Refunding buyers through PayPal, eBay's online payment service, sounds like a simple process. However, there are some details that have message-boards buzzing with seller suggestions for how to manage the process while causing the least frustration to buyers and sellers.
Normally, a PayPal seller goes to the "History" tab, clicks on "details" for the item to be refunded, clicks on the "Refund Payment" link at the bottom of the page and follows the instructions for a partial or full refund. The funds are then transferred from the seller's PayPal account to whatever source the buyer used to fund the payment, and the transaction fees the seller paid to eBay are refunded by PayPal.
This sounds quite simple, but the confusion comes when the seller doesn't have sufficient funds in their PayPal account to cover the refund. This is a valid concern, particularly for small sellers.
If a U.S. seller continues the refund process with insufficient funds in their PayPal account, the amount will be debited from their bank account. However, this takes up to four business days to clear. Most buyers don't want to wait four business days after the seller has received their returned item to access the funds, so the seller could risk receiving negative feedback.
According to Paypal spokesperson Sara Bettencourt, the refund will show up as "pending" in the buyer's transaction log, but will be clearly marked as "refund" for the payment type so the buyer will be aware of the refund before the funds are cleared for their use.
Of course, it would be much simpler if PayPal would allow sellers to use their credit cards as a funding source for refunds. However, there is a valid reason why this is not allowed. Bettencourt told AuctionBytes, "PayPal is required to follow a set of rules and regulations set forth by the credit card associations. The card associations do not allow us to enable credit card-funded refunds. For that reason, we don't allow sellers to fund refunds using credit cards."
Sellers may use their credit cards only if they do not use the "refund payment" process, and instead use the "send money" option. But this means the seller would not be credited fees for the original eBay transaction. In addition, the buyer would be charged a transaction fee for receiving the refund if he or she has a premier PayPal account, since PayPal would have no way of knowing that the transaction is a refund.
If a buyer is charged a transaction fee (for a refund within 60 days of the initial transaction), they can use the "refund payment" process to send the refund back to the seller and request that he or she reissue it using the "refund payment" process rather than using the "send money" option.
Some sellers ensure their buyers get quick refunds by managing two PayPal accounts. PayPal allows each individual to have one personal and one premier account. One seller said, "If my business (premier) PayPal account runs low, I just move cash over from my personal account, then "refund" the payment when the business account is flush again. So I don't pay any fees to get the use of the money." PayPal charges the seller for receiving funds into their premier account but then refunds these fees once the seller transfers the money back to their personal account using the "refund payment" process.
An option another seller suggested is refunding by check. This seller said, "There is no written policy that a payment, made to you by a buyer, who used PayPal, has to be refunded to that buyer, by using PayPal. A refund is a refund. Contact the buyer and inform them that you are sending refund by regular mail."
This seller claims he has had no trouble with it. However, buyers generally expect a refund to be issued using the same type of payment they used to pay for their items. If they paid by check, they generally expect a check for their refund. If they sent an instant PayPal payment but had to wait for a refund check to come in the mail, they may not be happy.
For international sellers, the rules are a little different. Sellers in the U.K., Australia, and Canada can issue refunds through their local bank accounts like U.S. sellers can. However, sellers in other countries must either use a U.S. bank account (which few international sellers have access to) or must have a balance in their PayPal account to process a refund. The only other option is to use the "send money" option, which has its own problems as previously mentioned.
Tips on Managing Refunds
Understanding and processing refunds effectively and keeping buyers happy is a matter of planning and organization. If you have advanced warning of an item being returned, ensure your business PayPal account has enough funds to cover it. By the time you receive the returned item, a bank account transfer into your PayPal account should have cleared.
To prepare for situations in which you don't have warning of a refund, have a personal PayPal account with enough funds in it to cover a refund for the highest priced item you have recently sold. This way, you can transfer the funds across if you need them, issue the refund to the buyer immediately, and return the money to your personal account once your premier account has more funds.