If you follow me on Twitter, you know that between writing chapters for Your Money: The Missing Manual I’ve been wrestling with eBay “customer service”. Note the quotes. It’s difficult to tell the full story in 140-character chunks, though. Since Robert started the day with a post about his adventures on Craigslist, let’s end it with with one about my adventures on eBay.

I’ve been using eBay since September 1998. I’ve bought and sold items of all shapes and sizes. (I’ve even sold two laptop computers.)

In 11+ years, I’ve never had a problem as a seller. People have always paid promptly, communicated well, and been easy to work with. I’ve had a couple of glitches as a buyer, though, and have had to leave negative feedback a few times. But I’ve never had trouble like this before.

Note: This is the rantiest post I’ve put up in a very long time. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, I don’t blame you. You can just jump to the end for some links to other eBay-related articles.

Down the rabbit hole
One of the joys of eBay is finding listings from those spelling- and grammar-impaired folks Robert mentioned earlier today. Some people use tools like FatFingers to find these hidden gems. I like to stumble on them randomly. I found one such auction in the middle of October. The title read: “HUGE LOT,MARVEL,DC,ECLIPSE,DELL,COMICS,FROM 1950-1980′S” and this was the description:

OVER 600 COMICS,THIS COLLECTION HAS BEEN STORED AWAY FOR OVER 20 YEARS.THEY ARE IN EXCELLENT CONDITION FROM 1950 TO 1980′S A WIDE VARIETY OF MARVEL(MAJORITY)DC,ECLIPSE,DELL,THIS COLLECTION CONTAINED #1-#50 X MEN WICH HAVE BEEN SOLD ALREADY.SORRY THEY DO NOT COME WITH THIS AUCTION.THE REST OF THE COLLECTION IS UP FOR GRABS EVERY LAST COMIC I HAVE,I AM OFFERING THEM AT WHOLESALE COST I NEED TO SELL FAST AND WOULD LIKE TO GIVE THE YOUNG COLLECTOR THE SAME COST AS A DEALER AT FRANK AND SONS.IN THIS LOT U HAVE TOM AND JERRY,X MEN,KID COLT,GI JOE,NAM,PUNISHER#1,CAPTAIN AMERICA,GHOST RIDER,FANTASTIC 4,CONAN,SHEENA,RAWHIDE KID AND MORE,DC COMICS,SUPERMAN,GREEN LANTERN,JUSTICE LEAUGE,BLACK HAWK#1,WONDER WOMAN,FLASH,LAUREL AND HARDEY#1,HUGE SELECTION OF ARCHIE,BETTY,KATY KEENE AND MANY LOVE COMICS, THIS IS A GREAT COLLECTION AT A GREAT PRICE. GOOD LUCK THE BUY IT KNOW IS AVERAGING TO A QUARTER A COMIC YES .25 CENTS!

I don’t expect you to read that (well, except the part I bolded). I could barely read it myself. Instead, I took a look at the two photos that went with the auction. With some clever detective work, I was able to figure out that the comics I could see were probably worth around $200. Since there were many more unseen, I figured like this might be a good deal. Factoring in the seller’s low feedback (they were new to eBay) and the $80 shipping charge (comics are heavy), I decided to place a bid of $120 — which would have given me the lot for $200 or less if I won. Which I did.

Then things got hairy:

  • I paid for the comics on October 21st using Paypal. The seller didn’t respond.
  • I contacted the seller through the eBay messaging system on October 29 and November 3 but received no response.
  • I sent personal e-mail on November 5, and the seller replied at last, saying the item would be shipped on November 6.

The item shipped on November 9 and reached me on November 12. I felt relieved when I saw the box on the porch. But that only lasted for a moment. It was much, much too small to contain the promised 600 comics. Sure enough: The box contained exactly 120 comics, most of which were in mediocre to lousy condition. What’s more, they were the dregs of the lot, stuff nobody would want.

Note: The best part of the story (or the worst point, depending on your viewpoint, I guess) was that the box contained not just “love” comics, but porn comics. I didn’t know such a thing existed. I find this hilarious since the auction was listed as good for the “YOUNG COLLECTOR”. I guess it’s better that I won it instead of some kid, right?

