Camera sales shemozzle highlights how eBay policies affect sellers

Alan Tessier had been buying and selling items on eBay for twenty years, but he had never run into problems like his most recent sale, which left him more than $1,000 poorer.

The Ottawa resident sold his Canon 90D camera in late February and sent it to the buyer, who bought it through the eBay marketplace. When the camera arrived, that person changed his mind and didn’t want to anymore.

Tessier said he was involved in 112 transactions on eBay, both as a buyer and seller, and that he felt “safe” using the site. This transaction was a different story.

The person in London, Ontario who bought the camera shared photos with Tessier that showed the camera was dirty, not the “pristine” condition he had sent it in.

Ebay ruled that the buyer had a valid claim and issued a refund. Tessier said he agreed to allow the company to purchase a prepaid return label. He also showed CBC a March balance from eBay, where he was charged $21.20 Cdn for shipping labels.

Alan Tessier holds the camera he bought after selling his Canon 90D on eBay. (Dan Taekema / CBC)

But the label the company provided was for the United States Postal Service, according to Tessier, which didn’t help when shipping anything within Ontario.

“Apparently because that didn’t work, they just threw their arms in the air,” he said.

Tessier says his camera was never returned. He did receive $160 from eBay, but that was nowhere near the value of the camera. After three months of frustration, he approached CBC.

On June 6, after CBC contacted eBay about the situation, Tessier said he received an email from the company saying they had paid him $985, the remaining amount he owed.

Ebay spoke to the seller and was able to “solve the issue amicably,” a spokesperson said in an email to CBC that same day.

VIEW | After months of battle eBay pays seller back after buyer goes into hiding with camera

After months of battle eBay pays seller back after buyer goes into hiding with camera

Alan Tessier sold his Canon 90D camera on eBay to a buyer in London, Ontario, who promptly complained about the condition and asked for a refund. eBay gave him one – but he never returned the camera, leaving Tessier over $1,000.

‘Seller beware’

Tessier said the process took frustrating months of phone calls and emails. Consumer attorney Daniel Tsai says this is a cautionary tale for anyone looking to sell through online platforms.

“To me, this is a salesperson situation, beware,” said Tsai, a Toronto business attorney. “In this case, the seller held the bag.”

EBay’s spokesperson said the company is taking complaints seriously and investigating. People who buy and sell on the site are protected by “policies, transaction monitoring and data systems,” according to the statement.

After reviewing eBay’s policies, Tsai had a different opinion.

“Contractually, there’s not much for the seller to do because eBay left it so ambiguous and didn’t give them any protection in the contract,” he said.

Daniel Tsai is a consumer lawyer who teaches corporate law in Toronto. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

That leaves little recourse for the seller, other than having to go through a “very lengthy, expensive and stressful small claims court process” while the buyer keeps his property and gets a refund, the lawyer said.

If this happened to a salesperson like Tessier who lost a “considerable” amount, “it probably happens to other people,” Tsai added.

Beware of scams and ‘acorns’

Tessier said he kept trying to contact the buyer because, as he said, “It’s $1,125. I mean, if it was a pair of shoes for $30, you’d say live and learn.”

All of his follow-up emails came back as “undeliverable.”

Tessier, a business analyst by trade, suggests eBay use an easy-to-find link for return labels. He also wants sellers to “read everything and make sure who pays for what”.

Tsai repeated Tessier’s feelings.

“Basically eBay should step up and protect these sellers as much as they protect the buyers,” he said.

“Sellers need to be so much more aware and aware to protect themselves from potential scams or buyers who are just jerks.”