Ah, Ebay. I've used it to buy and sell all kinds of low-value crap (old video games, more old video games, old camera lenses and so on) and all with no problems, but I suppose that had to come to an end at some point. But in any case, should something go wrong with an Ebay transaction, you're protected by Paypal and its Protection for Buyers, right? Well, maybe – but in some cases it's as useful as a chocolate teapot (those are probably available on Ebay, too). Anyhow, let me explain.
I needed, for various dull reasons, a component video cable for the Xbox 360. Amazon didn't have any to send out from its warehouse, so I took a look on ebay – and there I found this veritable bargain (clicky for a larger, legible version):
Note the picture of the Microsoft leads in their little plastic box, and the wonderful description: "don't risk buying cheap copies on ebay buy here and get the real thing". So, what showed up in the post? Clue: not "the real thing".
That's "the real thing", complete with HMV pricetag, on the right, and the pile of cheap knocked-off crap that arrived from my ebay friend on the left. Note that not only is it not the one advertised, but that it's a cheap and nasty fake – and also that the people who made it copied the wrong packaging, so it claims to be a VGA cable (oops). What you probably can't see from here is that the plugs themselves are crummy with scratched connectors. Yay for high quality.
So, I paid £6 or so for this. I'm not hugely bothered by losing £6, and nor am I bothered by someone selling knocked-off Xbox cables – but, had I wanted a cheap alternative, I could have bought one from any of the Ebay sellers who label these (cheap) goods properly and honestly. I wanted the real thing, chose a seller offering it at a good price, and paid up. Now I'd like my money back.
And so, to Ebay. I looked for an option to complain to the seller, but there is none – instead I had to open a dispute with Paypal. I filled in the form, describing the product as a fake item and "not as described", and submitted it. I expected Paypal to contact the seller, but instead I got a message saying that he was unavailable so the "disupute" had been escalated to a "claim". Splendid. At no point was I asked for proof of what had gone wrong.
So far so slightly odd. But then, a few days later, another email arrives from Paypal:
You may be eligible for a refund on this PayPal transaction.
To qualify for a refund, return the purchased item to the seller in the same condition you received it. Please do this within ten calendar days of receiving this email.
The amount of your refund is based on our Buyer Protection programs and we may not be able to repay the full amount of your transaction. Please review the Buyer Protection programs in our User Agreement before posting the item back to the seller.
You are responsible for all postage and packing costs of returning the merchandise.
So, in order to possibly get a refund of £6 or so, I'll have to pay £5 to send the item back (via registered, insured post just in case it should "mysteriously" fail to arrive with the ebay seller, or rather go straight in his bin). And I don't get that £5 back. The logical thing to do in cases like this is, of course, not to throw good money after bad – which will require me to cancel my claim, leaving the buyer to go on and con others the same way.
So, there you have it: for low value goods, or anything that'll cost a lot to transport relative to their initial cost, Buyer Protection is worthless. The seller, with his garage full of cheap crap, gets to keep selling it to people who think they're getting a proper licensed product. Paypal gets to carry on taking a cut of each payment to the dodgy seller. And the buyers? We get ripped off, write off the loss then go to HMV. Hurrah.
Update: as I said above, the sensible thing to do if you get ripped off in a situation like this is not to throw good money after bad. When it came to actually dropping my Paypal claim, however, I couldn't do it. So, despite it being the financially stupid move, I posted the cable back at the cost of a few quid – and, hurrah, got a refund. Net result: the lying seller doesn't get to keep my money, but the Royal Mail does. Meh.