’s the magic para for your utility and pleasure:

      ‘Hi there! Before we start, please note that everything I write is the truth.

      As I tell the truth about my products YOU must be truthful in your bidding.

      Bidding on this item means you agree to my terms, INCLUDING POSTAGE!

      I don’t have time to haggle over a few bucks after every sale. It’s not just about stamps; I have to spend time packing too, you see?

      It has taken me years to earn hundreds of 100% positive customer comments. So let’s treat each other with respect, shall we? :)

      If you want freebies, discounts, combined postage or other special favours, I’m NOT your man. PLEASE SHOP ELSEWHERE!

      Now that we understand each other, let’s get you a high quality, hassle free, fair dinkum BARGAIN! :)’

      • I now warmly invite other eBayers to share their thoughts.

  • Thanks Paul and I may dip toe and see. At least with your paragraph a buyer gets the message loud and clear.

    • You’re welcome, Susan. Please let us know how you go!

      When I actually do follow the advice of our readers, the results are fantastic. Since we ran my blunt ‘show me the money’ approach has dissuaded two faux prospects, freeing me to concentrate on genuine clients. I found it difficult to be ‘tough’ but the rewards are great. So I’m swiftly warming to the process. :)

  • I get the sense many of these issues began when eBay scrapped sellers ability to leave negative feedback. It now skews totally in favour of the buyer, which of course is important, but means sellers are vulnerable to however the buyer feels that day. When the only repercussion is losing one feedback rating, it’s not much incentive to do good. Shame, because eBay offers such a great service.

    • Great point, Bella. And thanks again for your quote. (Beautiful new website, BTW!)

      It’d only take ONE negative comment to destroy my 100% rating for a whole year. I’ve never had a problem putting myself out to provide superior service so eBay folk say nice things about me.

      But these days, it seems, you can break your back for someone and they STILL shaft you. I’m just not in the mood to place my hard-won reputation in the paws of animals.

  • Malcolm Owens

    Hi Paul,

    Excellent post as always. I enjoy eBay and find the process of buying far preferable to selling which is a hassle. I do question the time taken to photograph, list, answer questions, wrap, pack and post for something that sold for $8.00.

    However if you have a number of items and the time to do it, the process can be rewarding as you de clutter and send unwanted items on to a new home. If they aren’t worth much just drop them off at the local salvos.

    eBay, like life, has a small percentage of people that are looking to take advantage. Claiming they haven’t received a package so they get a refund (and the product as well) or goods not as described. I have found these to be the minority and the rating system with irrevocable comments keeps the majority honest. Actually I have found quite a good ‘community’ feel from those with whom I deal.

    Yes there are annoying time wasters but they come in any sales transaction. Check their rating and the number of transaction. If new to the eBay game (less than 20 transactions and anything less than a 99% rating then don’t deal with them.

    If you’re selling remember that people are expecting a deal, the item to be cheap and to offer great value. I always put a starting price close to what I want as it weeds out many of the silly offers. I always inclusive in my ads ‘not interested in swaps or silly offers’ and this works.

    On the buying side I love it. I can buy fantastic items from all around the world that are not available locally.

    Yesterday I bought a 1964 bond wood caravan and being a collector of old cars I have found parts in Europe that are just not available here. I have found long lost books from childhood, 1950’s Rolex watches and lovely ceramic Jim Beam decanters from America as a gift for a friend’s 50th. I have bought 3 cars, sold one and enjoy finding great stuff cheap.

    Like all exchanges caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. Be careful and if you are in doubt don’t do it because there will be another one along in a day or so.

    • Struth, Malcolm; that is one fine analysis! Sounds like you’ve been round the block a few times on this one.

      Your advice is generous and wise. It also reminded me that eBay lets you block narky bidders from participating in your future auctions.

      It’s been said that people are mirrors. What you put out is what you get back. I’m glad to hear yours are, on the whole, looking pretty jolly good. With best regards and many thanks! :)

  • In my inbox this morning:

    ‘Can you please advise e.t.a as goods not arrived yet.’

    This was a pack of six stamps, posted on 18 Nov, in a normal envelope, to a normal house address, in a normal suburb. Gone. :(

  • Malcolm Owens

    Tell them to wait a few more days – Christmas mail is slow and everything is delayed!

    • Thanks, M. I have to weigh your advice against the buyer torpedoing me with a bad review. But I’m grateful for your suggestion nonetheless. :)

  • Malcolm Owens

    By the way, does anone know how to change an avatar? I used to have a photo and now I have green pond scum?? Nor sure how that happened …

    • The White Goddess Emma von Mulquinex should be able to help you out, M. Are you out there, Goddess?

  • I just had a brainwave discussing this topic with Fonnie on our walk.

    I’ve always given buyers a positive rating the instant they pay. It occurred to me that this frees them to pretend an item hasn’t arrived with impunity. I can’t question their integrity in a rating once they cry wolf, as I’ve already given them five stars.

    My open, honest, friendly approach seems outdated. I realise I must now only give positive comments when buyers have indicated (via their positive comment) that the sale AND delivery AND item were concluded to their complete satisfaction.

    Sad but true. Ya gotta move with the times – grim as they are. 😐

  • Good news for the laptop seller. He got $905 second time round. A significant advancement on $810. Good on him. May we all be so fortunate!

  • Speaking of vampire fiction, I stumbled upon this extraordinary book at the library:

    Despite not being into the topic, I found it a riveting read.

  • Seems even bricks-and-mortar shops aren’t safe any more.

    Behold the new ‘new':

  • On a happier note, I bought these new pruning shears for half of what they’re selling for in Australia:

    They arrived in perfect order, from Germany, in a package marked ‘Pruning Shears’ in TEN DAYS! Amazing stuff. All is not lost! :)