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How I Almost Lost a Sale by Being Too Cautious on eBay

Updated on March 18, 2013
Antique Collectible Biplane
Antique Collectible Biplane | Source

Let Me Introduce You to Sydney

If you're a baby boomer, you may very well remember Sydney, the cuddly and lovable--albeit somewhat depressed--mascot for Qantas Airlines commercials that ran between 1967 and 1990 and were then reintroduced in 1999. His famous tag line was, I hate Qantas! because it was bringing so many tourists to Australia that the solitude and tranquility of the forest were no longer readily available.

For those of you who claim a more recent generation as your point of origin, allow me to share with you the following short clip, courtesy of our good friends at YouTube.

Time for Me to Wake Up My Master
Time for Me to Wake Up My Master | Source

The Tone for the Day is Set

A few days ago, I could have used some of that mellow, laid back koala vibe. Instead, my harried, hypervigilant, and somewhat paranoid behavior almost resulted in my losing a sale on eBay.

My cat, Kona, has a unique way of letting me know he has to do his thing. He wakes me up by scratching the baseboard of my bed. It's quite annoying, actually, and thus very effective. I'm out of bed like a shot! Through trial and error and lots of behavioral reinforcement, this feline alarm clock has worked quite well. Frankly, I think my wife and I should buy Kona a white lab coat. After all, he's the scientist who shaped my behavior, and not the other way around.

To my chagrin, it was raining. Light enough to tempt me to consider chancing an hour's walk in the drizzle, but heavy enough to provoke premonitions of me coming back home with my gray sweats drenched. I had already missed my hour walk the day before due to inclement weather, and now I was looking at the possibility of not going out another day. Not a good way to begin my second week of sticking to my goals for 2013.

Antique Handcrafted Biplane
Antique Handcrafted Biplane | Source

Offer and Counteroffer

Being a stickler for time management, I decided to use the early morning hours to do my eBay work.

The first thing I did was to check to see if there'd been any sales. I'd packaged several things the night before, and so I found only one order of hooks to process.

In addition, there was an eBay message stating that someone had made a Best Offer on one of my items. I quickly clicked on the link to see which one it was.

To my delight, I saw that the offer was for an antique hand-made copper alloy (most likely, bronze) biplane that I'd acquired from a liquidation sale for twelve dollars. After doing some online research, I had decided to price the item for $89.99. My wife thought it would never sell at that price, but I told her that at some point in time, somewhere in the world, someone will buy just about anything at any given price on eBay. (I'm not sure that I convinced her, but it sounded good at the time.)

To my dismay, the man's offer was for $30.

Now, usually, my first inclination is to find the average between what I want and what the prospective buyer is willing to pay. That way, when I respond to his offer, I can accompany my counteroffer with these words--Thank you very much for your offer. I'm willing to meet you halfway. I purposely choose to couch my counteroffer with courteous and affirmative statements. I did not glean this tactic from any business book or class. It's just something I picked up from having great parents and being on good behavior in the kindergarten sandbox.

This time, however, my counteroffer was for $75. Why $75? Well, for one thing, I offered free shipping. The item plus packing materials and large box would weigh between three and four pounds. Because I utilize USPS Priority Mail Shipping to get my items to my customers in prompt fashion, this was going to cost me about $28 with insurance. That truly cuts into my profit margin. Then, there's the matter of eBay and PayPal fees, not to mention what I'd paid for the item.

I figured that if the buyer was serious enough, he might just agree to the counteroffer. If not, I was confident that someone else would come along in good time who would be willing to pay a relatively premium price.

The Gambit Worked! And Yet...

The rain continued to fall.

With my daily walk in jeopardy, I continued working on eBay.

A few hours later, to my sheer delight, I saw that the customer had accepted my counteroffer. I had been prepared to receive a second and maybe a third and final offer from the buyer, to which I would have responded with a second and, if necessary, final counteroffer. This had been surprisingly easy...too easy...and this factor nagged at me as well.

Now, if the buyer had possessed an ample amount of feedback with a reasonably high percentage (the number in parentheses behind his eBay user ID), I would have been perfectly secure in proceeding with the transaction.

This buyer, however, had zero feedback. It's always a red flag for me whenever I encounter a buyer with no feedback whatsoever. When I clicked on the individual's profile, I learned that he had just become an eBay member this very month. A little over a week into the new year, and I was already dealing with the newbiest of eBay newbies. My antennae went up big time like the tail of a large black labrador! Proceed with caution, I reminded myself.

