EBAY and it’s (plausibly) illegal UK practices

Recently, I had the unfortunate experience of discovering just how inept the eBay customer service truly is. After hearing many a horror story (as one usually does regarding companies of this size) about the services eBay provides during ‘disputes’ between a buyer and seller, I’d come to hope I would never have to live one of these stories for myself. Fortunately, in my many years using eBay I’d yet to come across a situation that required eBay to ‘step-in’. That was until recently.

To cut a long story short I’d ordered an item off eBay from what I thought seemed like a completely reputable seller. No bad feedback, descriptive listings and authentic photos. All good so far. The item, however, never arrived. I contacted the seller who apologised and said they were sending out a new one. I got an email from eBay saying the seller had added tracking information, so I thought my item would be here within a few days. I never even bothered to check the tracking number as I was under the impression that it would arrive soon. After a week, though, I started to grow concerned and decided to check the tracking. To my horror, I saw the Royal Mail page display that the item had been delivered/collected. Confused, I quickly checked the entire history and saw that apparently they had attempted to deliver the item to no answer. Then, the next day, it showed the package having been collected from a Post Office Depot near me (although I came to learn later that it was not the closest depot to me, which becomes important further into the events). There was also a signature on the item signed what looks like ‘L. Kelly’ (R Kelly’s younger, British brother perhaps?). It is safe to say, this is not my name.

I quickly informed the seller of this, bearing in mind it had been almost a week since the item had apparently been collected. I received no answer. Two days later, I messaged the seller again, confused about the location of my item; I again received no response. At this point, after seeing the big banner displayed saying something to the tune of ‘if the seller doesn’t respond or if you’re not happy then ask us to step in’ – I clicked the button and described in detail the events, highlighting the signature etc. thinking that any right minded person would see there was an issue.

The next morning, I woke up to an email from eBay saying they’d sided with the seller and I could not get a refund or replacement. They cited the tracking number as evidence the seller had sent me the item. I responded pointing out quite angrily that the item had been signed for by someone completely different so quite clearly I didn’t have my package. No avail. They replied as such;

I have underlined in red the ‘exact location’ as this is important. Also, take note of the amount of typos involved in this. It does not fill me with confidence when the person tasked with resolving disputes cannot even correctly type out an email.

So, feeling rather helpless at this point, I contacted Royal Mail complaints line, and after speaking with a lovely and helpful gentleman (we’ll call him Jack) there I started to realise just how inept eBay’s advisors really are. Jack informed me that the depot the package was collected from, even though it is in the same town as me, it is not the depot my item should have been sent to, as there is one much closer in the local village. He also expressed concern at the fact somebody had signed for the item as they are supposed to provide identification. Jack said that there could have been an issue with labelling (for example, if the customer had scribbled the address on wrong or something) but we wouldn’t know unless the seller provided the proof of postage. My mind clicked. Can’t you see the delivery address with the tracking number? No. Oh my god. “Jack, are you telling me that the tracking number doesn’t show where the parcel is supposed to go, it simply shows where it’s been on it’s journey?” I asked. The response was yes. I’d never known that. I just assumed it would be with the tracking number. Then I thought back, he’s right, when I’ve posted tracked items, my receipt had the tracking number and the delivery address on it. That is the proof of postage. So the seller could, if they wanted, have attached literally any old tracking number. You need the receipt/proof of postage to prove that tracking number was meant for my house (or ‘location’ as they put it).

I quickly devised an email to eBay detailing my findings; a solid case, I thought. I was wrong.

This time, they state the reason the case is closed is because the tracking number ‘shows there was first an attempted delivery of the item at your location’. That’s funny. I could have sworn I just pointed out how’s there no way to prove that without the proof of postage. I’ll try telling them again.

I sent them another correspondence, this time stating how Royal Mail had suggested that, for example, the item could have been mislabelled and the proof of postage would show if this were the case.

Oh my god. It is like speaking to a brick wall. Notice how, after two explanations of the workings of the Royal Mail Track and Trace service, they still don’t get it. Serena even informs me, that proof of postage ‘would not be considered sufficient proof of delivery for the shipment’. So, we’ve already confirmed that the tracking number shows no delivery address. We’ve also confirmed the proof of postage would show both the tracking number and delivery address. In what realm, is more evidence considered less evidence? Mind boggling ineptitude.

Also, notice how they turned my example of what could have possibly happened into ‘if Royal Mail have confirmed…’. – I never said that they confirmed anything. I said its one of the possibilites which requires proof of postage to know, as it would have the delivery address on it. Once again showing the brilliance of eBay customer service. I, however, was not deterred. I’ll explain this again, I thought. Maybe I’m not being detailed enough. This time, they’ll get it.

