How I Almost Lost a Sale by Being Too Cautious on eBay
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.
- My Goals for 2013
Whether or not you're one for making new year's resolutions, stay open and available to the possibilities and adventures of a purpose-driven life.
- Hauoli Makahiki Hou! Day One of My Goals for 2013
Transition from the old year into the infant one is for most a happy event. With the goals in mind that he made a month ago, this writer wants to be sure to get off to at least a walking start.
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.
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.
Other eBay Hubs of Interest
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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.
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.
Koala Bears? Airplanes? eBay? The Sky's the Limit!
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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.