How to be a successful seller on eBay

Selling on eBay can be a great little earner for millions of people but this popular pastime is not always plain sailing. Most eBay transactions run smoothly, but problems can arise when buyers fail to cough up. Here, we show you how to tackle some of the most common disputes.


You're selling to make money so what do you do if the buyer fails to pay? Buyers should pay up within two days of an auction's end so if nothing materialises, then a polite nudge by pressing the payment reminder button on your eBay page, a direct email or phone call should do the trick.

If the buyer has vanished or you're sure they are not going to pay, open an 'unpaid item' case with the eBay Resolution Centre (there's a link on your eBay page) as early as two days or up until 32 days after the listing ends. This triggers a dialogue between you and the buyer overseen by eBay.

If there's no response or the payment isn't made within four days, or you're unable to reach an agreement with the buyer, you can close the case and automatically receive a credit for the Final Value Fee – the percentage of the sale price that eBay automatically debited from your account.

You can then either offer the item to your next highest bidder – called a 'second chance offer'. To get a refund on the initial listing fee, you need to relist within 90 days of the closing date of the original auction and use eBay's 'relist' feature.

To be on the safe side, never post an item until the payment is safely in your account.


Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, you aren't obliged to refund auction buyers if they change their mind. But, according to Dean Dunham, founder and solicitor advocate of, there are certain circumstances where you may have to pay up.

For example, eBay sellers must provide buyers with their trading name and address, the price of the goods, including taxes and delivery charges, and their returns policy. "Failure to do so gives buyers the right to take up to three months to cancel the contract and get their money back," Dunham adds.

The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling Regulations 2000) Act gives online buyers the right to return a fixed price "buy it now" item for whatever reason within seven working days – although eBay rules extend this to 14 days in preparation for the law lengthening it to that period from June 2014 – and receive a refund, including delivery charges.

While these rules do not apply to auction buyers, the position changes if sellers use the 'second chance offer', which means they are selling at a fixed price.


Buyers who claim not to have received an item are entitled to open an 'item not received case' with eBay. Mark Buckingham, managing director of Netseek, a London-based eCommerce and eBay consultancy, says: "If you can prove delivery, you'll have the advantage."

You can try to protect yourself by using a service such as the Post Office's special delivery, which includes insurance cover if the item really doesn't arrive. He adds: "Use the PayPal payment system too, as this affords extra protection."

Sometimes simply refunding the buyer can be the easiest move, and if you do it within eight days of the buyer opening a case, eBay will refund your Final Value Fee. If the case isn't resolved to the buyer's satisfaction in that period, then eBay makes a decision on the case.

If you have posted the item within the time stated in your listing and have proof of delivery, eBay is likely to decide in your favour. If the delivery is delayed, always email the buyer to let them know and keep any confirmation that they agreed to this, to help resolve disputes.


If a buyer claims the item is damaged, although you are sure it was in one piece when you sent it, politely ask them to prove it by sending a photo, suggests Buckingham.

He adds: "If it keeps happening, you need to ask yourself if your packaging skills are up to scratch or if there is a problem with the courier. My tip is to overdo the packaging but if this means higher postage costs, remember to reflect that in your postage charge."

He recommends that if a buyer seems genuine (check out their own eBay feedback) and the item is low-cost, then it can be worth just sending a refund to retain goodwill and avoid any negative feedback.


Buyers at auction who decide their purchase is not as the seller described are entitled to a full refund, according to Dunham. He says: "If you buy via an 'auction' route, your rights are greatly diminished and you really only have the right for the goods to be 'as described'."

Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended), a seller will have to refund a buyer if the item sold is not "as described". However, there is always the risk that buyers will be excessively pedantic, but how can a seller prove the buyer is not always right?

You can help your case if you can show with your listing description and photos that the item meets the description, especially if you have been upfront about any faults. If a dispute is not resolved, the seller can call on the eBay Resolution Centre.

eBay normally asks the buyer to return the item to be eligible for a refund, plus they would have to pay postage and use a tracked service. If eBay finds that neither is at fault, it will occasionally refund both sides' postage costs.


This is frowned upon by eBay as it looks like a seller is trying to avoid paying their fees – and, if rumbled, you could be bounced out of eBay. Plus it can also end in financial disaster as fraudsters often prey on unwary sellers by luring them away from the formal payment channels so they can cover their tracks.

Steve Heywood, spokesperson for eBay, warns that transactions completed outside eBay might not only be fraudulent but also that you won't be protected by eBay or PayPal seller protection schemes.


Buyers who constantly return goods, leave unfair negative feedback or don't pay up for no good reason are the bane of a seller's life. Buckingham says: "eBay does monitor buyer behaviour behind the scenes, so you're automatically afforded a layer of protection.

If you do encounter an unreasonable buyer, then report them – other sellers who do the same will, in turn, help eBay weed out the chancers. Continued unacceptable behaviour can lead to being banned from using eBay for a period – or even permanently."

Tips for Trouble-free ebay sales

  • Prevention is better than cure. Ensure your listing is clear and accurate with good photos, comprehensive, honest descriptions (including flaws) and a simple returns policy.
  • Hone your photographic skills. You can put up to 12 photos on your listing, though only the first is free. Make them good quality to avoid disappointing buyers.
  • Communicate. Always respond to buyers’ questions promptly and in a friendly fashion, either through the eBay automated Q&A system or direct by email. Tell them when you’ve received payment and posted the item.
  • Be fair over mistakes and buyers may still give you good feedback and buy again.
  • Wrap properly and pay extra for tracking or special delivery to protect against loss or breakage. Never overcharge for postage as it could earn you negative feedback.
  • Do your homework. Scour eBay’s own business policies and tap into blogs such as tamebay. com to get more tips on dealing with selling challenges.