So you’re making purchases via eBay from somewhere in the world – the e-commerce giant and globalisation has made it possible to interact with this marketplace from almost anywhere. Whether you’re looking for a special edition DVD or a replacement battery for a wi-fi router, as was the case with this author, it’s a great starting point. The previous unit’s battery started to swell and it was time to replace to avoid it leaking or possibly exploding. This happens and the router had given a good life span considering the standard life of technology these days is about two years. Finding the right model for Huawei, it was a matter of weeks before the wi-fi router could be re-enabled.

Unfortunately, due to security restrictions the battery was unable to be shipped via Hong Kong mail according to the seller. The price was right, but it seemed that this particular product was a bit trickier to move between countries – as you can imagine they can be unstable. Having had the item returned, the seller hadn’t taken the opportunity to notify the buyer of the item’s delay, possibly hoping that they would never contact them again.

After making contact with the seller, who explained the situation, it was agreed that the unit would be dispatched via US Post. Surprisingly less stringent, perhaps this would be the way to get the right unit, which was expensive or difficult to find from South African online retailers. Having known what followed, it probably would have been the right decision to shop local to begin with. The eBay seller had a cheaper price, which was more attractive, but shipping had now turned from a few weeks into a few months with the seller explaining it would take 20-40 days to arrive.

The South African Post Office is infamously slow when it comes to internal post and it seems that it’s anyone’s guess when it comes to international shipping. Items arrive in the country, are examined by customs, who often open parcels to get a proper look before adjudicating the import tax. This often relates to the price of the product within the country, which can mean exorbitant fees when compared with the actual price of the product. It’s a tricky business, especially if the product’s original invoice isn’t enclosed.

After 40 days, the battery still hadn’t arrived. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to wait quite a while. After being hospitalised and distracted by health concerns, it was easy to lose track of time, having defaulted to using an old smartphone’s capabilities as a hotspot. When contacting the seller again to find out what had become of the now months delayed battery, there was no response. Realising that they had passed the amount of time where eBay could do anything, they were in the clear. The product had also been bought as a guest user, so there was an added blanket of security for the seller to disregard all emails attempting to make contact.

Wondering if this was part of a clever scam to delay and possibly never actually send promised merchandise, the guest buyer contacted eBay’s support to find out if there were any remedies or ways to get a refund. After a speedy response, possibly owing to the age of the order, the support team tried to track the guest order. It was necessary to create a new account in order to facilitate the support ticket. Having had another eBay account under the Paypal email, there was some confusion. Having sent a copy of the eBay email confirming the order, it took a number of officious back-and-forth emails before the support team could verify the order.

This was a long drawn out series of emails in which the author tried to explain, but kept getting told they were emailing from the wrong address. This in spite of copying the actual order confirmation into responses and insisting that it was in fact the right account. After being passed around between some support team members to the point of asking them not to process the refund, it eventually came out that this was in fact the email associated with the order as they connected it with the guest account that started the debacle.

Having waited months for a product that never arrived, trying to get a refund only to be met with derision, it was a lesson in eBay regulations and protocol. The ecommerce giant has some good policies, but this exercise proved that ordering online as a guest was a futile and stupid decision. It seemed that there was less protection in the long run and less trust from support, who probably deal with fraudsters on a daily basis. Being treated like a fool, having support mails coming back with sections in bold, it’s not an experience I’m going to repeat in a hurry.

Some items come with a 30 day money back guarantee, which secures your purchase, making it possible to return your goods for a full refund. This is a great option, giving you an added layer of security when making purchases via eBay. After finally getting some valuable information out of them, they informed me that the order was too old to extract a refund. The company wasn’t willing to contact the seller and instructed this author to pick the matter up with his bank. This is when I discovered Paypal have a 180 day policy relating to refunds.

If you purchased an item through eBay using Paypal, you have 180 days from the date of purchase to register a dispute. Unfortunately, for this author it was four days too late when an attempt was made to raise a dispute. Obviously the time taken is critical and you can’t expect your seller to have your best interests at heart.

The lessons have been learnt and being directed to my own bank, who have the ability to reverse stop orders even, it just seems like a bridge to far to keep going for what was originally a small to medium purchase. The experience has soured me to eBay’s customer services and made me distrustful of sellers, especially in the way the seller decided to withhold information. Sure, you may get a great price, but it hardly seems worth it for the longer wait and difficulty in protecting your spend when the product is no where to be seen.

When you purchase from any online retailer, make sure you read the returns policy. Some sellers will deduct an amount for handling or not return certain goods. It’s a great idea to make sure you know your rights. The Consumer Protection Act in South Africa gives you 7 days to change your mind and there are many suspect online retailers who will try and take advantage of customers who aren’t 100% in the know. The bigger story is that you should also know your options when it comes to instructing your payment platform or bank to withhold funds and even retrieve funds when it comes to avoiding bad consumer experiences.