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Communications Basics for the eBay Seller

Updated on August 20, 2015

Negative feedback from eBay Buyers -can- be avoided, or made more removable, with a few simple steps...

As eBay sellers, you're bound to run into one sooner or later -- a buyer who simply doesn't respond to your attempts to collect payment before shipping their purchase, and who then leaves you negative feedback for not sending them the object of their desire. It's annoying, it's rough on your feedback rating, and it can damage your DSR scores.... and it's nearly totally avoidable.

Let's walk thru a few simple steps that can help you avoid these problems in the future, and that should make any hard-core, hell-bent-on-leaving-a-negative buyers easier to remove. While nothing is guaranteed, these steps have worked well for me (with nearly 10,000 feedback and over 18,000 sales) as well as for others. Read on and think about it....

Our Goal

(or: Why You Should Bother Reading All The Way To The End)

The common definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So if you are sending a Buyer demands for payment over and over and over, and not getting a reply..... who's insane?

Our goal is to open a dialog with our Buyers - to talk to them and have them respond back to us. This dialog, this two-way communication, is the foundation of a successful transaction. Avoiding negative feedback thru communications and dialog is significantly easier that removing negative feedback once it's been received.

With nearly over 10,000 positive feedbacks on eBay, and over 18,000 transactions completed -- I've been around the block a bit. These are all suggestions I use myself, so you're getting time-tested advice from an experienced seller. And while nothing, when it comes to dealing with humans, can be 100% guaranteed - I do believe that following these simple steps can help remove a significant amount of stress from the situation, and greatly increase the rate of completed transactions for almost any Seller.

Check Your eBay Communications Settings!

(or how to get eBay to do some of the communicating for you!)

eBay will do a good deal of communicating on your behalf, but you need to give them permission to do so. If you are serious about your online sales activities, you'll want to stay ahead of the pack - and that means good communications with your buyers whenever possible.

Check your settings at: My eBay > Account > Communications Preferences. There are a lot of settings, so take your time to work your way thru them all. It will be time well spent.

More detailed communications are found at: My eBay > My Account > Manage communications with buyers. This is where you can select which messages eBay sends to your buyers, and can add your own comments (in some cases). This may be tied to Selling Manager, but since Selling Manager is now free, why not sign up?

And pay attention to eBay automatic Unpaid Bidder process. If you turn this on (and I have), eBay will get in touch with your non-paying bidders (they don't become buyers until they pay) and open an Non Paying Bidder claim. If unpaid and unanswered, you can close the claim as early as four days later and recover your Final Value Fees. In many cases, the buyers will simply pay and say nothing more about it. If the bidder contacts you and offers what you consider an acceptable explination, you can end the case mutually and still get your fees refunded.

Don't assume that your settings are right - check them periodically to make sure they are, and to check up on new settings that may have been added!

Watch Your Language!

Why Spelling, Grammar, and Word Selection Are Important.

As a child, one of the most common things to here adults say was "Watch your language!", usually because I was trying out a new word or phrase I'd picked up from friends, at school, or just from overheard conversation. As an eBay seller, it's even more important to 'watch your language'...

- Keep it professional. This doesn't mean you have to act/speak like a heartless, soulless machine - but keep your focus on the transaction and not on all the drama going on in your life.

- Keep it focused. Communicating with a customer and talking with a friend are two different things. Stay focused on the transaction and moving it forward.

- Be polite. You don't have to be rude to be professional and focused.

- Don't stoop. If your buyer want's to cuss and scream and raise a tantrum, that still doesn't give you any reason to do the same. Don't stoop to their level - let them do the screaming and shouting and all the childish behaviors.

Some of this will take practice. I've been selling online since before eBay and I can honestly say there are still times I have to remind myself to just stop... let it go... and wait for the emotions to run their course before I can address the actual issues in a buyer communication. At times I've written and discards replies half a dozen times before I can meet my own standards of behavior. It's tough! But ultimately, it's worth the effort.

Should I Use eBay's Unpaid Item Assistant?

