eBay is open to the concept of giving sellers greater flexibility in the returns policies they can offer, which would be a major change from the one-size-fits-all policy to which sellers must currently adhere.
News of management's change in thinking came from the head of eBay Americas Jordan Sweetnam in December. He was responding to a question on an "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) discussion board in a thread
about claims, returns, and how eBay protects sellers from bad buyer behavior. A seller had referenced eBay's position that its current policy requiring sellers to offer a generous returns policy was "industry standard."
"Can you provide a couple of instances where an online known merchant give free 60 day returns & will pay for the return shipping without the buyer returning items to the closest store," the seller asked. "I have not been able to find one yet that gives free company paid shipping."
Sweetnam responded to his question by stating that some areas of the site would continue to require sellers to have generous returns policies - sellers would have to factor that into the cost of selling in those categories "if that is the competitive benchmark."
But in some other categories, eBay "can dial back the open approach to returns today and deliver an experience that still fully meets buyer expectations without exposing sellers to situations where they can be taken advantage of."
Sellers had had much more to say about returns on the December AMA board. In a separate thread
, a different seller called eBay's ban prohibiting sellers from charging restocking fees for certain returns "an unnecessary blow."
"eBay does not run our businesses," he said. "eBay is a marketplace facilitator, even Uncle Sam says so. So stop telling us how to handle our operations. Buyer doesn't like the restocking fee? He can go to a different seller. That's how a market is supposed to work."
A third seller raised yet another concern about returns on eBay in this thread on the AMA board
, asking why returns count against sellers. "My personal pet peeve is the return metrics. You promised if we offered free returns that our returns would not be counted against us, however a year later you implemented return metrics where they are now counted against us. Very frustrating. I had a return opened yesterday because a lady did not know how to put a light bulb in a lamp. On top of 3 returns for wrong size and just did not like. Why are these being counted against me?"
Sweetnam did not respond on those two threads in the Ask Me Anything discussion board. But in a thread
titled, "Simplified Returns / Return Issues for Sellers," he again addressed the issue of more flexible category-based policies in the following excerpt:
"There isn't one eBay category, we have hundreds of millions of items spread across different categories and different item conditions. By extension, there shouldn't be one retail standard. Buying a brand new TV, the retail standards need to be consistent with a new retail store experience where customers fully expect returns. So if you sell new TVs you need to be able to offer a customer experience (including returns) that is consistent with what buyers can get elsewhere (and as you all know sometimes those customers can be demanding). However, if you're selling collectibles, one of a kind comics or even closeout/final sale the "retail standard" is totally different. Buyers should have no expectation of returns - that isn't how it works if they shop for those products anywhere else so we need to recognize the same on eBay."
The approach Sweetnam describes is such a change in management's philosophy that some sellers might ask, who are you and what have you done with eBay? One thing is sure, eBay is setting up 2020 to be an interesting year. We're eager to hear what sellers think of more flexible returns policies and how well they think eBay could/will execute.