I Did What Any Conscientious and Diligent eBay Seller Would Do

When encountering a situation that requires further investigation--and I truly believed that this was definitely one of those circumstances--a seller can take the following precautionary steps:

  • Communicate with the buyer
  • Confirm buyer's contact information
  • Contact eBay
  • If necessary, contact eBay's Trust and Safety Team.

I sent the buyer several messages via eBay as well as an email from my business account, but he never responded. The messages through the eBay site create a cyber trail documenting my proactive seller attempts to communicate with the buyer. It also is an indirect way of alerting eBay to a potential problem.

My next course of action was to call the buyer. By going to the appropriate eBay site, I was able to submit a request for his contact information. An automatic email generated by eBay includes the personal contact information for both buyer and seller.

After retrieving the customer's number from my inbox, I called him. To my surprise, and then to my chagrin, the person who answered was a receptionist at a major hotel chain. When I gave her the customer's name, she informed me that there was no one there by that name.

That's strange. Why would a guy submit a phone number of a hotel as his contact number? Even if it were a legitimate scenario, why wasn't his name on the guest registry?

I went back to the payment he'd made through PayPal. His address was actually the hotel's address. Hmm...and PayPal has even confirmed the address.

After a couple more phone calls, a quick mental review was in order.

  • A buyer with zero feedback, having joined eBay just a few days ago, has bought my antique biplane for $75.
  • Although the payment appeared to be legitimate, the address and phone number he used to register with both PayPal and eBay belonged to a hotel in California.
  • The hotel receptionist reported that he was not listed as a guest of the hotel.
  • When I called the Shipping and Receiving department of the hotel, I was informed that packages are held until claimed by the respective recipients.
  • The Human Relations office of the hotel informed me that there was no employee at the hotel with my customer's name.

My mind raced like a pinwheel in a hurricane. I racked my brain, trying in vain to convince myself that there had to be a logical explanation that would make all of this fall into place.

Invariably, without any response from the buyer, I arrived at the same conclusion:

I was being scammed!

When I was a child, in between my OCD behavior of fawning over comic books, I loved reading great mysteries. One of my favorite characters, the intriguing creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was the brilliant albeit enigmatic Sherlock Holmes. More than any other fictitious character, the London detective inspired me to exercise my intellect and sharpen my powers of observation. Holmes was infallible when it came to figuring out the most challenging of situations, and I--the young and ever imaginative Hawaiian Odysseus--was going to grow up to be just like him.

So here I was, in the present, baffled and confused by a situation I'd never encountered before as an eBay seller.

Why would someone not use their own physical address? Why would all contact information point to a hotel that knows nothing about him?

What if...yes...what if the apparent scam worked like this?

  • Mystery person makes what appears to be a legitimate purchase.
  • I send the package off within 24 hours, as is my custom, and it gets to the hotel a few days later.
  • Mystery person goes to Shipping and Receiving and claims the package.
  • He then files a complaint that he never received the package.
  • When eBay follows up on this, they find a dead end, just as I did, because no one at the hotel knows who this person is.
  • eBay, instead of supporting me, the honest seller, reports that there is nothing they can do, and even lectures me about selling something of value to someone with zero feedback, especially someone without any confirmed address.
  • I respond by pointing out that PayPal had confirmed his address.
  • eBay pulls their famous number: Sir, PayPal is a separate business entity from eBay, and their policies may differ from ours.
  • I counter with, Yes, but didn't eBay acquire PayPal?
  • My counter falls on deaf ears, as I'd suspected it would.
  • Meanwhile, PayPal throws a curve at me and presents me with a chargeback for $75.
  • I'm out both the antique biplane and the $75 to the tune of Hard Luck Charlie Sings the Blues!

What am I, a man or a mouse? Am I going to take this lying down? Or am I going to do something about it? The customer ISN'T always right. Sometimes, the customer can be a crook. And I, in tribute to and in the style of that brilliant super sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, am going to cerebrally fight back!

I called eBay, presented the likely scenario to the outsourced woman from the Philippines, and asked her to transfer me to eBay's Trust and Safety Department.

After what seemed like a long wait (it really was!), I was connected to someone back in the USA. I laid out the scenario to her, and she agreed that the circumstances were somewhat irregular. She told me that she was going to freeze the buyer's account and send him an email asking him to re-register with confirmed contact information.