Once again; typos. So unprofessional. Notice the line, ‘delivered to your location, or very close to your location’. They’re slowly getting a bit better, because earlier they stated my exact location, like some kind of MI5 spies or something. But still, this point highlights the issue; they are using the fact that the item was delivered ‘somewhere near me’ and therefore that means in their eyes I have no right to claim a refund or new item. So what should i do? Walk through the town centre shouting to see if anyone has it?

I’ll take this moment to also point out that; in the case of lost packages where it is Royal Mail’s fault, for whatever reason, the only person who can claim compensation is the seller. In this case, all the seller would have to do is provide proof of postage clearly showing my correct deivery address and the tracking number to Royal Mail; then ask why I had never received a failed delivery notice and why someone with a different name to myself, the addressed recipient, was allowed to sign for and collect the package (as they should require ID for the name on the parcel). At that point, Royal Mail would have to accept liability and provide the seller with compensation.

So why was I, the buyer, doing all the running around? And getting told to speak to the courier? When that is the seller’s job. Also, why hadn’t the seller responded to me? Surely it was a simple matter of contacting Royal Mail with the proof of postage? Unless, of course, they checked their receipt and saw they had in fact mislabled the package? Or maybe they simply never kept the receipt at all, and knew that without it they couldn’t claim compensation. Either way, they were leaving me to pick up the tab, and eBay, even with it’s supposed ‘Buyer Protection’ was providing them the cover to do it.

Fortunately, during this email escapade, I called eBay’s customer service as I wanted to speak to someone with a bit more brain power. I did not find what I sought. The first woman I spoke to, an American called ‘Anne’, recited the same nonsense as the email team of Arjav, Barun B, Serena and Shiva K. Anne also seemed completely incapable of processing the information regarding Royal Mail’s policies and how its track and trace service worked. She kept telling me how the tracking number proved the item was sent to me, and would not listen to my requests for a proof of postage. Eventually, exasperated, I asked to speak to a manager.

An hour later, I received a call from the manager who did, to be fair, kind of seem like she was grasping what I was saying, although, I do also get the feeling she was just trying to get rid of me. After a brief conversation, I was transferred to PayPal.

Enter intelligence

I explained the situation to my new friend at PayPal, we’ll call him Derek, and he informed me that I was absolutely correct, they do require proof of postage. “Derek, did this person send the item to me via your own PayPal Royal Mail service?” – Nope, they did it themselves. The possibility the seller may have mislabled the package became more prevalent. 5 minutes later Derek had filed a dispute. I’d won. I thought. Until, 15 minutes later, when I received an email from PayPal saying my dispute had been closed. Confused, I called back, and after explaining the situation the advisor apologised and said it was the system automatically closing the dispute because a tracking number had been provided. (Concerning, perhaps that system needs a check) However, she again reiterated that Derek and myself were correct; proof of postage is required. So she automatically refunded me on the spot to stop it happening again.

Still, a lot of questions need answering:

  • Why did my delivery never get to me? Why was nothing put through the door? And why was someone allowed to sign for and collect my parcel with a djfferent name?
  • Why did eBay customer service consistently give me the wrong advice? Why did they tell me, the buyer, to contact Royal Mail when it is clearly the seller who has a contract with them?
  • Why did eBay not insist the seller cooperate with myself to locate the package, considering the Royal Mail policy forbids me from being able to claim compensation if the item were lost?
  • Why, when presented with the facts, did eBay’s customer service show a complete lack of understanding and critical thinking to see the simple meaning of what I was saying?
  • How are such incompetent people put in charge of solving disputes when they quite clearly lack the local knowledge and training required to do the job?

This should be deeply concerning as it is evidence of widespread institutional malpractice on behalf of eBay customer service and it’s UK focussed practices. How many buyers have fallen victim to this flawed dispute system? How many have been left out of pocket whilst eBay keeps the commision?

eBay, as the countries largest online marketplace has a duty to train staff to deliver correct information and non-bias decision making on behalf of all it’s UK and worldwide customers. To fix this issue, all that would be required is to ask sellers for Proof of Postage along with the tracking number when concerning Royal Mail SignedFor shipments. And also, advisors should be encouraged to investigate disputes before making a decision. Using the excuse ‘tracking showed the item was delivered somewhere near your location’ is not sufficient evidence to close a dispute in the sellers favour. And in such cases, instead of closing disputes, eBay should be ecouraging sellers to cooperate with the buyers.

What would I have done, if say, eBay decided the seller was right, PayPal had agreed and the seller refused to respond to me? I couldn’t speak to Royal Mail about it, as that is the seller’s job, and they’re not responding. eBay is saying ‘well it was attempted to be delivered to somewhere near your location so we can’t help you’. I would be stuck with no options and no item.

And I reckon that’s happening more than we realise.