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Is eBay Really the Best Place to Sell Your Used Smartphone?

eBay is running a new marketing campaign called “Flip your phone for the win” coinciding with Apple’s launch of the latest iPhone. It seems everywhere you look, eBay is promoting its marketplace as a site to sell one’s used smart phones in order to upgrade to a newer model. eBay is even running TV commercialsto entice consumers to sell their phones.

But selling used gadgets to consumers on eBay comes with risks, as a woman in Florida discovered recently.

Cindy Kuglar told FirstCoastNews.com she sold an iPhone 5S on eBay, listing it as damaged, non-working, parts only, and non-refundable.

But shortly after forking over $300 plus $8.75 for shipping, the buyer allegedly filed a complaint with eBay because Kuglar would not provide him with her daughter’s iCloud account.

“eBay and PayPal ruled in the buyer’s favor and refunded the money. Now the buyer has the money and Kuglar has no phone.”

Another problem sellers can encounter with used phones is carrier-compatibility problems, an issue that arose during an eBay-hosted town hall meeting webcast live earlier this year. An eBay seller named Justin from MDTekk in Muncie, Indiana, called into the Town Hall to say buyer returns are common in the category due to this issue and sought eBay’s advice.

For instance, a buyer may seek to return a mobile phone that only works with AT&T because AT&T doesn’t have coverage in their area, which results in defects against the seller and puts them at risk of losing their selling privileges.

Justin said in his category, he also get a lot of buyers asking questions, which eBay can treat as defects. “Some buyers are buying their first smart phone and they just don’t have the technological knowhow to correctly operate it and set it up. Is there any protection for such instances,” he asked.

eBay’s Lynda Talgo told him to make sure he was providing a lot of detail in his descriptions, and if he was, she said he should “absolutely get some help from eBay on that.”

“The customer service team is there to help in this kind of situation,” she said. “And they’ll be able to tell from looking at your description and the buyer’s comments that in fact it did match the description.”

That wasn’t Kuglar experience, according to FirstCoastNews.com. She says she won’t be using eBay to sell again – and she won’t be back to buy anything, either.

If even professional sellers like MDTekk complain about receiving defects thanks to uninformed buyers, there could be a lot more people like Kuglar who try to sell their old phones on eBay and run into eBay’s new defect policy.

eBay did put together a guide called, “How to sell your phone on eBay,” and another guide on wiping personal data from a phone before selling it, but there’s no guarantee consumers will see the guides or be diligent about such matters.

Does eBay really want to encourage consumers to have their first selling experience occur in a high-risk category? And if they have a bad experience, will they be like Kuglar and avoid shopping on the marketplace as well?

Update: eBay has informed us that the seller has received the phone back from the buyer since the story in FirstCoastNews. We asked why was the seller forced to accept a return if her description was accurate and will provide another update if we learn more.

Update: eBay spokesperson Ryan Moore responded to our question, “Why was the seller forced to accept a return if her description was accurate?” He replied, “Within a certain portion of the listing description, it stated the item as “brand new.””

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.