Feeling a bit smug and self-assured in having avoided a huge snafu, I let my overworked mind bask in a Sherlock Holmesian cocaine-induced fugue. (Dear reader, please substitute cocaine with the socially acceptable drug, caffeine, because--heaven forbid--I don't want my metaphorical ramblings being taken literally. And, kids, don't try this kind of writing at home...or in school!)

Finally...Word from the Buyer!

My coup de grace was to write a final message to the buyer. Instead of addressing him, however, I wrote the note to eBay.

Essentially, it was a note summarizing the events that had taken place in the last few hours. On one level, it was a final document for my paper trail. Aside from chronicling the steps I'd taken to demonstrate compliance with eBay protocol as well as my proactive effort to maintain safe trading on eBay, it also served to hold eBay accountable. On another level, it was sending smoke signals to the buyer--Make no mistake! You're not pulling the wool over my eyes!

A few hours later, I finally received word back from the buyer.

After reading his message, it wasn't wool I was pulling from my eyes. It was the slime and gooey mess of egg running down my face.

Mystery Solved!

It turns out the buyer is a Qantas Airways pilot who travels to Los Angeles on a regular basis.

Because of his intermittent status, he is and has been a long term guest at the hotel. He assured me that the hotel administration would confirm that Qantas has been accommodated there for quite some time. When I had first called the hotel, the receptionist had only scanned the current guest registry, not the section specific to pilots, stewardesses, and others similarly situated.

He kindly shared with me his motivation for having purchased the biplane.

It is going to be a gift for his father on the occasion of the senior's 91st birthday. Over the years, the son has given his father models of the aircraft the older gentleman had flown throughout his illustrious aviation career. Naturally, the son was elated to find such a cool model on eBay. He added that his father had learned to fly on a similar plane as part of his training with the Royal Australian Air Force.

On his father's first ride, the instructor told him to make sure to do up his harness. Fortunately, his father complied with the instructions, because no sooner was the aircraft airborne when it was promptly turned upside down!

The man was certain that his father would get a real kick out of receiving it.

As if his kind and gracious tone and message in response to my paranoid imagination had not been enough, the pilot suggested that since he was not in a rush to receive the package, I could opt for a less expensive way to ship the item. He reassured me that the hotel logs all deliveries for its guests. As long as he had a tracking number, the package would be safely secured in the hotel's Shipping and Receiving department.

A Final Word

Protocol and procedures exist to minimize and manage risk in all kinds of situations. We live in a world, after all, where freedom of choice is a commodity dearly fought and paid for, even when there are those who abuse that freedom by choosing to defraud and victimize others.

With over a dozen years' experience selling on eBay, I know all too well that dishonest sharks roam the eBay waters. Vigilance when engaging in online transactions is a good idea. However, as illustrated in this article, the tendency to be overly cautious can be just as undesirable.

The right approach would be somewhere in the middle. Having learned a good lesson from this particular transaction, I'm newly committed to keeping the needle of my compass in a more moderate and stabilized position.

I'm just thankful that a 91-year-old Royal Australian Air Force veteran will receive the greatest blessing on his birthday from a loving and devoted son.

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  • hawaiianodysseus profile image
    Author

    Hawaiian Odysseus 3 years ago from Southeast Washington state

    Hi, Brandi! (Lovely name, my friend!)

    Yeah, I had been having a rash of non-paying buyers and had been in the midst of listening to a YouTube member who also happens to be an eBay seller. His criticisms of eBay's tendency at the time to favor buyers over sellers, policy-wise, and how that could potentially set sellers up to be inadvertent victims of buyer scams had me a bit paranoid. I try to stay one step ahead of scammers, but like viruses, they become more brilliant over time in strategizing clever ways to use the system to their unscrupulous advantage.

    So when an honest buyer has unusual ways of wanting to engage in a transaction with me, my antennae go up. This was such a case. I am so thankful that I did not end up getting in the way of a successful deal.

    Thanks for reading this hub and sharing your engaging comments. Aloha and have an eventful week, Brandi! See you at the next hub!

