What to Do When Your Email Doesn’t Get Through

Use other means to contact buyers and sellers, and avoid the most common cause of negative feedback.

Email is the life’s blood of the eBay community. Sellers use it to send payment instructions to buyers, buyers use it to send questions to sellers, and eBay uses it for just about everything.

Unfortunately, there are times when your email never makes it to the other party, either bouncing back or disappearing into the ether. There are two common reasons why your email may never make it to its intended recipient:

  • The other member’s registered email address is out of date. In this case, any emails sent to that address should be bounced back to you. (Note that any user can update their registered email address by going to My eBay Personal Information.)

  • The other member has an overly aggressive spam filter, which might simply delete all email from unknown addresses (including yours). The spam filter may be running on the recipient’s computer or may even be employed by the recipient’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) without his or her knowledge. This means you’ll never know if your email made it to its destination.


Any spam filter that deletes email without your approval is ultimately going to lead to a lot of trouble, and possibly some expense and negative feedback. Instead, use a passivespam filter like SpamPal (www.spampal.org) that simply marks suspicious email as spam, so that your email software (discussed in the Preface) can filter it accordingly. That way, you can inspect it—or even search for lost messages—before deleting it permanently. Refer to the documentation that comes with your spam filter and email program for further details. Also, contact your ISP and make sure they aren’t deleting any of your email.

Fortunately, there are a bunch of different tools you can use to get a message through to another eBay member, useful for those times when standard email fails:

Contact an eBay Member form.

Click any eBay member’s user ID and then click Contact Member to send an email via eBay’s mail server. This is useful if you suspect that another member’s spam filter is deleting your mail, since it’s likely to approve all email originating from eBay.com. However, since successful delivery relies on the registered email address in the recipient’s eBay account, this won’t help if the recipient’s address is wrong.


If the recipient is a seller, and you make contact through a currently running auction, eBay will save your message and allow the seller to respond right on the eBay web site [Hack #67] . Even if the seller never receives the email, she’ll see your question the next time she views the listing page or visits the Selling section of her My eBay page. This feature isn’t available for listings that have ended, but if you’re trying to contact a seller for a completed listing (which is common), you can always do so through another one of the seller’s listings.

Use a different ISP.

If you have an email account with another ISP, try sending your email from there. This will also help get around spam filters. If you don’t have another account, you can try getting a free backup address at mail.yahoo.com or www.gmail.com.

Look in the auction description

If you’re a bidder trying to contact a seller, look in the auction description and payment instructions section to see if the seller has specified an alternate email address or phone number. Even if you’re not bidding on one of this user’s auctions, she may have one or more auctions currently running or recently completed [Hack #18] that might contain this information.

See where the member’s photos are hosted.

If you’re trying to contact a seller who is hosting his own photos [Hack #76] , right-click a photo in one of the seller’s auctions, and select Properties (if you’re using Internet Explorer) or View Image (if you’re using Mozilla/Firefox) to see the address of the photo. If the address indicates the photo is residing on a server other than ebay.com, there’s a chance you can use it to extract the seller’s email address. For instance, if the address is http://www.someprovider.net/~bob/skateboard.jpg, then you can try contacting the seller at bob@someprovider.net. Of course, it’s possible that the seller is just using someone else’s photo, but it’s worth a shot.

About Me.

If the member’s user ID is accompanied by a little red and blue “me” icon, click the icon to view her About Me page [Hack #62] , which might also have alternate contact information.

Modify your own photos.

If you’re having trouble contacting one of your winning bidders and you’re hosting your own auction pictures [Hack #76] , you can use your photos as another means of communication. Simply add large, extremely clear text to one of your photos instructing the bidder to email you immediately. For best results, increase the canvas size and place dark red text in the whitespace above the image (which will be more obvious than text placed in the photo).

Piggyback on PayPal.

Try sending a token invoice or payment through PayPal [Hack #33] of, say, a few cents, and include your message in the Optional Instructions field. Even if the user doesn’t receive PayPal’s notification email, your note will appear the next time she logs into PayPal.

Alternate PayPal email address.

If you’ve completed a PayPal transaction with the person in question-either as a buyer or seller-log into PayPal. com, find the transaction in your payment history, and see if the person’s PayPal account is connected with a different email address than the one eBay has on file. If so, try sending your messages to that address as well.

File a dispute.

Although it’s a rather drastic step, you can almost always get someone’s attention by reporting an Unpaid Item [Hack #89] (if you’re a seller) or by reporting an Item Not Received [Hack #41] (if you’re a buyer). But the best part is that the dispute process includes a two-way message system, in which both parties can write messages and see the entire discussion right on the eBay web site. It’s the only way to contact another member for a completed auction that doesn’t rely on email. You can view all open disputes by going to My eBay Dispute Console.

Additional contact information.

Provided that you and the other member are both involved in a transaction, go to Advanced Search Find Contact Information, and enter the person’s member ID and relevant item number in the spaces provided. eBay will then email both parties with each other’s street address and phone number, which you can use as a last resort.

In nearly all cases, one of these methods will get your message across when email fails. Make sure that you inform the other person that you have had trouble sending email, and don’t be afraid to request that they take steps to rectify the problem. Strangely enough, people are often indifferent to the situation, but suggesting that yours is probably not the only email that isn’t getting through is usually enough to convince the recipient to snap into action.

  • If you’re a seller, and your high bidder isn’t replying to your emails, you may have a deadbeat bidder on your hands. See “Keep Out Deadbeat Bidders” [Hack #68] and “Deal with Stragglers, Deadbeats, and Returns” [Hack #89] for ways to deal with this problem.

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