The following is a peek inside the minds of consumers and the businesses that service them. It’s a step-by-step guide to effecting change in an uncertain landscape. Properly applied, you can do some real good with it.
Read Part 1 here:
The N.Y. Times Piece:
Before I continue with the story, let me fill in the timeline of what happened after the dispute with eBay first started, before it was featured in The N.Y. Times.
Talks with eBay’s reps and appeals team went nowhere, as they continued to hide behind their “Terms of Service”. I refused to pay for return shipping/issue a refund, so eBay followed through with their threat, providing a refund to the customer and allowing her to keep the machine.
Then, they came after me.
My Paypal account was debited, leaving me with a negative balance equal to the sale price. Any money that enters your Paypal account while you have a negative balance is seized by Paypal to cover your negative balance, so this was a problem. I knew it would be nearly impossible to get Paypal to refund money that’s been seized, so, to prevent a bigger bottleneck, I routed all my activity away from my Paypal account. For a month or so, I made sure my Paypal account laid dormant.
I lost out on sales during this period, as I could not accept Paypal payments from customers.
My resolve wasn’t shaken, to eBay’s chagrin. I wasn’t abiding by their ruling, and, if they didn’t want to take a serious look at the matter, I told eBay I’d seek recourse.
My Paypal account remains at a negative balance because I refuse to pay eBay for their misconduct. After several failed attempts to get me to pay the charges through Paypal, they attach the balance directly to my eBay account, removing Paypal as my primary form of payment and tell me to upload a new form of payment. They send me several emails stating that, if I do not pay the fees by July 15, 2016, they will send the fees to collections.
I did NOT want eBay’s misconduct to ding my credit score, so I needed this handled post-haste.
Fortunately, eBay’s greed had opened the door for me to move this dispute to a more level playing field – my credit card company.
(Before this matter, my credit card was never attached to my eBay account, so certain response options were unavailable.)
This was a new breach in the stronghold, an opportunity I wasn’t going to waste.
The battle was going to continue; I just changed the venue. I wasn’t going to get a fair shake in eBay’s dispute arena, so I steered the proceedings to terrain where I could contend on equal footing.
You know what they say about playing “Away” games.
I still had no intention of footing the bill. Here’s what I did:
1) The fastest non-litigious form of clearing the fee was providing a method of payment, so I uploaded my credit card.
Before I authorized the charge, I called to let my credit card company know that I was doing so for the sole purpose of preventing the fee going to collections and hurting my credit. I did NOT consider it a legitimate charge and would submit proof of such.
Again, I called my credit card company before paying eBay’s charge to let them know I was planning to file a chargeback and took this action to prevent having to deal with further headaches created by eBay.
This “calling ahead” step is critical because it establishes a foundation for any “illegitimate charge” defense.
You want to be on record about a charge before you even authorize a payment so you’re less likely to be accused of foul play. Early communication establishes a pattern.
A high credit score and great history with your credit card company is invaluable: fiscal responsibility boosts your credibility.
It always pays to keep the end in mind.
2) After authorizing the charge–before it was actually posted on my credit card account–I called in to re-iterate my stance as well as repeat the background behind this dispute.
3) Once the charge was posted on my account, I called to formally file the chargeback and (again) explain the story to my credit card company.
Note the consistent communication with the credit card company, paired with a rock-solid story. Keep in mind that I’ve got a ton of documentation on my side as well–emails, video, screenshots–so this is not simply a case of my word versus eBay’s. I’ve constructed a mile-long paper trail that any decent customer service rep can follow.
Hansel and Gretel: Early advocates for paper trails.
This is where a lot of consumer complaints fall flat. Your flapping gums are not prima facie proof of anything, no matter how loud you scream in to the telephone.
Every day, companies deal with attempts to perpetrate fraud. In a world with identity theft, frivolous lawsuits, and people trying to flim-flam their way to financial independence, evidence carries a lot of weight.
(And yes, before Chris Hansen was shaming predators, he was showing us “the road to financial freedom”:
Again, eBay doing dirt is nothing new. The mess gets cleaned up when there’s an irresistible impetus for change.
Sure, you can find pockets of sellers–and buyers–decrying eBay policies on the web. Whining on an internet message board can only do so much; it’s largely a waste of time; no one with any pull is listening.
The New York Times is a world-renowned newspaper, one that lends a certain cachet to a discussion. If I wanted to land the kind of shot that could stagger the eBay juggernaut, this was exactly the forum in which to do it.
I was going big-game hunting.
It wouldn’t be easy to get a story in to The Times, yes, but I’m not some average joe. I’ve got the facts on my side, the ability to craft a compelling story, and a flair for unorthodox problem solving.
Most folks settle for low-hanging fruit. Why not aim higher?
