I’ve sold on eBay for about five or six years and I can count the bad experiences I’ve had on one hand. Really, two fingers. One time  a woman contacted me weeks and weeks after she should have received an item to tell me that she never got it — actually, she filed a claim instead of e-mailing me first. When I wrote her to ask why there was such a delay between when she filed a complaint and when she should have gotten the item, she said it was because she had been out of the country for a month and didn’t realize it hadn’t come. It was a beautiful bedspread, too, lush white and pink chenille. I refunded her money even though the whole thing was awfully fishy to me…my philosophy has always been old fashioned when it comes to selling: the customer is always right. It hasn’t steered me wrong, yet, and I haven’t ever gotten a piece of negative feedback. But it still stresses me out to sell on ebay, and I worry every week until I get the note or the feedback that lets me know that everything arrived where it needed to go on time.

Yesterday, I checked my e-mail to find this (I have changed this charming buyer’s name, by the way, but am copying and pasting as is so you can bask in the crazy):

Hi!I receive the panels today. And im not happy. You stated in your ad there were no stains .And there are stains on both panels it is a yellowish orange stain gos down the panels and comes through the front of them.And they smell bad to.What are you going to do about this.I want a reasonable partial refund of some kind.AS i paid good money for these.An they are not worth what i paid for them.I would have not bid on these knowing they were stain and smells.And i dont even no if i wash them that the smell would come out.Im not sending them back im tire of sellers selling things that are not as describe.And then i have to pay for shipping again to get my money back.Thats why im asking for somekind of refund i want more than half OF WHAT I PAID as i will have to throw them away.And i dont want to give a neg reading.Candy!

(Do you not love the way it starts — Hi! — and ends — Candy! — as though this is the friendliest e-mail in the world?)

My heart skipped a beat when I read it. I immediately wondered how I could have missed the flaws she mentioned. Then I realized: I didn’t miss the flaws. I KNOW those panels were in beautiful shape and, above all, I know they weren’t STANKY. Here are the panels in question, by the way:

While that was loading, I was panicky thinking I was going to see a stain I had missed before. That’s how worried I am about mis-representing something I’m selling. I’m obsessive about going over everything and cataloging the flaws. So I know that I didn’t miss anything. Still, the customer is always right, right? So this is what I e-mailed her.

Hi, Candy, I am beyond sorry that you are unhappy with your purchase. As you can see by my feedback, I have never sold anything that a buyer was not happy with. I am MORE than happy to offer your money back AND refund your shipping both ways — I would never want to be happy leaving a customer satisfied. Let me know if that works for you and I will immediately Paypal enough money for you to ship back to me. I hope that this will be a satisfactory resolution for you as you will then not be out any money at all.  Let me know and, again, my deepest apologies for your disappointment.

Even though my return policy states that for a refund the buyer pays return shipping, I decided it was worth it to pay to get the curtains back. I was still mindful of keeping my 100% feedback score. Here’s what I got back:

Hi!I want $50.00 back of my money.And we will call it even.I dont want all the bother of standing in line at the post office.I have two small children and would have to take them with me.Im a single mom.And work nights. Candy!

Okay. This is where I got livid. First of all, she paid $64 for the panels, so she’s asking for a nearly 75% discount. PLUS, she’s a seller! She’s got stuff up for auctions that will end this week and unless she’s figured out how to transmogrify items to their new owners, she’ll be taking a trip down to her local post office. At this point, I figured that this was a scam and not an oddly particular buyer who had seen something she decided was a flaw. So much for giving her the benefit of the doubt. I pretty much decided at this point that she could leave me 100 negative comments and wild horses still could not pull a partial refund out of my butt.  (Sorry, mom.)

Candy: I am afraid I am going to have to follow ebay policy and adhere to my stated return policy, and offer you full return for return of merchandise. I understand you are frustrated and I hope coming out of this with no less money than you went into it will help mollify the situation. I would be happy to take this to ebay Resolutions because I feel strongly that offering a full refund is a fair outcome of this situation. I do not like leaving a customer unhappy but at the same time I have to follow rules and policies the same as any other merchant. Additionally, i would like the opportunity to look the panels over myself as the damage you are seeing was not there when I mailed them and I need to determine if the damage occurred in shipping; if so, they are covered by insurance. Let me know what you decide.

