How eBay Sellers Can Prevent Returns

a woman packing a box for shipping

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Dealing with returns is part of doing business on eBay. Since a buyer can request a return for any reason, even the most meticulous merchants receive requests from time to time. While it's useful for sellers to know how to handle these situations, it's even more helpful to understand how to prevent returns from happening in the first place.

Triggers for Buyer Returns

One of the most common things that make buyers bristle is when they receive an item that doesn't match the photos or the description in the listing. Being sent broken items or products that are missing parts can likewise taint a transaction, and so can receiving shipments that are damaged or seem fake.

Generally, problems with one of these elements cause buyers to request a return. And these are valid reasons to request a return, according to eBay. Being mindful of these benchmarks when posting listings and packaging shipments can help sellers sidestep these situations.

This sort of guidance doesn't apply to all return requests, however. Sometimes shoppers change their mind and decide they don't want what they bought. Accepting a return, in that case, depends on the seller's stated return policy. If sellers offer returns within a certain time period, then it's reasonable for a buyer to make a request.

If a return is accepted, the seller has the option of giving a full or partial refund with the buyer sometimes being asked to pay a restocking fee (usually around 20%) and to cover the return shipping. Sending a replacement item or offering an exchange are also options.

If sellers have included disclaimers in their return policy stating that they do not accept returns, then it's up to their discretion how they handle the situation. In almost every instance, however, eBay recommends accommodating the buyer.

Dealing Directly With Buyers About Their Returns

Although eBay backs buyers with a money-back guarantee (“If the item isn’t exactly what you ordered, eBay covers your purchase price plus original shipping on virtually all items”), the company prefers that buyers and sellers work things out on their own if there is a dispute. This gives sellers a chance to settle matters before the issue gets escalated further and affects their selling ability.

Buyer Ratings and Feedback Scores

Keeping buyers happy is eBay's top priority, and they expect it to be the sellers' concern too. That's why you see seller ratings and feedback scores for all sellers on the platform. Up to 60 days after a transaction is completed, buyers can rate their experience. Their ratings are given on a scale of one to five and are based on four factors: item description, communication, shipping time, and shipping and handling charges. These ratings are averaged in with feedback from other buyers to determine the seller's rating and feedback score.

Despite the opportunity, not every buyer weighs in. So all feedback counts. Studies have shown that consumers are more likely to express dissatisfaction with the service they received than to offer kudos on a job well done. That's why it's essential to make sure every buyer is satisfied with their purchase. Seller ratings and feedback scores serve as a useful barometer for other buyers when making buying decisions.

Why Preventing Returns Is Important

Preventing returns is about more than protecting the seller rating and feedback score. Customer satisfaction is equally as vital to preserving a seller's performance status, which eBay keeps a close tab on. There are four seller levels, Top-Seller Plus, Top Seller, Above Standard, and Below Standard. Unresolved buyer returns can cause sellers to have their status lowered. When that happens, their ability to sell is limited and sometimes restricted.

For its part, eBay is less concerned with the ratings a seller receives and more concerned with the level of service they provide to buyers. If a buyer doesn't receive their order or it's not what they expected, eBay expects the seller to resolve the situation. If the situation doesn't get resolved in a timely manner, eBay may be called upon to intervene by either the buyer or the seller.

If it gets to that level and eBay is asked to mediate a dispute, things can quickly go south for the seller. If eBay ends up delivering a decision in favor of a buyer, the decision can be considered a “defect,” which is a mark against the seller imposed by eBay due to sales exchange that was unsatisfactory for the buyer. (A defect is also generated if PayPal intervenes and seller is at fault, or if a seller cancels a transaction due to an item being out of stock.)

Receiving a negative mark of that sort reflects poorly on the seller, and it can create something of a domino effect from there. Defects affect a seller's “Service Metrics,” which is basically an ongoing tally of their resolution rate with regard to "items not as described" or "items not received" cases. In turn, a seller's Service Metrics—which can be monitored in the Service Metrics Dashboard in the Seller's Hub—affect their overall seller performance standard, which can result in selling sanctions from eBay if too many defects are registered.

