Ask The Consumerists

Julia’s got an eBay protocol question for you:

    “I bought a DVD on eBay…[it] arrived, and though the package was new and unopened, the DVD inside was cracked in half. I asked for my money back and was told I’d have to mail the DVD back at my own expense. That doesn’t seem fair… so I started a Paypal dispute, only to find that Paypal’s own policies say that if the item cost less than $25, you have to send it back to the seller at your own expense.”

Julia thinks it’s wrong for her to have to send it back at her expense. Is she right? What can she do?


Edit Your Comment

  1. QuasiInformed says:

    It’s Ebay! I have always considered Ebay to be a kin to a flea market. Buy if the price is much better than an established retailer, but with the understanding that if anything is wrong it may or may not be taken care of and I will eat the loss.

    We don’t know specifics of the ebay seller, but it seems very possible that it became “acceptable [to] . . . send a defective item back at their own expense” when the consumer bought from a site where buyer payment for return shipping is specified.

  2. Ben Sherman says:

    It costs $1.59 to mail a DVD first class anywhere in the US.

    Just *do it*.

  3. This is definitely not the most ethical option, but unless the DVD is super rare you can probably find it at Borders or Best Buy or something. Most of them are pretty lax on returns, and if you go in and insist that you bought the DVD there and lost the receipt, they’ll do a straight up exchange.

    Alternatively, would you have to pay if you just wanted to return the DVD? If not, you could just return and rebuy instead of getting a “replacement.”

  4. Anabelle says:

    eBay is not a superstore; it’s individuals (in most cases) selling to other individuals. As a buyer at eBay, if I choose not to pay extra for postal insurance (I think it’s about $1.40 these days), I take the risk that my item could arrived damaged by handling in the postal system, and I will have no recourse. The seller is under no obligation to replace the item; Julia is lucky that her seller offered to take the DVD back at all.

    As a seller, when it comes to fragile items I always encourage buyers to choose insurance so that their money can be refunded by USPS if something breaks. With really valuable fragile items, I *require* the buyer to purchase the insurance. It’s the only protection from this sort of situation. Caveat emptor!

  5. RandomHookup says:

    Heck, just break it completely in 2 and send it back in a regular envelope. That’s a small price to pay to get a refund (especially if you didn’t elect to buy shipping insurance if offered).

    I think it’s pretty standard in the eBay world to require recipient to ship back at own expense. It prevents the rip off artists who inhabit that realm.

    You get your say in the feedback, but so does the seller. Saying you asked for refund, but refused to send the damaged item back looks pretty bad.

  6. ExVee says:

    It may not be right from, like, a moral perspective, but it’s pretty common practice. You’d even run into such things at some web stores. While the nicer ones will tend to reimburse you for your return shipping cost (while some still nice but not as nice will do so in the form of store credit rather than a credit to your original payment method), you really should generally expect to be responsible for the upfront cost of return shipping.

    I’m also inclined to say this isn’t unreasonable in a situation where the seller is not demonstrably at fault. Such as if the DVD case had been missing its shrink wrap, case, or was packaged in an unpadded mailer. (Like maybe just the case directly wrapped in brown paper. Anyway…) While these may not be absolute indicators of failure on the part of the seller, it would make it appear more likely than fault in transit. If you purchased shipping insurance, obviously you’d probably do well to try to take that route, although that will have to go through the seller in most cases.

    I’m really thinking here that if the case was factory sealed still, then the fault more likely lies with the Post Office or whatever means was used to have it delivered to you. In such a case, it stops being the seller’s automatic responsibility unless you got insurance for it. If not, and the seller is willing to take it back for a refund or replacement – and you won’t like this next part – you probably should be grateful, and eat the return shipping. Your alternative is to eat the cost of the entire purchase and have nothing to show for your money, and no further recourse.

    When I sell stuff on Ebay, I make it very clear that unless the buyer purchases insurance, I’m not going to be held responsible for anything that happens once I hand it across the counter at my post office. And if insurance is bought, I’m not doing anything but filing the necessary claim forms. That you apparently have someone who’s willing to accept your return, sounds like you got lucky. Unless your seller decides to change on that, if he knows you filed a Paypal dispute.

    If you do decide to send it back, I suggest registered mail, with signature confirmation, assuming it’s not automatically part of the registered mail process. It’ll cost you more, but if the seller decides to claim it never arrived, you can get proof of delivery. Having the person’s signature will be even better. Otherwise, you’d be totally screwed. Sorry I couldn’t give you an answer you wanted to hear.

  7. Ben Popken says:

    David writes:

    “I had a similar problem — the vendor sent the wrong disc (from Canada no
    less) and wanted the original back at my expense before shipping the
    correct one. When I complained, she backed off, sent me the correct one
    and refunded my shipping costs, so it worked out OK.