    ~Joe

  • CraftytotheCore profile image

    CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

    Great story Joe! I have heard of a postal scam where people do make up a fictitious address at an abandoned shopping center. That would really be unsettling if the item purchased was sentimental or valuable to the seller. Your friend, Brandi

  • hawaiianodysseus profile image
    Author

    Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

    @Maggie Bennett

    Good morning, Maggie! You nailed it on the head! I like poking fun at myself, especially when I deserve it. This pilot turned out to be a really decent fellow who loved and appreciated his father. It gave me a great feeling to know that the amazing plane ended up with a good man. Thank you so much for sharing in this experience, Maggie. Have a marvelous week!

    Joe

  • Maggie Bennett profile image

    Maggie Bennett 4 years ago from New York

    That was more along the lines of what John Watson would have done, and not Sherlock Holmes. I'm sure that pilot got a good laugh too. Great writing and voted up and funny. I thought it was funny. You think like me.

  • hawaiianodysseus profile image
    Author

    Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

    @Rajan Jolly

    Yes, my friend, while I love reading a good piece of fiction, the older I get, the more I realize how life presents us with a phenomenal amount of real life situations that are worth chronicling. This truly was one of them, and I'm very happy that it had a mutually satisfying ending for both customer and me. In addition, I'm blessed and thankful for all of those who took time to read and share in the experience. Have a wonderful weekend, my friend!

  • rajan jolly profile image

    Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

    A very interesting story and you kept up the interest and suspense up to the last. Lol! Nothing to beat a real life mystery demystified. Well done my friend!

  • hawaiianodysseus profile image
    Author

    Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

    @Karen Hellier

    Thank you, dear friend, for your wonderful feedback. Diplomacy is very important when dealing with people from all over the world and from all walks of life. And yet, the more experiences I glean on either eBay or HubPages in regards to connecting with others, the more I conclude that we're all more alike than we are different. My remembering THAT goes a long way in maintaining a more positive outlook. Thanks for helping generate these thoughts, Karen. Regarding Kona, in following your great example, I have begun keeping a notebook of Hub ideas. The topic of Kona is at the top of the list! Thanks for the suggestion. : )

  • Karen Hellier profile image

    Karen Hellier 4 years ago from Georgia

    Wow, such a wonderful story. I would have been thinking the same thing as you, but probably not have followed up on it so diligently and lost the sale. But your being so responsible and trying to hard to do the right thing by your customers really saved the day. Good for you. I hope all Ebay sellers get to read this story. Also, I would love to read a hub about your cat Kona, starting with how you decided on that name. And judging by the one picture of him, I am sure you have plenty of others that cat lovers would find adorable!

  • hawaiianodysseus profile image
    Author

    Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

    @Mommymay

    Good morning! Thanks for dropping by and participating in this hub. Your comments are extremely valuable to this article because you illustrated a prime example of why the caution and vigilance need to be there. Yes, I was blessed this time around to have had a good ending, but there are so many sellers being burned on a daily basis. While the numbers are proportionally small because of the tremendous volume of trading going on, sellers have to be especially careful because of eBay's tendency to tip the scales in favor of buyers. While I understand the site's reasons to do this, I'm understandably biased to a more even playing field. I really appreciate your input, Mommymay. Have a wonderful weekend!

  • Mommymay profile image

    Heather May 4 years ago from Ohio

    Great story! I recently had a buyer (also having zero feedback) who purchased an item from me and then never made the payment. I communicated with the buyer who kept promising that they would receive a paycheck soon and then I would be paid. I waited over a week before opening a case. I have to believe that I truly was in the beginning phases of a scam. Ebay is an amazing platform for business success but we have to be very aware and diligent about how we conduct business. I am glad to see that your efforts paid off!

  • hawaiianodysseus profile image
    Author

    Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

    @point2make

    On several levels, I debated whether or not to write a hub about this topic.

    My goal in writing eBay hubs has always been to share my experiences, good or bad. It's a niche I am not only passionate about but also economically dependent upon, having transitioned to it from a traditional trade because of the freedom I found in having my own home-based business. I could not, therefore, turn my back on it by not writing a hub chronicling the universal dilemma that will ultimately challenge each and every seller.

    Thank you for really getting where I'm coming from with this hub. Your insight helps reinforce my gut feeling that I'm on the right course.

  • point2make profile image

    point2make 4 years ago

    The tale of an honest and remarkable eBay seller who finds himself at the crossroads of trust. Which path to take? He wants to give the buyer the benefit of the doubt but the experiences of the past pull him towards suspicion and fear. The end of this story is re- written everyday by eBay sellers and buyers. My friend you have shared an adventure in a very enjoyable and well written hub....thanks for sharing and for the important lessons you are teaching all of us who follow in your footsteps. This hub is one of my favorites. ....well done!!

