Selling Defective Items on eBay: The Do's and Don'ts

Finding the right buyer by listing defective items properly

Mature man sitting at table repairing broken china vase
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Everything has value — even replicas, broken consumer goods, and worn out machines and appliances. For many businesses, success or failure depends on determining the value of items like these, and then finding the right buyer for them.

As many sellers around the world have discovered, eBay is great for selling goods with niche value directly to the public. You oftentimes can sell an item on eBay for quite a lot of money even though you couldn't sell it in other local markets at any price.

Selling Defective Items on eBay

When selling replica/reproduction, liquidation, damaged, or bulk untested goods on eBay, some sellers seem to get the "kid in a candy store" mentality. They push the boundaries of fairness right to the breaking point in order to move stock. This kind of selling doesn't help anyone as it leaves buyers unhappy (and in some cases justifiably angry) and leads to negative reviews on the seller's feedback profile.

To make matters worse, auctions for these types of goods tend to attract a disproportionate number of new eBay buyers. New eBayers haven't yet developed the "buyer's eye" that can help a shopper to score great deals while avoiding unwanted hassle on eBay. This leaves a bad taste in the mouths of what could otherwise someday have been active eBay traders, and makes intervention by local law enforcement, regulatory agencies, or even the federal government more likely.

That is why it is important to list your items honestly on eBay, and refrain from hiding a listing's flaws or weaknesses from potential buyers.

What To Do Instead

There's often nothing wrong with selling reproduction, liquidation, damaged, or bulk untested goods on eBay, so long as you are transparent and conscientious about it when you list your items.

  • Explain the item's condition clearly. Shady sellers will gloss over the exact meaning of adjectives and words used to describe the condition of an item. Sellers know what condition an item is in and unless an item is new, in box with manufacturer's warranty intact, always state the item's condition using one of the following:
    • Guaranteed to function completely as new
    • Partially functional (list what works and what doesn't)
    • REPLICA of original item (put this in capital letters so buyers won't miss it)
    • DOES NOT WORK (put this in capital letters so buyers won't miss it)
    • UNTESTED/AS-IS (put this in capital letters so buyers won't miss it)
  • State your post-sale terms clearly. Don't simply omit your return policy in hopes that the buyer won't need one or won't think to ask before the purchase is made. If you don't accept returns or exchanges under any circumstances, or if you have specific return policies and steps, be sure to say so. State your terms and conditions of the sale very clearly and visibly with the intent that prospective buyers will use this policy in their decision about whether or not to bid on your item.
  • List what's missing. Take care to keep prospective buyers fully informed about what they're getting. List everything that's included with the item clearly in your description and then state that only those items listed are included. If there's something a buyer might still expect to receive—a power cord or user manual, for example—further state that such things aren't included if or when they're not.
  • Send the buyer what they've bid on. Don't sell a buyer on an auction with a stock photo or a photo of an item in great condition only to then send a poor specimen (or even a different but similar specimen) altogether. The words "item may not appear as in photo" don't get sellers off the hook here. If your buyer has bid on an item with a photo, send them what's in the photo. If you don't have that item for sale, don't use that photo to begin with. Period.

Many sellers who have had complaints about buyers with unreasonable expectations could have avoided negative feedback or eBay investigations simply by following the advice above.