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eBay really is an interesting company.  They’re better than Amazon.  They have lower prices and more competition.  Their money back guarantee–whatever it means or does, we’ll see!–puts eBay in the mix for just about anything, usually delivered to your door, for less than what you’d pay if you drive to a store.  eBay is also really easy to sell on.

If I were a nice guy I’d simply write “I confirmed twice yesterday, in two separate recorded phone calls with eBay representatives, at least one of whom is in ‘escalations,’ that this dispute is over.”  Well I am a nice guy.  But I also know how to write and I know a lot about customer satisfaction.  So…

The eBay guarantee actually is a real thing (i.e., it is enforceable) because it is based on the facts and evidence.  The seller provides pictures and a description–usually it is extremely brief and straightforward–and if the item differs you can/will receive a refund.  There is also a description associated with delivery and some, mostly seller-provided, information on the seller.  Normally matching-up what is described and what actually happens is not complicated, difficult, or time consuming–that’s part of the beauty of it, it really can work on a big scale.  Ambiguity is decided in favor of the evidence–this is probably loosely-defined–preponderance or even likelihood–and this greatly favors the customer.

The only major wrench in the process is eBay itself.  And that is what happened here.

I bought a VGA cable, the thing used to connect a computer to a monitor or tv.  The item was crummy from the get-go—the built in audio cable can’t be connected to a laptop because it doesn’t extend far enough from the video cable; in other words, you can’t connect both at the same time on most laptops.  I think a really reputable company would know this about its products and communicate it to prospective customers.  Oh well.  You could call it an error of omission, but it really wasn’t a wrong description.  While I did consider contacting the seller to ask how to resolve this, I didn’t think it warranted paying the price of the product to return it.  I figured I could still use the cable for video only.  But then, when I tried again to hook-up the cable it didn’t work right!  I’d experienced this before and just thought it wasn’t installed tightly; but no, the picture was inferior!  It had lines and shading.  This was now two tvs and two computers I tried it with.  I specifically A-B’d it with other VGA cables.  The picture was clearly different and poor.  Maybe it has something to do with an HDTV.  I definitely did not want the cable.  I would return it if necessary.  I wouldn’t pay for shipping; that was not worth my time and expense.

I don’t really like this model of expecting customers to do your work for you.  An item is offered on the eBay website and I buy it; eBay is responsible.  They can cry third-party all they want but eBay is getting paid and they’re responsible.  (Actually, my experience with eBay and Amazon is they are very careful not blame or badmouth their sellers; they don’t refer to sellers as beyond-their-control third parties.)  Probably eBay is legally responsible–anyone can say they’re not responsible for what’s on their website but they are…  But what is way, way more important, and interesting, is that the market demands it.  A seller must offer customers an assurance that they’ll get what they want–not necessarily what they bought–or they won’t come back.  Buyer protection is necessary for success.  Reputable companies stand behind their products and take things back.  This is the way retail works in the U.S.  This to be is what is so exciting about eBay:  They are almost there.  eBay seriously competes with local stores.

Back to the issue of sellers expecting things from customers.  Online customer feedback has come a long way but it does have flaws.  Customers don’t have to do it–I have never done it in my life–and the data are not necessarily valid or representative.  I wonder if any research has been done into the validity of online rating data versus a representative sample, high response rate, and live, verifiable survey answers.  My gut tells me the new cyber data are excellent if absorbed qualitatively and with lots of caution.  Still, I would really like to see ecommerce sites provide incentives to customers to help improve this information.

This points to the real importance of eBay disputes, which is to help eBay.  Once again, I feel that is not my duty or role as a customer.  If eBay wants something from me they have to compensate me in some way.  In this particular case I wrote two, respectful, as-long-as-eBay-allows emails to the sender only to receive a curt, rude reply–seemingly from Asia or elsewhere–requesting “screenshots” of my television.  No.  I already spent hours of different connections trying to get the cable to work.  But I participated–helped eBay–up to a point, by writing to the seller.  It didn’t work.  I don’t want to engage in or wait for more email.  I want a resolution from eBay now.

The above-referenced piece also, correctly, describes the fact that eBay does not properly monitor much of anything.  The escalation woman said this too.  Of course size or volume isn’t an excuse, but this is the reality.  When I pointed out to the escalations woman the many oddities associated with this seller and this transaction she immediately declared the dispute over.  A refund would be credited by Friday and I could do whatever I want to with the item.  The facts are the seller didn’t respond properly to my inquires; the company did not, initially or otherwise, honor their stated return policy; the company failed to divulge their location, as required; and the company appears to be foreign rather than U.S.-based as they specified.  These are factual discrepancies.  These are all things eBay could have and perhaps should have known.  eBay butt-covering?  It doesn’t matter.  It is an inexpensive item; dispute over.  It is a rational and I believe correct decision.  Ambiguity?  Not really.  The lifetime value of a customer is far more important.

The question of who, what, or where this seller is is of paramount importance.  I believe this whole episode would be less likely with a U.S.-based seller.

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So how is eBay the wrench in this process?

The details you provided:
The item doesn’t match the seller’s description.
You paid for the item on Jun 25, 2014.
Your phone number: 303 XXX-XXXX.
We will not share your phone number with the seller.
The item is defective or broken
Additional information:
“I received the item in non-working condition. I would like to get my money back especially that the seller offers 30-day return policy.”
You’ve requested:
A refund. The refund amount includes the purchase price plus original shipping.