Tell ‘em, Kenny.
I shared the story with The Times, pitching a narrative that could both entertain and educate their readership.
It’s not enough to share a good idea. You need to show others how they can benefit from your ideas.
That’s how you get people moving.
David Segal–the columnist behind The Haggler–was fantastic, in both his efforts to mediate and cover the story. Now, this ordeal would be on permanent public record.
eBay decision-makers can tell us whether there’s such a thing as bad publicity.
Now, back to the present. What’s happened since the Times article dropped?
I forwarded the Times article to my credit card company, exerting some subtle pressure on them to “do the right thing”. They’ve been adjudicating this chargeback for a couple weeks at this point and I want the the tide to continue flowing in the right direction.
When your man is on the ropes, don’t let up.
On Monday August 1st, after the story broke, I got a few calls and emails from eBay.
Over a month of silence on this matter and they decide to call me out of the blue; What a coincidence.
I spoke to a member of their leadership team. She said that the company got wind of my article and management wanted to resolve the issue.
eBay would not acknowledge any wrongdoing, but they were willing to foot the bill for return shipping to get the machine back to me.
Of course, I’d have to refund the entire purchase price.
Keep in mind this machine was sold back in April, so it’s been in someone else’s hands for four months. I don’t accept used merchandise and all returns are subject to restocking fees. Now, eBay wants me to accept their ruling and return the entire purchase price without any consideration for my own return policies? I’d be legitimizing a claim that remains without merit.
For those of you unfamiliar with eBay, customers who buy merchandise, use it, and then return it are a real problem for sellers. If you’ve always been on the “consumer” side of the game, be it at the supermarket or Macy’s, you don’t fully appreciate the loss returns represent to a company’s bottom line. Big corporations can shoulder this dead-weight loss because of their sales volume; they’re (almost) too big to fail.
Online sellers, however, are closer to your buddy down the street who owns the local deli than some faceless fat cat living large on stock options. They’ve got less margin for error, so they need policies in place to ensure their survival.
The acts of a careless third-party (e.g. eBay resolutions process, short-sighted government legislation) can poison the economic landscape. .
With returns, too often you’re taking back an item that’s worth a fraction of what you sent out (to say nothing of the costs incurred from selling and shipping your item).
That risk skyrockets when you’re dealing with electronics and other high-priced merchandise.
That’s why many eBay sellers don’t offer returns (although, if a buyer requests a return under certain conditions–see “defective item”—eBay can still force you to accept the return.). Fraud risk and return costs are a lurking factor.
Over the years, I’ve developed best practices that drive sales and encourage self-selection of customers with certain proclivities. I provide conditional returns because it’s a signaling mechanism: buyers know they’ll have some post-sale support.
That, and my commitment to customer service, is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed e-commerce success since I was a teenager.)
I countered eBay’s proposal to pay for return shipping by stating that the appropriate resolution would see them waive this fee.
(For a company that grosses over eight billion a year, you’d think this dough would be easy for them to stomach, much more palatable than the negative publicity they face now that I’ve brought attention to this case.
I understand why management might resist covering this fee. Now that this case has some visibility, that could set a costly precedent for eBay. Other users in similar situations might be emboldened.
I’m just thinking out loud.)
The eBay representative balked, stating they had no plans to rescind their decision.
I reiterated my position on the “Buyer Reigns Supreme” ethos that seems to govern eBay policy. She denied that was the case. When I pushed her to explain the logic behind their operating procedure, she stated they were simply mirroring the policies of other e-commerce platforms.
A non-defense defense worthy of a Dilbert cartoon.
I offered analogies detailing the problem with accepting a buyer’s word without requiring corroborating evidence, especially when sellers enjoy no such privilege. She countered with more perfunctory answers about “Terms of Service” and “We don’t require the buyer to provide evidence; we want to keep buyers happy” etc.
Worse, eBay still hasn’t addressed the crux of my grievance: a biased dispute resolution process that falls short of a reasonable business standard.
(To eBay’s credit, she mentioned they would solicit my feedback any time they were instituting new seller initiatives. We’ll see if they keep that promise.
It’s a conciliatory gesture, but insufficient; I’m still not paying the fee.)
My dispute with eBay isn’t purely self-serving.
In addition to reversing the charge, I asked eBay for an apology. Not only for myself, but on behalf of other eBay users—buyers and sellers–who had been wronged by ill-conceived policy.
Not holding my breath on that one, but it was worth asking for.
After all, all they can say is “no”.
I have some other moves in the works, so, one way or another, I’ll end up better for this experience. I’ll share an update when one is available.
After a year of behind-the-scenes jostling, I finally won this case. eBay ate the costs and I was vindicated.