Sunday, April 15, 2012

Don't Drink the Water...and Don't Trust the Post Office

I've been selling crap on eBay for a long time now--over ten years--and I've learned to read the subtle signs that indicate a customer might be unhappy.  Take, for example, the message I received recently from the winning bidder on one of my auctions a few weeks after I shipped the item he won:

"Why did you do this f*****???"

There a lot of things about eBay that I find extremely annoying, and that list seems to grow longer by the day.  But that's another story for another blog post...perhaps long enough to find it's way onto Passionately Apathetic. But one of the best and worst things about eBay is that it has a huge, worldwide base of users.  Which means that it's not uncommon to have international bidders bid on--and win--my auctions.

International bidders just complicate the whole selling process.  I don't want to exclude them from bidding (eBay has an option to do this) since their bids drive up the price, but I'm always disappointed when they actually win.  I don't have a scale at home and never package the stuff I'm selling before I list it on eBay, which makes estimating the appropriate amount of shipping and handling to charge a bit of a guessing game.  Guess low, and I lose money on shipping; guess high and I potentially upset the winning bidder.  And eBay now lets buyers rate sellers on a number of dimensions, including shipping costs...another item on my complaint list.

Earlier this year, I decided to sell one of those FM transmitters that lets you play an iPod wirelessly through the car stereo.  It's a handy gadget that I bought years ago, but never ended up using because I had to take my iPod out of the case every time I wanted to use it...which made it much less handy, especially when driving.  The transmitter had been sitting in my drawer unopened all this time so, in my ongoing effort to minimize the amount of stuff I own, I listed in on eBay.

A few days before the auction ended, I received a message from a potential bidder, asking if I shipped to Mexico.  I fumbled around on the U.S. Postal Service website, trying to guess how much the package would weigh after I got it ready to ship, then grudgingly told the guy I would ship to Mexico, but S&H would cost $15.  I just hoped he wouldn't actually win.  Minutes before the auction ended, he bid and won.

He sent the payment through PayPal, and when I took the package to the post office, it only ended up costing around $6 to ship.  Looks like I grossly overestimated the weight of the package--it ended up weighing less than a pound, which dropped the cost significantly.  Oops...I guess I'd take the hit on my rating for shipping costs.

Weeks went by and I didn't hear a thing from the winning bidder.  In the back of my mind, I thought I might get a message about the exorbitantly high shipping cost.  Sure enough, something showed up in my inbox, which brings us back to that message I mentioned earlier: "Why did you do this f*****???"

I wasn't sure how to respond, since the message didn't give me a lot to go on.  I've been domestically despised and even locally loathed from time to time over the years, but I've never pissed off anyone across international borders.  This was an uncomfortable situation, without at doubt.   Did the package get lost in the mail?  Did it arrive damaged?  Was he upset about the shipping cost?  Was the message sent to me by accident and intended for someone else entirely?  I decided I'd ignore it and see if I got another message.

A few days went by and then, sure enough, another message:  "What's the next step? You don't care?"  Well, apparently it wasn't an accident that he had contact me.  I thought for sure my spotless eBay selling record was in jeopardy.  I responded, asking for details.  We exchanged a few messages, and he finally told me that the package had arrived, but the box was filled only with paperclips.  I certainly hadn't seen that one coming.

I assured him that I did not ship paperclips, and I offered to email him scans of the shipping receipt and customs form that I'd filled out at the post office.  I pointed out that if I'd wanted to steal his money, a wiser tactic would have been to send nothing and claim the package got lost in the mail. Why would I take the time and spend the money to mail paperclips, which would let him know that I was blatantly committing eBay fraud?

I wanted to offer a refund, but at the same time, I knew I'd shipped the right item, and I didn't want to give back the money and essentially give away the item for free, wherever it might be.  Still, I thought my first ever negative feedback was in my not-too-distant future.  And I fully expected that he would file a fraud claim with eBay, and one with PayPal, and that this thing would drag on for weeks or months.

When he responded to my message, I was utterly surprised.  He said that after he looked at the package more closely, it looked like it had been opened in Mexico.  Apparently someone read on the customs form that the package contained an FM transmitter, opened it up, and swapped out the transmitter for some paperclips.

The guy said that he trusts Americans more than Mexicans, and he apologized for getting mad.  Even more shocking, he posted feedback on eBay--positive feedback!  Just like that, my story had an unexpectedly abrupt and happy ending.  My impeccable track record as an eBay seller remains intact, and I'm nobody's international eBay eNemy.

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