Communication and Feedback for Buyers: the Fair Guide

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Polite communication with your seller, fair expectations and high recommendations for sellers who give you good service are part of what can make a buying experience terrific. Recent feedback changes have altered the playing field on eBay. Because of this, and because it's not very clear to most buyers just how eBay calculates feedback, what a "neutral" means, and how "neutrals" and "negatives" affect sellers, I feel it's necessary for new and also more experienced buyers to be aware of how their feedback and their communication to sellers can help to make eBay purchasing a mutually satisfactory experience.

Background: Fair Expectations

Firstly, please "assume good faith". That means, don't assume the seller is trying to deceive you. There are many absolutely delightful sellers who offer high quality service, fair prices for postage and send your item as soon as you've paid.

Once you've paid, remember that it might take a while (depending upon your method of payment) for that money to actually appear in your seller's bank account. You will need to take that into consideration when considering how quickly your seller has posted your item.

Potential Problems between Buying and Receiving

How Long Should I Wait Before My Item Arrives?

It varies. Please remember the seller cannot send your item until your payment has CLEARED. If in doubt, please contact your seller to ask (politely) for clarification.
If you haven't asked for expedited shipping or faster postage methods from an overseas seller, your item might take longer to arrive, of course. Please keep in mind that the LENGTH OF SHIPPING OR DELIVERY TIME is not the seller's responsibility - they cannot make Australia Post deliver more quickly and they can't be held to blame for Australia Post strikes.

What About If My Item Arrives Damaged?

The first thing to check is the packaging. Did the seller package adequately? Don't assume the seller did not - sometimes damage is clearly the result of something calamitous happening in the delivery process (such as falling out of the van and being driven over). If the item's cost is under $50, Australia Post will accept a claim for damaged or lost parcels - your seller will probably initiate this for you. (Bear in mind that Australia Post does not automatically grant such claims, and it will take some time. You should keep in touch with your seller, but please remain polite and friendly, especially if your seller is doing all he/she can to help.)

If the item's cost is over $50, only up to $50 can be reimbursed - unless the parcel was insured or registered. Because of this, it is worth keeping in mind that registered post is a highly desirable option for all items purchased on eBay that are over $50.

If your seller won't help, please check that you have done the following:
  1. Taken a photograph of the item (damaged) PLUS the packaging;
  2. Communicated politely with the seller (not accusing them of shoddy packaging merely because you're upset - staying polite is going to get you much better co-operation than if a seller feels the buyer is being unreasonable and unfair), including attachments of the photos;
  3. Either agreed that the seller is to contact Australia Post with the claim, or you have done this;
  4. Been patient while Australia Post processes the claim.
If your seller is still unhelpful, refuses to discuss options with you or is rude without cause, you should think about opening an "Item Significantly Not As Described" dispute. Remain polite - rudeness will undermine your argument. Remember too that if the damage is the result of an AP employee being very careless, the seller is probably as upset as you are. The two of you should work together to find a resolution.

What If The Item Sent Is The Wrong One, or Faulty?

If your seller has made an error, contact your seller immediately, and tell him/her in the most courteous way that there is a problem. A good seller who has made an error will try to fix the problem - perhaps issuing you with a refund or sending you a replacement straightaway.

What If I Think The Postage Cost Is Too High?

Always - always - ALWAYS ask your seller about postage if postage is not specified in the listing. Please do not bid if you don't know the postage.

If you can see by the postage stamp on the parcel that the seller has charged more than, say, $10 over and above the postal amount required (to cover packaging materials, time spent in packing, and so on), you can do one of two things.
  1. Communicate with your seller, saying politely that you believe the postage cost was excessive, as the amount shown on the parcel was significantly less. Say that you think it's possible the seller overestimated the amount needed, and ask that the difference between a fair amount and the amount charged be refunded to you. Stress that in every other way you're happy with the item and the service. You do not want the seller feeling as though you are performing "feedback extortion" - you simply want an equitable solution to something that might have been a mistake.
  2. Or just "wear" the cost. This might be the best solution if you managed to get a real bargain. If you're satisfied with the total cost of the item, don't stir up problems - you have something at bargain price and your item is what you wanted.
It's entirely your choice how you handle this. You may have to weigh up various considerations. But please do remember that you agreed to go ahead with the purchase knowing how much the total cost would be, and it can be petty to take issue with any portion of that cost after the event.

