Before selling travel souvenirs on eBay, beware

When selling souvenirs online, be careful

Some travelers buy lots of souveniers. Or when they decide to move after many years in one place, tchotchkes are collected. Then, many folk sell their travel mugs, dolls, plates, and  bobbleheads on eBay. This is a seller-beware story for anyone who is planning on selling these travel remembrances.

eBay reportedly started out as a way to trade Pez dispensers. While that story has been debunked, the site, originally “a marketplace for the sale of goods and services for individuals,” has become big business. For many sellers, it’s a livelihood.

I sometimes use eBay to sell the occasional souvenir

Personally, I’ve generally found eBay fun. While I don’t sell that much, it’s been a way to sometimes sell extra sports tickets, along with the occasional souvenir or tchotchke. (Nobody needs duplicate bobbleheads, for example.) The site takes about 9 percent in fees, and another 3 percent in Paypal fees. However, they also allow you to donate some of the proceeds to a good cause, which I enjoy.

As much as eBay encourages people to sell, the company has become more corporate- and buyer-focused. The site has a “feedback” system. In theory, individuals can see if the person they are working with is reliable. Some years ago, however, eBay eliminated the ability to give any negative feedback to a buyer. So that meant if someone didn’t pay, or caused other problems, all you could do was file a claim, not warn others. (And in the case of selling tickets, for example, this could be a problem, as they are time sensitive.)

I’ve had very few issues over the years, though enough to be careful.

Click here to subscribeOne buyer bought a gift card, used it, but apparently was using a fraudulent bank account, so eBay took the money back because I kept the delivery confirmation. The most recent scam will have me drastically curtailing my eBay use. It’s only about a $20 loss, but others can, and have, lost a lot more. Here’s my sad story.

I had an extra baseball stadium giveaway Bruce Bochy mug. Now, these things are not exactly fine china. But I had opened the package to make sure it was fine, and it was untouched other than that.  I sold it for about $13 with most of the proceeds being donated. But the buyer seemed odd, with precise instructions about packing and listing the item number on the box, and clearly English was not their first language. I Googled them.  I immediately saw “Shop Airlines America,” and that was a problem. It took only a few minutes to see dozens of Ebay sellers claiming this was a scam outfit. It buys for the Japanese market, with several account names, and often claims fake damages, in many cases weeks after receiving the item.

The complaints were that they would claim damage, try to keep the item, or demand it be returned. Even with sellers stating “no returns,” eBay would back up these scammers. AND that eBay would charge the sellers for shipping both ways, so they were out shipping costs at least. Sometimes sellers didn’t get the item back, or got a damaged item back. (Some sellers thought the buyer damaged or changed their item.) Complaints also included that this company paid quickly, so sellers would originally say they were reliable, then file for the return later when feedback cannot be changed.

Trying to get help from eBay

VPN: Key for Travelers' Internet Security DownloadSo, I managed to call eBay, no easy task, and spoke to a representative in its “Trust and Safety Department.”  I told her I was considering cancelling the sale because of all the negative online stories. The woman was nice, and said, “Oh, you’ve been on eBay for a long time, you have great ratings, it should be fine.” She gave me a reference number if there were problems. And against my gut feeling — hey, it was only about $20 total — I packaged the mug, in a padded box, as directed, sent it, and noted it was received the next day.

Two WEEKS later, I get a “buyer wants to return item”  email, claiming “damage.”  (The paint wasn’t perfect, a tiny speck not painted if you looked hard on the top, and the hair wasn’t painted perfectly — they called it a smudge, though upon looking closely it appears there was an extra brush stroke on an ear.)  And they demanded that if I wanted the mug back I had to not only refund them but pay return shipping.

It appears to be a large company. They hire people to look at the items and encourage them to find something wrong. It’s also quite possible they just decided they didn’t like the way the item looked. But at this point I responded and said, “there’s no damage, but as a goodwill gesture I will take it back, but YOU pay the return shipping.”

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I was glad I had the reference number. I called the eBay rep and said, “Uh, this is what I was worried about; there is nothing wrong with the item, it was advertised ‘new in box.’ That’s what it is.” But again, it’s a giveaway item, for goodness sake, not an expensive collector’s piece.

I ended up paying more than the item’s sales price.

At this point it’s the principle of the thing. Long story short, eBay, as others had warned, told me they decided in the buyer’s favor. eBay issued Shop Airline America a full refund, after they returned it at my expense. So I actually paid more in round-trip shipping, and about $1 in the Paypal fees. More than the item sold for.

Is this amount of money going to affect my life? No. But it’s pretty clear these Shop Airlines America folks have figured out a risk-free way to buy a lot of stuff. They know that they can complain about a certain percentage of it. And that many sellers will just refund automatically, and if not, eBay will take their side, since they buy a lot … meaning a lot of seller fees to eBay.

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For many sellers on eBay, selling IS their job, or their “side hustle” that provides money they really need. Fortunately, most people, and buyers, are decent, despite all the claims about “Seller Protection,” especially if it’s something valuable.

It’s a buyer’s market and seller beware, especially when selling cheap souvenirs or valuable antiques.