Five Reasons Why You're Constantly Returning eBay Purchases

Returning more eBay purchases than you used to? This may be why.

Frustrated with your recent purchases? Though it's easy to blame sellers, sometimes your own buying patterns are at issue.. Skukrov / Dreamstime

When it comes to eBay shoppers, there seem to be two varieties—shoppers that almost always have great experiences, and shoppers that can't seem to catch a break, always regretting their eBay purchases.

From time to time, shoppers slide from the first group into the second—after years of happily shopping on eBay, they start to find that they're returning products more and more often and having more and more problem, rather than great, experiences.

If this sounds like you, here are five reasons why this may be the case. Read through them and ask yourself whether these affect you—and whether you might be able to restore your great relationship with eBay and eBay sellers with a few adjustments to your shopping habits.

  • Wishful thinking. There are lots of products on eBay that are far, far cheaper than very similar products to be found on retail shelves. Some of these are used. Some are "untested" or "as-is." Some are imported knock-offs that offer only some of the features, but cost only some of the normal retail price. As a veteran eBay shopper, you once knew this—there are great deals on eBay sure, but you don't get something for nothing. Saving money means making compromises.

    Have years of good experiences on eBay left you wearing rose-colored glasses as you shop? When a seller says "in expected condition for a used item," or "maintains 80 percent of its original functionality," or "untested," are you taking these statements at face value, or are you lulling yourself into expecting perfect goods for damaged goods prices? Are you expecting quality, accessories, or other positives that the seller simply hasn't offered in their actual listing? If so, it may be time to bring your expectations back in line with reality.

  • Not reading carefully enough. Closely related to the problems above is the problem of failing to read item listings carefully. Over time, this has become easier and easier to do on eBay, as items' catalog entries have become a standard part of listings in more and more categories, and as sellers move away from extended listings toward more brief, concise mobile-friendly listings.

    Remember that catalog entries are meant to tell you about products in general, not about the actual item you'll be buying; sellers still specify the item's condition and tell you about the particular item you're buying in their item descriptions.

    Don't give in to the temptation to shop simply by catalog entry. There's a reason that eBay continues to enable sellers to offer item descriptions, and there's a reason that some items on eBay are cheaper than others. Make item descriptions your friend, and just as importantly, realize that when a seller doesn't offer a useful description, you're probably dealing with an inexperienced or corner-cutting seller, and that there may be things about your purchase that you don't find out until it arrives—and plan (and bid) accordingly.

  • Always buying on price. For most products on eBay, there's a fairly significant price range at issue, from rock-bottom to higher-than-retail in some cases. New eBay shoppers are often very cautious and wary about their online shopping, preferring to be safe rather than sorry by buying from sellers that demonstrate better customer service potential in their listings and price their items more in line with retail expectations.

    Over time, as you become more confident in your shopping and that "risk management feeling" fades away, you may unwittingly take larger and larger risks by buying more and more on price.

    If you're finding yourself repeatedly burned, it may be time to try to dial some of that same old caution back in again. Be a little more cagey once again about rock-bottom prices, and be willing to shell out to ensure that you have a good experience.

  • Not checking seller feedback. In recent years, eBay has made it easier and easier for buyers to return items and make claims, first with buyer protection and its descendants, and then with managed returns that make the return process more similar to what you'll experience when shopping online retail venues like Amazon.com. This can lead shoppers to be willing to unwittingly take more risks, secure in the knowledge that it's easier than ever to return products on eBay.

    Of course, when you actually stopped to think about this consciously, you quickly come to the conclusion that even if you can return items, that's a far cry from wanting to have to return items and to deal with the returns process. When faced with an actual return (or several in a row), the fact that you are ultimately more likely than ever to safely get your money back is cold comfort; what you really want is not to have to repackage and ship your item back in the first place, hassle that it is. So return once again to checking feedback and buying only from sellers with a demonstrated history of very high customer satisfaction—even if you pay a few dollars more or have to wait a little longer to find the right item as a result.

  • Shopping for high-risk or high-defect items. A few years ago, most shoppers had several categories of things they'd never consider buying online, much less on a platform like eBay where they would be dealing with independent sellers. Things like clothing, for which fit is difficult to know without actually handling the items, and expensive purchases like high-end electronics or jewelry, were things that most shoppers preferred to buy in person, or on purpose-specific online platforms run by companies with particular expertise in those kinds of items.

    As time has passed and more shoppers have become more comfortable with online shopping, some of this hesitation has begun to slip away. But if you're finding that you're constantly having to return these kinds of purchases, for example due to poor fit/sizing or due to lower-than-expected quality or other kinds of unmet expectations, it may be time to return once again to shopping venues that specialize in the kinds of goods that you're buying, or to buying these kinds of things in person. Once again, the temptation to save by buying on eBay is a big one, but at the same time these savings are purchased at the cost of convenience—and, potentially, the willingness to return more purchases that don't work out.

For some shoppers, lots of returns are just part of the shopping game, but if this isn't you—if you feel like more and more of your recent purchases are "going wrong" on eBay, it may not a matter of declining seller quality on eBay, as some shoppers imagine, but of changes in your own buying habits and expectations. Reset these and all will be well with the eBay world again.

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