What If I Don't Want To Go Through With The Purchase?

Once you've bid and won, or clicked "Buy It Now", you have entered into a binding contract with the seller. If you choose not to proceed with the purchase, you have cost the seller the listing fees, the time they've spent in preparing the listing, and the Final Value Fees. The seller can only recover those Final Value Fees by issuing an Unpaid Item Strike against you, and you will need to indicate (through the eBay process) that you mutually agree to withdraw from the sale. (The seller has no choice - to recover those FVFs, that's the process. It's not malicious on his/her part.) Please remember too that the seller is not reimbursed for the listing fees, etc., so keep in mind that it is not only breaking a contract, but also unfair to bid without paying.

If you communicate with your seller with profuse apologies for failing to follow through with the sale, it might be a nice idea to offer to pay the listing fees. Your seller may say "No, but I appreciate the offer", and the gesture will help to make the situation a much friendlier one than a simple "I've decided not to go ahead" or the even worse complete failure to respond to the seller's invoices or requests for payment.

Giving Your Feedback

My Item's Arrived - Should I Give A Neutral, A Negative, or a Positive?

eBay's new way of reckoning feedback percentages is based upon the idea that the percentage represents POSITIVE FEEDBACK out of the TOTAL FEEDBACK. This means, in essence, that since neutrals are not positives, they are classed (for this purpose) as negatives.

Instead of neutrals not changing a seller's percentage, they decrease it. In essence, neutrals serve no real purpose now except as negatives masquerading in grey instead of red.

Think very carefully before you give a neutral or a negative. Particularly for low-volume sellers, a neutral or a negative could result in their account being restricted - and if you were in essence satisfied by the transaction, that would definitely not be fair.
  • While feedback is calculated in this way, it is in my view best not to give neutrals at all. If your item arrived safely as described, leave a positive. If your purchase had any problems but the seller was good in sorting them out, leave a positive.
  • If your item never arrived or there was a seller's-fault problem with the seller also being completely unhelpful and rude without cause... or if the seller obviously sold you a fake or pirate version of something, those are grounds for a negative and you should not hesitate about giving a negative in such circumstances.
Remember to be factual and non-abusive in your feedback comments - just state why you are leaving a negative and that you did try to resolve the problem with communication. Let other sellers know that your negative feedback is FAIR and that you don't give negatives as a knee-jerk reaction. By using feedback responsibly, you can also warn other potential buyers of shonky sellers who sell illegally, fraudulently and unfairly.

By dealing fairly, you will also ensure you don't use negative feedback as a weapon of personal vengeance or an angry momentary reaction.

What About Those Stars? How Should I Give Detailed Seller Ratings?

This is one of the most misleading issues when it comes to feedback!

You may well think 4 stars out of 5 means that you thought the service was pretty good - but eBay calculates a seller's DSRs in such a way that LESS THAN 98% is considered to mean the seller is not a good seller.

And that means if you give 4 stars, you're actually lowering the seller's ratings and, in essence, indicating this was NOT a good transaction.

For that reason, if you were very satisfied, or reasonably satisfied, with the transaction, you may wish to indicate that fairly by giving the seller the following stars:

5 stars for Item as described
5 stars for Communication
5 stars for Postage time
5 stars for Postage and handing charges.

If the seller failed utterly to give satisfaction, the item never arrived or was a blatant fake, postage date indicates the seller didn't post for a considerable period after receiving CLEARED PAYMENT, then it's suggested you give as few stars as you wish.

But please remember that eBay will reckon up the DSR you give in a way you probably didn't intend. If you feel like giving four stars rather than five - THINK. Is it because you believe a five-star seller is an angelic superhuman seller who sells items to you at 1/100th their retail price, personally delivered by courier for the price of a postage stamp, and gift-wraps every item in gold foil? That's NOT a realistic expectation of a good seller... so please do remember that five stars is for REALISTIC good service.

Above all, please remember to COMMUNICATE with your seller in polite and friendly terms. If there's a problem, please get in touch with your seller. Give your seller a chance to rectify any problem, because a good seller is not a perfect automaton. A good seller may be known by the way in which they rectify errors or problems.

I hope that this guide has been of use to you. I'm a buyer on eBay, not a seller, and while I have experienced a small number of bad sellers, they can be counted on one hand, while the good sellers vastly outnumber them. Communication is the key to resolving problems.

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