Returning eBay Purchases

eBay returns
Buyers should read eBay sellers' return policies carefully. GettyImages

eBay offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee on all purchases, regardless of what individual sellers set up as their return policy. eBay wants customers to be happy with their purchases and return to the site to purchase more items in the future. Sellers are able to set up certain policies and procedures so make sure you read the seller's policies before purchasing, and again before initiating a return.

Here are a few things to look for when preparing a return.

Restocking Fee

eBay sellers can include a restocking fee of up to 20% for returned items. For example, if a buyer purchased an item for $100 and wants to return it, the seller is only obligated to refund $80 of their payment. This is completely eBay legal, and fair to the seller. After a return, the seller does not receive his final value fees back and must resist and restock the item. Returns can be costly for sellers so that is why eBay allows a restocking fee.

Who Pays Return Shipping?

This is another area where sellers can lose money, so eBay allows sellers to specify who pays the return shipping. Obviously, if the item is grossly misrepresented, damaged, or the seller is at fault in the listing, eBay will require that the seller pay return shipping. Otherwise, the buyer usually pays. Buyers need to read the listing carefully to determine if they are responsible for paying return shipping.

Most sellers pass this cost on to the buyer because returns can be a case of buyer's remorse, and sellers aren't going to pay for that.

What is the Return Time Frame?

Sellers have the ability to set a return window. The options are 7 days, 14, days, 30 days, or 60 days. If you are shopping for an item where there is even a slight possibility it may be returned, make sure you understand the seller's return window.

Once you receive the item in the mail, assess whether or not you need to return it. If it is clothing, try it on and decide if you want to keep it. If it is a home decor item you are attempting to match to other decor in your home, go ahead and make that decision. The longer you wait to return an item, the more likely it is that you will forget altogether and the return time may expire. Evaluate and act right away, don't wait. eBay's Satisfaction Guarantee has a default return period of 30 days.

Steps for Initiating a Return

eBay makes it easy for buyers to return items if they aren't happy with their purchase. Follow these steps to initiate a return, after you have read the seller's return policy, agree to the restocking fee, and are within the specified time frame to return the item.

  • Go
  • On the top left, click "Summary"
  • On the left margin, click "Purchase Summary"
  • Find the item in your purchase history
  • Click the "More Actions" tab
  • Choose "Return this Item"
  • This option takes you to the "Request a Return" page
  • Because of eBay's Money Back Guarantee, you can request a return even if the seller does not accept returns
  • Select a reason for the return
  • Add more info if needed
  • Add photos of the item if needed - if it is damaged, broken, or does not match description
  • Click the Request Return button
  • You will see confirmation that the request has been sent to the seller, and the date they must respond by
  • Depending on the seller's return policy, you may be able to print the return label immediately, or you may have to wait for a reply from the seller
  • Sellers may accept the return or offer a partial refund and let you keep the item
  • If the seller requests the return request, you have 14 days to ship it back

Always Use eBay's System to Print Return Labels

Unfortunately, if a buyer does not use eBay's return label printing workflow, the package cannot be tracked. The eBay label will have a tracking number and this is recorded in your eBay account. Always print return labels through eBay so that eBay can see when the item was received. If a buyer uses his own postage or takes the item to the post office to be weighed and shipped, eBay can't see the tracking number and will not require the seller to refund.

This policy exists because there are lots of dishonest people in the world. A buyer may claim he has taken the item to the post office but in fact has not. If a dispute arises, eBay will not side with the buyer who doesn't use the eBay label printing feature. 

Adding All Factors Together - Is the Return Worth It?

Sometimes a return is not worth all the trouble. For example, let's say you purchase a $20 item on eBay and pay $5 shipping. You decide to return the item, and the seller has a 20% restocking fee and requires the buyer to pay return shipping. If the item is returned, the buyer has spent $25 but only receives $16 back, and has spent $5 out of pocket to pay return shipping. So in essence, the buyer wasted $10 on shipping and $4 on a restocking fee, and is out $14 for nothing. It might be a better idea to resell that item on eBay than waste money on return shipping and restocking fees. 

Updated on August 4, 2016 by Suzanne A. Wells.