Why do I have to do all the 'dirty work'? Isn't this eBay's problem?

Some sellers advocate a bend-over backwards attitude when it comes to coaxing reluctant buyers to own up to their agreed to obligations (ie: to pay for what they said they wanted to purchase). Others are more heavy-handed ("Report'm All - Let eBay Sort'm Out!"). Both approaches have their advantages, and both have their drawbacks. This is where eBay's Unpaid Item Assistant comes in.

In simplest terms, UIA allows a seller to set a deadline, at which point eBay will contact the member regarding their unpaid purchase AND automatically open an Unpaid Item Dispute for non-payment. A second deadline, also set by the seller, determines how long after that before eBay automatically closes the Dispute in the sellers favor, if the buyer does not offer a valid explanation or simply make payment. When used properly, it can be a good thing.

The shortest term between purchase date and automatic filing allowed is four days, and the shortest period allowed between filing and automatic closure is also four days. Both are per eBay policy, and both are enforce on both automated Disputes and manually opened Disputes. The advantage for the seller is that the UIA does the remembering for you -- you don't have to track how long it's been between purchase and filing the dispute, and you don't have to remember to go back and close the dispute if you still haven't received payment!

I personally think that using both the UIA and the contact methods I outline below provides a solid solution for the active, growing seller. If you normally send payment reminders at three days, then set your UIA for a couple days longer, say five days, then all you have to do is remember a single date - your three day reminder - and eBay will handle the rest! Less work for you, perhaps better results when it comes to collections - after all, while buyers may think nothing of not paying Joe SmallSeller, they may be a bit more concerned about ignoring eBay themselves.

What Do I Sell On eBay? Let's Take A Look!

It's always nice to know that the person handing out all the advice has the experience to back it up, right? So here are a few of my current listings - and from any of them, you can check out my feedback (several years worth!) and the rest of my 'chops'. Go ahead -- I'll wait!

Step 1 - Use eBay Mail

(or: Starting An eBay-Accepted Activity Trail)

If you are like many/most Sellers, you contact your Buyers via standard email. And nearly all of them reply, a dialog is started, communications achived, and the transaction runs it's course. For those transactions, be grateful.

If the Buyer is not responding to standard email, then switch to eBay Mail. Yes - it's limited in character count. Yes - it's a pain to cut-n-paste your message from the original (you did keep a copy, right, in your Sent folder?). But eBay's Customer Service won't accept your standard email as 'evidence' that you attempted to contact the member (more on this later). So... copy-n-paste and use eBay Mail. It creates an official record that eBay -will- accept. And.... about half or more of your non-responding Buyers will actually respond!

True Story: About 80% of my own non-responding buyers made their payment or contacted me after I'd sent a single eBay Mail message. Most simply redirected the eBay message about payment and had a typo or other error in their stored email address on eBay that prevented the messages from getting to them. But they got a notice from eBay each time they logged into the site about New Messages... so they were able to correct the situation and make the payment. Problem resolved.

Another 10-15% were buyers looking for multiple items... who didn't read the part of my listing or payment request email where I asked them to let me know if they were shopping for more than one item so I could note that in my records and keep from escalating the transaction to non-payment status. They were a bit embarrassed, but with multi-item buyers, I'm much more willing to forgive and forget. :)

Step 2 - Pull the Buyer's Member Contact Info

(or: Get More Info To Take The Next Step)

OK... so you've contacted the Buyer via regular email and using eBay Mail and still no contact. This is getting really irritating... or is it?

Pull the Member Contact Info. eBay will supply Name, City, State, Zip, and Phone, for both Buyer and Seller, to both parties in a transaction whenever either party in that transaction requests the Contact Info for the other. This is not some secret, PowerSeller/Top Rated Seller only feature -- it's available to either party involved in any current/open transaction. You both get the same email, so you both get the same info, which is actually slightly less and slightly more than you've already gotten for the Buyer.