    I don’t believe there’s a hard rule that the vendor MUST absorb return
    shipping costs if it’s their error. The good ones do (then again, the
    top-notch mail-order companies don’t need to resort to selling via EBay).
    Places like LLBean send you a business-reply label for returns. If it’s
    their error, they absorb the cost; if it’s your error they debit your
    refund a small (and fair) shipping fee.

    For Julia, well — that’s what negative feedback is for.”

  8. Rick Dobbs says:

    I don’t think this is a negative feedback situation. You could do neutral. That stuff happens and it’s part of the cost of doing business on eBay. Don’t ding the seller because the mailman fucked it up.

  9. SecureLocation says:

    PayPal blows. They offer very little protection from bum deals, although they promote themselves like they’re making your purchase safe. They’re owned by eBay and it’s all part of their scam to make people feel comfortable buying stuff there. DO NOT for a moment think that you will become financially whole if you get burned on eBay and paid through PayPal. You never will be.

  10. Old Hag says:

    I may be missing something here, but presumably the seller has no use for a cracked DVD either–or its packaging. Why not just take a digital picture of the cracked item and ask for a refund in good faith?

    Please, anyone, feel free to point out the hole in my logic, because there usually is one.

  11. Special K says:

    Old Hag- thats a pretty good and simple idea.

    On a different tangent, I just wanted to let everyone know how dangerous it can be to use paypal, especially as a seller. Me and many others have had their PP accounts (and all assets in it) frozen without reason for indefinite periods of time. Paypal is not a bank, so you are afforded none of those customary protections.

    Please visit and

  12. SeekBalance says:

    A cracked disc in an unopen case is not automatically the fault of the seller. Maybe if they packed it poorly, but that kind of info is usually missing in these complaints.

    Paying for shipping is the price of doing business online, as a buyer. It’s not like the seller pocketed that money (unless they’re 50% of eBay sellers who really overcharge), it went to a 3rd party (the shipper). There’s no free way to get it back to the seller. Yes, most of the time the price of insurance is a rip-off because you don’t need it, but that’s the nature of insurance of any kind. Usually on really cheap items, it’s not worth the time to file a claim and go through the hassle of getting reimbursed, therefore it’s not worth the cost of buying insurance in the first place.

    As a seller, if the buyer is REALLY unhappy, I’ll consider refunding the shipping (even though I don’t have that money, it went to USPS) or I’ll try to make it up to them in another way, but it depends on how they approach the situation. If you’re an ass, your SOL. If you’re nice, so am I. I have one negative feedback from a jerk who wanted his shipping refunded, even though I paid for him to ship it back and I paid to re-ship him another one. In hindsight I wish I had refunded it to him, that one negative really irks me, without that I would have a 100%. But there’s no guarantee that he wouldn’t have done it anyway, like I said, he was an jerk.

    Oh yeah, Paypal does suck for some people, but the percentage of users is actually pretty small. It’s good that you speak up though, but every service has a percentage of people that are unhappy with it. Type the name of just about any company and “sucks” in google and you’ll find a web page devoted to horror stories. But happy customers don’t usually exert the same effort in posting their pleasant dealings with companies. I read sites like that so that I’m making an informed decision when I choose to use their service, so I’m glad they’re out there. I have been using Paypal since its inception and have not been screwed. Yet.

  13. cindykop says:

    HELP. I was at Javier’s in Irvine Spectrum (Irvine, California) Saturday night. I had the rudest experience with the manager. We had seven of us dining and enjoying ourselves. It was a birthday dinner for two of my friends. We had only been dining for an hour and a half and ordering food and drinks. We ordered another round of drinks when the manager came over and asked if he could have our table because there was a long wait. he didn’t really ask though, he told us he had a big problem and needed our table because there was a long wait for big tables. The bus boys then swiftly came over and bussed our table throwing away all of our drinks. Mind you in the meantime I just paid for the drinks which cost $50. Our tab was well over $350 so it’s not like we were a cheap group taking up space. This was really rude and embarrassing. What would you do? Also, how can the manager charge us for drinks that they threw out? I was so embarrassed because I recommended the restaurant that I didn’t notice the drinks were all thrown out until I already paid for them..

  14. honest1 says:

    I’ve recently noticed someone (probably the maintenance man–or the landlord) has been stealing from my apartment.
    What would you all suggest regarding documenting this legally (i.e. professional security video surveillance? my own hidden video cams?)
    They have stolen the following: DVDs of 1 of my favorite TV shows (at least $50 worth) and a steak knife!
    I’m hesitant to replace the stolen items, as I’m guessing they’ll only be stolen again.
    I live alone, so I know whomever is stealing from me has a key to my 2nd floor apartment.
    Please post with replies on how best to get this all on videotape (or if I should leave that to the police.)
    Honest1 (but ticked off!)