Ebay – such a mixed bag


Buying stuff off ebay can be such a mixed experience – sometimes things go smoothly, and sometimes it feels like there is a problem with just about everything you’re buying at the moment.

Of course it can vary depending on what kind of things you buy: new or used, Buy It Now stuff or auctioned items.

Generally I think the used things that you buy at auction can be dealt with pretty smoothly because you base your impression of the condition of the item on the seller’s description – if it arrives damaged or not as described then a return/refund case is quite clear-cut (although I suppose some such sellers can play difficult and as a buyer you have to remain calm and patient and let the ebay/PayPal system sort things out).

I think I buy mostly new (or some used but working) Buy It Now items; from little odds and ends for my home, bike or business, to more substantial things (I bought my bedroom carpet via ebay). I don’t particularly like buying little odds and ends off ebay because I would prefer to support a local business, but visiting them and looking round takes time and often you don’t find what you are looking for, I also consider the carbon footprint involved in transporting all those little packets purchased via ebay (I generally visit the shops by bicycle – so there a minuscule carbon footprint right there); I combat the ebay carbon footprint inflicted by small purchases a little buy buying multiples of things that I know I will use eventually (sadly the lack of postage discounts fail to encourage this practice with ebay encouraging sellers to offer ‘free’ postage).

Here’s a rant/run-down of some recent problem purchases:

A small electronic buzzer – I’ve just filed a return on this because it doesn’t work.

Electric boxes – these are silly; they are poor quality and as such they arrived damaged. I mentioned I wasn’t happy with the quality to the seller… and they’re sending replacements; the same ones again I assume *sighs*.

Computer RAM – wasn’t packaged correctly even though the seller was meticulous in their listing about how it would be packaged; and thus arrived faulty. Actually I was surprised that the guy phoned me the following morning, apologised profusely (blaming the new lad), and had a working replacement with me the next day. He didn’t ask for the faulty one to be sent back – sometimes this frustrates me because it’s pointless if the item is scrap, and more so if it’s at my expense, and even more so because of the delay in receiving the replacement… sometimes it’s quicker order to place a fresh order (with somewhere else) and then return the problem one for a refund.

A bed sheet – out of stock. This really shouldn’t happen on ebay because sellers should only be listing things they have in stock. If it’s something you need quick then you can lose a day (or however it has taken them to tell you it was out of stock); and then there is the hassle of re-searching for an alternative.

A tablet cover – they were available in many colours, I chose yellow (for a client) and the one received was clearly a green one… they amended their listing following my return request to show yellow was now out of stock, so it seemed to me they thought they could get away with sending the green one out anyway. In the end I offered the green one to my client and they were happy enough with it (it avoided me sending it back and then waiting another week).

Rucksack, combs and toothbrushes. Sometimes you just can’t gauge the size or quality of an item you see in a picture or two – the rucksack was surprisingly large but in the end it would have cost me to return it and the smaller replacement wouldn’t have saved me any money in the end either – I resorted to modifying the one I bought (with a couple of cable ties no less) and felt happy enough with it. The combs and toothbrushes were purchases I thought I could economise on by buying in bulk, but both sets were poor quality (the combs are very brittle and the bristles of the toothbrushes splay out after a while, a problem I’ve never had with a £3 toothbrush. Actually the first set of combs never arrived and I got a refund (and then the hassle of sourcing alternatives.)

And I really should include the two cars my brother has bought off ebay – two sellers knowingly selling shoddy motors, yet there seems (as is with the case of most privately purchased motors) little you can do when they break down within 100 miles and learn they were really scrap all along (but didn’t look it).

I’ll end with some memorable happy ebay purchases – both used items:

The light fittings won on auction for my living room – well packaged and just as expected/hoped.

My pre-loved coffee machine. It was so eloquently described in the listing… “has been glued together… but works fine” (which suits my house) and then the hand-written instructions (that I could just about read – although he did offer to send me a typed up version if I wanted). I’ve had it for a year and I’m still enjoying using it.

Does everyone else have such a mixed experience on Ebay?


  1. I’m a seller on eBay and it’s a nightmare. I’ve pretty much given up. The fees are so ridiculous that I don’t know how anyone can sell small inexpensive items and offer free shipping anymore. I like to sell small inexpensive items but I always end up giving the items away or losing money. It’s my fault for not charging more but if I charge more, then I don’t get buyers. If someone complains and I have to refund them, I ended up losing the item and the money so I only sell things now once in a great while if I think that I can actually make a profit. Sometimes the transactions go smoothly and everything goes great and sometimes you can tell that there’s going to be problems right from the start.

    • That has been my experience too. The sellers that sell masses of inexpensive stuff I’m convinced many acquire their stock from failed business for next to nothing. Some I have a suspicion are selling masses of stuff at a loss but then selling on the details about all their buyers, since I’ve found myself on a few mailing lists after making particular purchases (ebay doesn’t condone this practice but it’s hard to police). And now I mostly just sell on things I got given – I usually do a stint, like I did one in December and it feels nice to get rid of a load of stuff at that time when people are looking for presents. Sadly I think ebay has become too serious and commercialised – I think many individuals feel priced out of it, and bullied when it comes to returns.

      • I’ll do that once in awhile too… put a bunch of stuff on at one time and do okay but then the next time, I won’t get any buyers at all. It’s certainly not like it used to be. I will buy things once in awhile and when I do, I always look for an item that looks like it’s being sold by an individual rather than some soul-less corporation but it doesn’t seem like there’s many left.

  2. I’ll echo the above comments having used ebay since last century its been on a steady decline of quality, and for all the “protection” advertised when something goes wrong you’re out on your own with full loss for the transaction. Between the fees and unrealistic buyers demands selling is now something that a private person will just make a loss on, for the final money received on a sale I’m always better off doing some other work with my time and this includes products up towards $1000 in value, if you aren’t selling volume of the same item the time spent administering the system doesn’t make it worth it.

    For another point to the rant I’ll add; sellers who have multiple stores selling similar but not entirely the same range, who pull the same “I’m out of stock how about a different product or refund”, then you get this same response several times as you work through their multiple stores (which have no indication they are fronts for the same importer).

    • Regarding your second point, I have had this suspicion with the Chinese sellers of small electronic items; it often seems that there is one factory producing a range of certain products and then a number of individuals (or groups) within that factory with their own ebay store selling the stock (perhaps all overseen by one linchpin), so yes, when an item goes out of stock, all the sellers falter.

  3. I really hate the auction aspect since no one bids until the last few minutes and then the price goes up very quickly. Some people like the “win” feeling of this but I prefer the buy it now option better.

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