  • hawaiianodysseus profile image
    Author

    Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

    @kashmir56

    Thanks, Tom, for both your kind comments and your suggestion. I may just do that someday. Perhaps my goals for 2014 will have that very idea committed to paper. For now, I'm happy to come up with hub pieces now and then to prepare for such a day. Your great-looking dog looked so cool in glasses! I know how very much you miss him! Thanks for stopping by, Tom, and I'll be staying in touch just in case you do a Led Zeppelin hub reunion. : )

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 4 years ago from Massachusetts

    I enjoyed the great adventure of reading this hub and glad to read you were being cautious. You may want to think about writing a ebook about buying and selling on eBay, might make you some money .

    Vote up and more !!!

    Have a great weekend my friend !

  • sarahshuihan profile image

    Sarah 4 years ago from USA

    wow great hub. I think you were right in being cautious, because you just never know! Great story though about why the buy wanted the item. This is also useful for me when I start selling my stuff off ebay.

  • hawaiianodysseus profile image
    Author

    Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

    @ecstatic

    First of all, thanks so much for stopping by. While this particular scenario turned out well, I'd take the same steps all over again should similar circumstances occur. However, I would hopefully be a little more patient.

    Secondly, regarding the CL deal, it does sound unusual for someone to respond who just happens to be out of the country at the time. You and your wife deserve kudos for being vigilant over that situation. Very shady, indeed. I wish you both the very best. What you're selling is especially needed in today's economy where more and more people--young and old alike--are opting to work from home. My earnest prayer is that you have a solid sale with someone definitely closer to home. Thanks for stopping by, xstatic, and continued best wishes for this infant year.

  • xstatic profile image

    Jim Higgins 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

    An outstanding hub detailing the ins and outs of Ebay selling. You are right to be cautious. I'm glad it worked out for you and the buyer.

    My wife is trying to sell a massive desk/hutch workstation, put it on CL, got a response from some 'out of the country right now" guy, full price, said he was "keen" to have it, would have it picked up, and wanted her Paypal info and address, ect. We started asking more questions about "picked up by whom" and he did not respond. Oh well...

  • hawaiianodysseus profile image
    Author

    Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

    @EvanWright

    You ain't kidding, Evan! This week, I've done all of that, and then some! I smiled upon reading your comments because you truly do understand the nuances involved. In light of these factors, I'm thankful this one had a happy ending...got some positive feedback from the Aussie pilot just yeserday...and that Sydney the Koala still has to contend with Qantas. Aloha, my friend, and thanks so much for stopping by, reading and providing your great feedback, liking, and sharing. Have an eventful and memorable week!

  • hawaiianodysseus profile image
    Author

    Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

    @wetnosedogs

    Hi, my friend! Now that you mention it, there may just be a rainy day book in the making about eBay in the near future. Other people have done similar projects, so I would need to give it my own unique angle. Shouldn't be a problem for a quirky guy like me. Ha-ha! Yes, Kona is quite the alarm clock, I tell you. Funny you should mention him because I'm up and typing these words to you as a direct result of him scratching at the baseboard of my bed just a few minutes ago. The little rascal! It's freezing outside, so I have to check on him every few minutes. What a sweetheart of an Aussie! I like how thoughtful he is of his elderly father, and how appropriate that the retired senior aviator will indeed be flying high on his 91st birthday. Thank you for stopping by and being such a loyal and devoted HubPages friend. Aloha!

  • EvanWright profile image

    Evan Wright 4 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

    Nice hub! It seems like when selling on Ebay you either have to haggle "Pawn Stars" style or you have to play detective to make sure the transaction goes though, and don't even get me started on selling internationally...liked and shared.

  • wetnosedogs profile image

    wetnosedogs 4 years ago from Alabama

    Oh boy, you have written your own mystery which I certainly enjoyed reading! I was sweating it out with you, not knowing how this would end.

    I also learned a lot here. I am so minor in the ebay part, I didn't know ebay had a Trust and Safety Team.

    Sure am thrilled with your ending, that you actually got to make a sale and the customer was able to make the purchase for his dad.

    Now aren't you glad your cat woke up up and the rain kept you in.

    Have you considered writing an Ebay book based on your experiences? You certainly have the knowledge that it would be a winner.

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