I immediately sent the seller e-mail. I received no reply, of course.

Down the rabbit hole
On November 13, I began the process of trying to get my money back. PayPal and eBay trumpet their buyer protection, trying to make the user feel secure that if something like this happens, it’ll be a piece of cake to get a refund. Hahahahahaha! That’s not the case.

The first sign of trouble came when I followed the link about PayPal buyer protection. That all seems easy, right? Well, click on the link for the “dispute resolution process” and this is what you get: a frickin’ legal agreement. That thing is 24 pages long when printed. Right or wrong (and I suspect it’s “wrong” in this case), I opted to use the eBay dispute resolution process instead. (PayPal is a subsidiary of eBay, so I figured it didn’t make a difference which site I used.)

I opened a “case” describing the process and saying I wanted a full refund. eBay sent an automated message that told me to wait for a week so the seller could respond. On November 20, eBay sent me another e-mail that said “the seller should have responded by now”. Yes, they should have — but they hadn’t. I asked eBay to make a final decision. Their reply?

Since you’ve asked eBay Customer Support to handle this case, you don’t need to take any more action. Please wait for Customer Support to make a final decision on this case. We’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

Awesome, right? Well, not really.

I waited 48 hours. And another 48 hours. I waited some more.

I sent e-mail asking why I hadn’t heard from them. No reply. I dug around the eBay site until I found a phone number for customer service. But following the phone tree to the thing I needed always caused me to be disconnected. I went into “live chat” with what might have been a real person (but seemed like a bot, to be honest), who gave me another number to call. I called that number, and at long last has a real person to talk to.

I gave the customer service rep all of the info about the case, including the item number, and the fact that it had been stalled in “case resolution” for two weeks. She asked me to describe the problem. ¿Que? Couldn’t she see the problem there on her computer? Well, no. So, I described the problem. She asked me what I wanted her to do. By this time I was very very tense. “I want my money back,” I said as calmly as I could. “I’m very frustrated because it’s been impossible to get any sort of service on this, and I just want the process to be done.”

“I understand, sir. Let me see what I can do to help,” she said. What she could do was e-mail a shipping label so that I could return the comics to the seller.

“You want me to send the item back to the seller before I get my money back?” I asked.

“Yes sir,” she said. I sat silent. It didn’t make any sense to me. I’ve shown that I can be trusted, but the seller hasn’t. So I am the one who has to take additional risk? The CSR talked on, trying to explain eBay’s reasoning, but it didn’t matter. I’d given up. I didn’t want a box full of “love” comics. It wouldn’t cost me anything to return them. And the sunk cost was irrelevant, right? I mean, I’d already paid the money, so it’s not a factor in the equation anymore.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll ship them back.” And I did. After I got off the phone (and tweeted my complaints), I drove to the post office and shipped the comics back to the seller.

And you know what? eBay still won’t automatically return my money. I have to call them back — wading through the terrible phone system again — after five days have elapsed. They say that after the seller receives the package, eBay will refund the purchase price (including shipping). I’ll believe it when I see it.

The end of a very long story
Yes, I know I sound like Ranty McRantsalot here, but I’m a frustrated fellow. You know how it is. In the grand scheme of things, $174.49 (which is what this cost me) isn’t going to break the bank. Mostly I feel embarrassed for doing some dumb things. There were plenty of warning signs that this deal could sour, but I ignored them because I thought I was going to score 600 comics for a fraction of their value. Instead, this has consumed several hours of my time and I have nothing to show for it (except this blog post).

Stuff like this is why I prefer to deal with small businesses that have real human beings I can talk to when something goes wrong.

For useful info on making the most of eBay, check out the following articles:

And that, my friends, is the end of Cranky Old Man Day. Robert shared his Craigslist woes and I shared my frustrations with eBay.

There are a lot of knuckleheads in this world who seem to get a kick out of screwing things up for the rest of us. Their petty victories gum up the system. That’s just one more reason I love the GRS community: I like to believe you folks are the opposite of knuckleheads. Thank you.

This article is about Odds and Ends, Real-Life, Shopping