eBay Item Not Received – Seller Protection

One common eBay problem for sellers is the “Item Not Received” scenario.

If you’re selling goods on eBay, then you need to know how to protect yourself from “Items Not Received” issues. This article explains the problem, and how to avoid it.

What Is The “Item Not Received” Problem On eBay?

The “Item Not Received” scenario occurs when the buyer claims they never received the goods. They either request a refund or request that the seller send a replacement item.

The buyer can win from this fraud in two ways. If the seller refunds the payment, this means that buyer gets the goods and their money back. In other words, they’ve got the item for free.

Alternatively, if the seller sends a replacement item then the buyer gets two items for the price of one.

Either way, the seller loses out.

Not All “Item Not Received” Situations Are Dishonest

Of course, many buyers who complain that the item was not received are making legitimate complaints.

Let’s acknowledge that the honest buyer suffers from the frustrating experience of items lost in the postal delivery service.

They legitimately expect sellers to be considerate, recognize their disappointment, and try their best to help.

U.K. postal service issues

In the United Kingdom, the Royal Mail reported the numbers of customer complaints in the financial year of 2010-2011. This is what they said:

“We received about one complaint for every 13,000 items of mail we delivered.”

Royal Mail

That is a tiny percentage of items lost in the post. If you’re a British seller getting a high number of “items not received” complaints, you have a right to be suspicious.

It’s more difficult to get figures for the United States postal system. All I can find are statistics about addressing issues.

“Addressing issues” means indecipherable addresses, weather-damaged envelopes, and blank printed labels. As a seller, you presumably take care in getting the addressing right. You are more interested in the percentage that falls into a black hole due to system or employee error.

The USPS said that they could not deliver 4.7% of posts due to addressing issues in 2010. I spent some time searching for other statistics of U.S. customer complaints to no avail.

Similarly, Canada Post will not reveal exact numbers of complaints about missing posts.

Why can’t I give you more recent statistics?

If you’re wondering why the Royal Mail was more open as recently as 2011, the company was a public service for most of its history. The ordinary citizen could get these statistics as part of the Government Freedom of Information Act.

I suspect that their U.S. and Canadian counterparts insist that such data is commercially sensitive information.

In 2015, the Royal Mail was fully privatized. Their statistics seem to have dried up.

Estimating Legitimate Percentages Of Items Not Received

Using the older statistics, we can use a range of 0.01% to 3% on our estimates of lost mail. Online sellers of physically delivered goods should pick a reasonable number and cost it into their business.

If you are sending out 100 items a month, you might factor in having to replace or refund three of those items.

If you’re moving house and doing a once-off sale of ten items, you might think you’re unlikely to be unlucky enough to have one of them go astray.

eBay Seller Options For Postal Delivery

When sellers use the postal service to send goods, their choices are
1. Send through standard mail, no proof of postage, no recorded delivery
2. Obtain proof that the seller has posted the item, usually by going to a postal office or depot and getting a stamped receipt
3. Obtain proof that the buyer has received the item, by using a recorded delivery service

This article goes in depth into the first option of standard post. I cover the other two options in a separate article on parcel tracking and signature confirmation.

Using Standard Post For eBay Brings A Higher Risk

Before we get into the problem of using standard post, I’ll point out that there are many valid reasons to use it.

Advantages of Standard Post

First of all, it’s the cheapest method of postage.

It’s also more convenient for sellers than Proof of Postage. The latter method requires physical travel to postal offices that offer the service. If you’re living away from an urban center, the travel may become onerous.

Then, let’s think of the advantages of Standard Post for buyers. The alternative of Recorded Delivery is far more awkward for them. Buyers have to be around to accept delivery or travel to a pick-up depot.

Some buyers may simply choose to avoid trading with sellers who insist on recorded delivery.

Disadvantages of Standard Post

The big disadvantage of Standard Post to sellers is this:

Sellers have no protection if the buyer makes a claim to the online marketplace that they did not receive the goods.

If you are selling low-cost items in high volume, then you may choose to absorb the risk.

If you are selling within a local marketplace where you know the buyers personally, then you may choose to rely on trust and reputation.

However, if neither of the above applies? Then you are taking a massive risk in stuffing that smartphone into a padded envelope and dropping it into the nearest post box.

So let’s say you took the risk and sent an item through the post.

You then receive an email from the buyer, loaded with exclamation marks, saying they haven’t got their item yet.

You may not even receive an email from the buyer. The marketplace may simply send you a notification that the buyer has requested a refund due to “item not received.”

How To Get Extra Seller Protection

If you’re not satisfied with the level of protection of using standard post, then there are other options available to you.

Check out our in-depth article on seller protection with tracking or signature confirmation.

And if you’re using PayPal, then you should be aware of some extra dangers. Check out our article on how to spot fake PayPal notification emails.