  • To receive the Contact Info, follow the following easy steps:
  • Log into eBay (duh!)
  • Click on 'Advanced Search' (to the right of the Search button in the standard eBay header)
  • Select 'Find Contact Information' from the menu on the left (should be at the bottom of the list)
  • Supply the Member ID and the Transaction ID info in the boxes indicated and click the Search button

So how does this get the Buyer to contact you? Remember... both buyer and seller get the same email... so your buyer will get the email and wonder what they heck you are doing. That is, if they are receiving email from eBay but are just ignoring you, or if your messages are heading to their spam folder (and yes, it -does- happen!).

True Story: One buyer, after I pulled their contact info, emailed me - very concerned that there was a virus on the eBay site that was sending her contact info to everyone! I emailed her back (her email address was accurate, so I used eBay Mail, to continue the Approved Trail) and let her know that I had sent earlier messages that had not been responded to and was worried. She replied, via eBay Mail as well, that she had found my messages in her spam folder, had fixed the situation with the help of her ISP/mail host tech support (better them than me!) and that her payment was on it's way (another mailed payment).

A simple explanation that still could apply today - as more and more people activate spam filters that they really don't understand, more and more "real" messages will get accidentally trapped. One thing I found had to do with the number of exclamation points ("!") found in the message title. A few quick changes to my email templates and that issue was resolved.... but I'm sure there were/still are others.

Step 3 - Call The Member.

(or: Sometimes You Just Have To Reach Out And Touch Someone!)

With the advent of ultra-cheap long distance calling (cell-phones with nationwide free long distance, online calling services like Skype and Vonage), calling your Buyer to find out what's happening should be both cheap and easy. And in most cases, the cost of the call is deductible against your eBay earnings at tax time (contact your tax preparer for more details).

True Story: I had one buyer of a medium priced item that just didn't respond. eBay sent the winning bidder email. I followed 3 days later with a reminder, and again 4 days after that with another. No response. So I pulled the contact data and called the buyer.... turns out she was an older lady and had just switched her internet provider. She thought that the new provider had made all those changes, letting everyone know what her new email address was. :)

Having worked with non-tech folks for years, I simply explained that while her new ISP may have sent a message to everyone in her old email list, it could do nothing for sites she had to log into, like eBay, and she would have to change these herself. She was a bit embarrassed, but it's a common thing and ended up being no problem. Her payment arrived 3 days later (she only used checks - this was quite some time ago!) and the transaction completed well for both of us.

Step 4 - Contact eBay Customer Service

(or: Contact Requirements Are Their Responsibility)

eBay's own Terms Of Service require a Member to keep their Contact Info current... and that means a current mailing address, email address, and phone number. Since you've already tried the email address and phone number with no success - turn the problem over to eBay and let them resolve it. This is where the 'Acceptable Trail' comes in -- they can see/read your eBay Mail contacts and see that you pulled the Member's contact info. Now it's up to them to either get the member to update their info, or flag them as NARU (Not A Registered User) and cancel the transaction (which removes your obligation to hold it any longer, and keeps the so-called member from leaving negative feedback).

Customer Service doesn't work fast. This is not the kind of thing where you can call or email at 1pm and have the issue resolved by 1:15pm. eBay is probably going to retry email and calling and will allow a number of days for the member to reply.

True Story: I had one buyer get upset with me because I reported her to eBay's Customer Service for a non-responsive email. She had purposely changed her email address on her eBay account to a defunct email address, a "spam trap". Her reasoning? She didn't want to have to deal with all the email that came from eBay and eBay sellers!! I forwarded all correspondence from her to Customer Service -- she clearly wasn't following the letter, or the spirit, of eBay's Terms Of Service! (I also added her to my Blocked Bidder List... no sense asking for trouble!)

I hope this lens helps. And while many would agree that... duh!... these are the basic steps to take, there's a cute saying that applies here: "When you are up to your be-hind in alligators, it's hard to remember you came to drain the swamp!" Which means that in the midst of dealing with the problem, sometimes it's good to have a written plan to follow, something to eliminate REaction and replace it with simply instructions. :)

I'm Always Looking For Feedback!

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