The Service Metrics are compiled on the 20th of each month. That's when eBay evaluates each seller. That evaluation is based on the number of return requests for “item not received” or “item not as described.” The review period varies depending on the volume of sales. For sellers with less than 400 listings in the previous three months, eBay will review a year's worth of transactions. For sellers who have listed more than 400 items in the past three months, eBay only goes back three months.

To maintain “Above Standard” status, the minimum level for an eBay seller, a seller must keep their defect rate at 2% or lower. For “Top-Rated” sellers, the standards are higher at 0.5%. If a seller's defect rate falls below this threshold or they receive too many defects in a designated period from different buyers (five for Above Standard level and four for Top Sellers), their overall seller status is subject to being lowered, resulting in partial or complete selling restrictions.

Getting defects removed is possible, but you have to file an appeal after communicating with the buyer, and it's easier—and, frankly, wiser—to find a resolution before it gets to that point.

Setting Up a Buyer-Friendly Return Policy

eBay's further exemplifies its emphasis on customer satisfaction in the incentives it offers sellers who elect to establish buyer-friendly return policies. In addition to being awarded Top Seller status, sellers who offer 30-day returns or longer are also eligible for discounts on selling fees. The idea is to bolster buyers' confidence beyond eBay's Money Back Guarantee. There are four different return options a seller can choose.

  • 30-day return with buyer paying for shipping
  • 30-day return with free shipping
  • 60-day return with buyer paying for shipping
  • 60-day return with free shipping

Inspecting Merchandise and Preparing to List

With some due diligence, sellers can take specific steps to help reduce the likelihood of a return request. If you're a seller, the first place to start is examining everything. If it's a new item, make sure all the packaging is intact. If you're selling used merchandise, pay even closer attention to make sure everything is in good shape. If you're selling a piece of electronics or something mechanical, plug it in or turn it on to make sure the item works.

Apply that same level scrutiny to everything you sell, whether it's garments, shoes, jewelry, watches, paintings, posters, or household goods. Inspect your items from top-to-bottom in a good light. Search every possible angle in good light for any discoloration, rips, tears, stains, holes, dents, chips, or any other wear and tear. Keep a list of anything you find and include them in the description and photos. An item may have flaws, but that doesn’t mean it won’t sell. You just have to make a disclosure.

If you're selling unfamiliar items, it's best to do some research to verify that all parts are included. Create a checklist for yourself to follow when you ship the item and to include for the buyer to confirm everything has been received. 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.

Writing Clear, Accurate, Vivid Titles and Descriptions

The first thing to do when you're preparing your listing is to make sure your title is accurate and complete. Sometimes, this is the only thing buyers pay attention to even if you have great photos and a thorough description. Make sure the brand name, the size, and the color are all accurate and included. Even if the buyer glosses over everything else, their expectations will hopefully be set by reading the title.

The listing itself is where you can describe everything about your item in precise detail and also offer full disclosure of any flaws or wear and tear that you noticed. The description should include information on the brand, the size, colors, shape, weight, texture, and any special features. If the item is new and you have a UPC, include it. Likewise, if you know who manufactured the item and when and where it was made, feel free to include that information as well.

Including measurements in your descriptions is also very important, especially if you're selling garments. 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 the measurements are missing or inaccurate, the likelihood of a return increases. Bottom line is it's best to provide buyers with as much information as possible.

Taking Photos as If There Is No Description

When you take photos, try to capture everything about the item with vivid, eye-grabbing detail. eBay recommends using a tripod to take a dozen or so high-resolution images of the items on a spare backdrop to create a clear contrast. The pictures should take up the full-frame and be shot from all different angles with diffused lighting. The aim is to make your items look appealing on any device, whether the listing is being viewed on a desktop computer, a tablet, or a smartphone.

