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eBay Hacks, 2nd Edition by David A. Karp

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Hack #68. Keep Out Deadbeat Bidders

A little diplomacy will help keep out deadbeats and still allow healthy bidding on your auction.

Good judgment comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

One of the most frustrating aspects of selling on eBay is dealing with winning bidders who don't pay. Not only are nonpaying bidders a waste of the seller's time and money, they end up ruining honest bidders' chances of winning the auction.

You can always tell a seller has been recently burned by a deadbeat from the harsh warnings in their auction descriptions:

  • "Don't bid if you don't intend to pay!"

  • "Serious bidders only."

  • "If you have zero feedback, email before bidding or your bid will be canceled!"

  • "A nonpaying bidder will receive negative feedback, lots of threatening email, and a note to your mother."

The problem with all of these is that they typically do more harm than good. For example, you should never tell visitors not to bid on your item, regardless of your intentions. The tone is angry and threatening, and sends a message (even to honest bidders) that dealing with you will likely be a less-than-pleasant experience. Besides, your average deadbeat bidder probably won't read your description anyway. Instead, start by thinking about why someone may not pay after winning an auction, and then find a diplomatic way to weed out such bidders.

In most cases, it will be new eBay users—with a feedback rating of less than 10 or so—who end up bidding and not paying, a fact due largely to their inexperience rather than any kind of malice. For instance, new bidders will often wait until after they've bid to read the auction description and payment terms (if they read them at all). Or, a bidder might bid and later discover that she no longer needs or wants your item. And since inexperienced eBay users typically don't know how to retract bids [Hack #32] or communicate with sellers [Hack #62] nor do they understand that they can simply resell something they don't want, they just disappear, hoping that the problem will go away if they ignore a seller's emails.

Naturally, there are also those clowns who bid with no intention of paying. This is actually quite uncommon, and such abusers of the system don't last long on eBay. If you suspect that someone with a vendetta against you might bid on one of your auctions just to leave feedback, you may want to update your Blocked Bidder List, described later in this hack.

Tip

So how do you tell the difference between honest bidders and dishonest deadbeats? Go to Advanced Search Items by Bidder, enter the bidder's member ID, and click Yes to include completed items. If the user's bidding history seems reasonable (a few bids, all along the same lines), then she is probably a legitimate bidder. However, if the user is bidding as though it were going out of style, seemingly trying to buy up as many high-priced items as possible, then you've likely found yourself a deadbeat.

An Ounce of Prevention

Since the problem of deadbeat bidding is most often caused by a lack of experience, any notes of warning in your auction description should instead be welcoming and instructional. Think of it as educating your bidders on eBay basics. For example:

  • "Attention new bidders: please read the auction description carefully and make sure it's what you want before you bid."

  • "Please read my payment and shipping terms to be sure you can complete the transaction before you place your first bid."

  • "If you have any questions about this auction, please contact me before you bid."

Not only do these examples encourage bidders to bid on your auctions, they enforce the practices that help ensure that they're happy [Hack #50] once they have paid and received their items, which will reduce the likelihood of negative feedback and having to deal with returns.

Finally, to avoid misunderstandings that can lead to nonpaying bidders, take steps to make sure your payment and shipping terms [Hack #54] are as clear as humanly possible. And don't be afraid to create an About Me page [Hack #63] to remove clutter or to make good use of HTML [Hack #52] to format your description so important points are easy to spot and understand.

Being Proactive Behind the Scenes

Probably the best approach to preventing deadbeats is to be a little sneaky about it. Instead of relying on bidders to censor themselves (which they won't), simply let them bid freely. After all, only the intentions of the high bidder count; all lower bids—even those placed by deadbeats in the making —only serve to raise the final auction price.

Check back and review the status of your running auctions every day or two. If you see an eBay user with zero feedback or the little "new user" icon next to his user IDs, just send him a quick note to verify that he's serious. If you don't get a reply within 24 to 36 hours, cancel his bids and let him know why. Explain that if he's serious about your item, he can always bid again.

Now, if any of your auctions has a high bidder with a negative feedback rating (less than zero) or a feedback profile [Hack #1] with excessive negative comments, don't hesitate to unceremoniously cancel the member's bids and block any future bids.

Canceling Bids and Blocking Bidders

Canceling bids is easy…and fun! With the ability to cancel a bid at any time and for any reason, a seller wields tremendous power (over his own running listings, anyway).

To cancel a bid, go to Site Map Cancel Bids on My Item, and follow the prompts. All bids placed by the specified bidder will be canceled, and the auction price will be adjusted accordingly. (You can also cancel all bids on an auction in one step by ending your listing early [Hack #65] .)

Once a member's bids have been canceled, you'll have the opportunity to add that member's ID to your Blocked Bidder List, available at Site Map Blocked Bidder/Buyer List. The list is simply a textbox with the eBay member IDs of all the bidders you don't want to be allowed to bid on your listings, separated by commas. This feature is particularly useful for blocking bids by possibly disgruntled bidders (or sellers) with whom you've dealt previously.

Although blocking a user prevents the user from placing any future bids on your auctions, it has no effect on any open bids placed by that user on any running auctions, so you may want to check your running auctions when you're done for any remaining bids that need to be canceled.

Tip

You can also modify your Buyer requirements [Hack #64] to block bids by members with negative feedback ratings, excessive Unpaid Item strikes, or residences in countries to which you don't ship. But use this feature sparingly; after all, every eBay user has to start somewhere. Don't assume every new user is going to be a deadbeat, but don't expect new users to understand all the ramifications of bidding, either. If you get stuck with a deadbeat bidder, he'll usually shape up with a little diplomacy and motivation [Hack #89] .

Timing is important when canceling bids. Canceling a bid too early is usually pointless, since the user is likely to be outbid by someone else, and the cancellation would just lower the final price needlessly. Canceling too late is also not a good idea, because it would keep the final price artificially high close to the end of the auction, possibly dissuading last-minute bidders from sniping [Hack #26] . A good window in which to cancel bids is typically about 20 to 30 hours before the end of the listing.

Regardless of the timing, there's usually no benefit to canceling bids of a user who isn't currently the high bidder, with two small exceptions. First, unless you block a bidder, she can place additional bids and become the high bidder. Second, if higher bidders retract their bids [Hack #32] , a once-trailing bidder can take the lead without doing anything. Of course, bidders cannot retract their bids in the last 12 hours of an auction [Hack #65] , so that threat is minimal.

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