And, finally, this is the last e-mail I’ve gotten from her:

Hi!Sellers give partial refunds all the time.To help please there customers. You should have stated in your ad that it had staining an that it smells.Your the one in the wrong.You knew they were like that and sold them anyway.Im tire of getting rip off.Im just going to throw them away. Thats where they should of been to begin with. This isnt worth the hassle.You can keep my hard earn money.

I figured that negative feedback was going to quickly follow, but then I started doing some research on the ebay forums. Turns out, the “partial refund” scam has been running rampant on eBay since they changed their policies to be more buyer-friendly — i.e, buyers can still leave negative feedback for sellers, but sellers have no way of leaving negative feedback for buyers. In discussion thread after thread, the details are the same: buyer says item is not as described, was damaged in shipping, is missing something that is supposed to be there. Apparently, it’s never bad enough to mail back, though, and they’ll be happy with a partial refund — usually for 50% or more. The threat of negative feedback is always mentioned up front (as my friend “Candy” did in her first e-mail to me) and if the seller refuses, the buyer escalates to a claim. One thread even investigated the scam buyer to the extent where they discovered that the guy was buying from sellers, running the partial refund scam, then reselling the items for a huge mark-up!

Now, I know that there are dishonest sellers out there. And I’m all for protecting buyers. But after spending two hours on the eBay seller forums, I’m pretty discouraged about the many and varied ways buyers have invented to scam sellers. If a seller refuses a partial refund and instead insists on full refund in exchange for the merchandise being sent back, buyers have been known to send an empty box with tracking — and the seller has no way of proving that there wasn’t anything in the box. OR the buyer destroys the item prior to shipping it back. One guy sold a laptop with a description that said, in three different places, “NO BATTERY INCLUDED” and the buyer filed a SNAD complaint (Significantly Not as Described) because the LAPTOP DIDN’T HAVE A BATTERY. Paypal sided with the buyer and forced the seller to refund the price of the laptop plus shipping.  There are literally hundreds of stories like this, and small sellers like myself have really gotten cynical about eBay and Paypal. I was hoping that it would be an effective means of bringing in a little extra cash while I’m home with the babies…but I don’t know that I can take the stress!

BTW: I don’t think she’s going to leave negative feedback, though I’m still braced for that last shoe to drop. But the only way I have of blowing the whistle on what she did was if she left a negative — I get the chance to respond to that, and if she tries it again, the next buyer will see that it’s a pattern and won’t give in. I guess we’ll see.

September 24, 2010 - 9:55 pm

Marsha Lara…this is crazy! I don’t know much about eBay shopping but this person is really a nut-case (or more probably a scam artist!). Anyone who has so many really bad misspellings and grammatical issues is always suspect in my book (sorry, that’s my bias). It’s really sad that it’s come to this with eBay.

September 25, 2010 - 10:31 am

Shirley It really ticks me off how a criminal element ALWAYS seeps into something that should be fun and interesting. “Candy” is a low-life. I love her excuse of “I can’t go to the post office because I work nights, I have two kids.” My response would’ve been, “…and you can’t spell either so I can’t imagine you can even find your WAY to the post office!” Then, I would’ve said, “HI!! Sorry, your scam won’t work this time, Candy!!!”

Steve had a painting that he almost sold to this guy overseas until we googled all this guys’s fancy requests (cashing a check that he’ll send to us and sending him the remaining funds, etc.) He was, of course, a thief and fraud so Steve wrote an email back to the guy with an emphatic curse word I won’t use because your mom reads your blog! 🙂

September 25, 2010 - 10:32 am

Shirley HI Marsha! 🙂

September 27, 2010 - 3:19 pm

Liz OMG! This is so awful! Kudos to your for sticking to your guns and not allowing any type of partial refund. Even though the customer may always be ‘right’, the buyer should be reasonable and open to compromise.

The panels are lovely to waste on such a silly person.

The last comment from the buyer, all I could see is all of the gramatical errors. (I know I have bad spelling, but still…) heh

September 27, 2010 - 10:30 pm

Shannon As an English teacher, I cringed while reading this. You know my feelings about people who can’t use proper grammar and spelling! 🙂

I loved your professional responses that were probably totally beyond the this lady’s comprehension!

May 12, 2011 - 7:15 pm

Sarah Its sad to see ebay sellers get scammed it happe to me I had to refund in ful & the buyer got a free item! can u believe that. I stress out alot but since I don’t have a job I don’t know what else to do. Sometimes I even cried about a negative feedback, I had to tell the buyer to revise it & I would give her a full refund without even having to return the Item..