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Dealing with eBay Returns Starts with Planning

eBay experts discuss strategies for handling returns.

For some online sellers, accepting eBay returns works. For others, it just doesn’t. They may find the cost is too great, or that items aren’t returned in the same condition as when they were shipped.

If our recent article on eBay returns is any indication, it seems safe to say that returns are controversial in the online selling world. Still, whether you decide to take returns, you should have a policy in place and a plan for how you’ll handle returns.

We take you through several aspects of the returns process and what you should cover in your eBay returns policy.

“Ultimately, you’ll have to decide if you will or won’t take returns, but whatever you decide, it’s important to state it in your listings or store policies”

Why is it important to set a policy?

Setting a returns policy is important so shoppers know what to expect when they buy from you. Buyers don’t like surprises, Rebecca Miller, an eBay merchant of more than 13 years, tells us.

Not having an eBay returns policy can lead to confusion for buyers and a negative buying experience, she adds. Some shoppers you work with may be inexperienced at buying online, and you want them to have a good time buying from you so they’ll come back regularly. To help, give them all the information about your policies right up front.

Ultimately, you’ll have to decide if you will or won’t take returns, but whatever you decide, it’s important to state it in your listings or store policies.

Miller’s eBay returns policy is simple: She doesn’t take them, though, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t get the occasional buyer who wants to send something back and asks if she can make an exception.

Miriam Otto, an eBay seller and the author of The eBay Life Blog, has a very liberal returns policy, she says.

“My return policy is simple: Don’t like it? Send it back!” she adds.

That’s the exact wording shoppers will notice on her listings.

Set return times and say who will pay

If you do decide to take returns, you’ll want to address a few things in your return policy.  eBay requires you let buyers know how long they have to return items, and that’s a good thing.

“If you left it open ended, you might have a buyer trying to return something a year later, and we’re not Costco,” Miller notes.

On eBay, you can choose between 14, 30 or 60 days. Next, you’ll want to select how you’ll give buyers refunds. Will you give them their money back if they return items, or will you do money back or exchange?

“‘You may discourage the renters,’ Miller explains. Those would be shoppers who buy items, use them a few times, then decide they no longer need them and return the products”

You’ll also want to let buyers know who will pay shipping costs for returning items and if you charge a restocking fee.

“A lot of buyers don’t realize how much shipping costs, and they may get sticker shock [if they pay for shipping costs],” Miller warns.

Buyers may also get a rude awakening if they learn you charge a restocking fee only after they contact you about returning a product. So put this information in your returns policy.

There is good and bad that comes with charging a restocking fee and passing the return shipping cost to buyers. For instance, doing so could discourage some shoppers from doing business with you, but it could also make them think twice before returning a product for no reason since the cost will be on their shoulders.

“You may discourage the renters,” Miller explains. Those would be shoppers who buy items, use them a few times, then decide they no longer need them and return the products. Miller says that’s a big challenge for clothing and accessories sellers who take eBay returns.

However, if you decide to charge a restocking fee, keep the amount fair, she adds. Charging a certain percentage of an item’s sale price is one option. You could also try a flat fee. Keep in mind, though, that if you sell on eBay and are opted in to its new managed returns center, you can’t charge a restocking fee on all items.

Specify condition, suggest return service

You’ll also want to let shoppers know under what conditions you take returns. Will you accept a return if a buyer ordered the wrong color by accident? Does the item need to be in the same condition you shipped it in? Should it be returned using a certain postal carrier?

The last question may sounds like overkill to some, but it can prevent issues. Buyers likely won’t know as much as you do about shipping carriers and services, and that could lead to problems. Miller has read about issues sellers have reported where they shipped items using one method, like Priority Mail boxes, only to get the items back crammed into a First Class envelope, resulting in damage to the product.

Buyers probably won’t do something like this to make returns tough on you; they just want to save on the postage cost, and may not think of all the hands a package passes through en route to its destination.

Otto says she lets buyers decided what shipping method they’ll use since she has shoppers pay the return shipping costs. Miller thinks it’s a good idea to give shoppers suggested shipping services for returns.

What will you do with the returned goods?

Once you have the item back, you’ll need to decide what you’re going to do with it. Will you resell the item? Will you write it off?

If your initial reaction is to resell the product, you’ll need to inspect “the heck out of it” to make sure you can resell it, and that you don’t have to update your listing when you repost it, since items might not be returned exactly as they left your store, Miller says.

“I’ve heard horror stories about people returning a broken item they already owned that looked just like the one they bought”

The condition will affect the resale price—and if you can resell the item at all. If your returned item was a new jacket that had its original tags, look for the tags. Have they been removed? If you sell shoes, inspect the bottoms and the insides for damage if a buyer returns them.

If the item is an electronic device, turn it on to make sure it’s still fully functional, Miller continues.

“I’ve heard horror stories about people returning a broken item they already owned that looked just like the one they bought [online],” she continues.

Once you’ve inspected the product, consider how much you would get for the item in its current condition. If it’s exactly as you sent it to your buyer, it likely makes sense to relist it. If there is wear, consider what its new price should be, how much shipping will cost and if it’s worth relisting. If you decide it is, make any changes necessary to its description before you relist it, and photograph any flaws it may now have to set the right expectations for shoppers.

You may decide to just keep the item if the wear lowers the item’s price too much. That’s fine, too.

If your item came from a drop shipper, check out the company’s return policy. Companies will likely have their own conditions returns must meet. We tried getting in touch with drop shipper Doba to see if it takes returns and what its processes are, but our request for an interview was never answered. Still, it’s worth checking out.

Whether you decide to take eBay returns or not is always up to you. But you should have a clear policy in place to set the right expectations for buyers and prevent problems.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • moomingirl1973

    I always thought you had to have a returns policy, especially considering Distance Sales Regs?

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