If there are any flaws, take close-ups so a buyer can see for themselves and be made aware, even if they don't read the description carefully. Photos are also an effective way to show the size of an item. You can take a picture of an everyday object like a coin next to the item to display the scale, or you can also take a picture of an extended tape measure to show the exact size.

The Importance of Packing and Shipping

Packing and shipping is a significant part of the process. It's just as important as writing the listing and taking photos. At least half of the reasons buyers request returns are related to shipping. So it's wise to address these concerns before they even become an issue for a buyer.

Before you start packing your item, double-check everything. Review the sales order to make sure the right item is being shipped. Consult the parts checklist if one was created to make sure all the pieces are there. It's also worth taking a second look at the condition of the item itself to ensure that it's the same shape as it was when it was first listed.

Packaging an item for shipping is the most pivotal part of the process. Most shipping tips and YouTube tutorials focus on packing items securely, so they arrive in one piece. While that's crucial, one thing that often gets overlooked is the packaging itself, which is a great way to help shape a buyer's perception of you.

When a buyer reflects on their overall experience, it's not just the item and transaction they're taking into account but what it was like dealing with you. If the package looks good when a buyer opens the item, hopefully, they remember that and know you took time and extra care.

One of the videos on eBay's YouTube channel stresses this point and offers tips on how to polish the presentation, including wrapping items in large tissue paper and then tying them with twine. The video also provides some solid tips for packing an object securely.

  • Ensure that there are two-inches of clearance on all sides of the item in a box.
  • Use bubble wrap to envelop and protect the item on all sides.
  • Give the box a good shake to ensure it's secure—if you hear movement or rattling, you need to additional packing materials.
  • Ship clothes with a reusable polyvinyl envelope that the buyer can use to send items back if they need to.

Another solid shipping tip includes using pool noodles (the foam cylinders kids play with when swimming) to help secure items. The noodles can be bent around hard edges and can also be cut into pieces to create a buffer within a box. Packing peanuts are also useful for this purpose.

Ultimately, the key with shipping breakables is to make sure the items don't move around during processing and delivery. When sending fragile items, double-boxing—which involves packing the item well in a box and then “floating” it in packing peanuts or other material inside a larger box—is also an excellent idea.

So is packing items in double-walled corrugated boxes, which are stronger and provide greater protection. You can order double-walled boxes from Uline, Bubblefast, or pick up at office supply stores or Home Depot in the moving boxes section.

For smaller items, many sellers use a USPS Flat Rate Bubble Mailer, which tends to be cost-effective. If you choose this option, just be sure not to cram too much into the envelopes, like a large pair of jeans or a coat. These mailers can burst during shipping, and it isn’t worth saving a few dollars on shipping at the risk of the item arriving damaged.

Finally, print out a copy of the sales order to include in the package, along with a checklist (if applicable). Once the package ships, provide the buyer with tracking info so they know when to expect delivery and can follow-up if the item isn't received.

Selling Frequently Returned Items

Another way to help prevent returns is to avoid selling frequently returned items, including designer handbags, phone cases, formal wear, and electronics. Designer handbags are frequently returned within 30-days because buyers use them for a few weeks and then return them. Formal wear is also returned often after events like homecoming, prom, weddings, or college formals. Electronics, especially mobile phones, get returned with parts missing. The gold inside an iPhone and other mobile phones can be sold for cash.

Authenticating Designer Items

If you choose to sell higher-end handbags, blue jeans, watches, or sunglasses, one way to prevent returns is to have them authenticated. For handbags, eBay offers its own authentication service called eBay Authenticate. You can send your bags to experts who can certify the authenticity and then ship the item to the buyer. Although there are plans for expansion, the service is currently only available for select brands and limited to handbags.

Another option is a company called Authenticate First, which is also staffed with experts who can determine if an item is authentic and provide a certificate of authenticity that can be included in the eBay listing. A seller can email photos of the item to the site and Authenticate First’s will determine if the item is real or fake.