I feel vaguely guilty about this, but after being closely involved with eBay since 1998, this morning I finally left my first negative feedback on a seller after having an experience that was as frustrating as it was tedious. And when I say “closely involved”, I’ve written a book about online auctions (The eAuction Insider) and launched, grown, and sold a startup focused on eBay too (iTrack.com).
But back to the negative feedback. I’ve always been a huge fan of Tintin, the boy reporter memorialized in dozens of illustrated stories by Belgian illustrator Hergé across a time span that encompassed World War II and all the tensions of the 50s, among other significant events.
Years ago, a British company animated all the Tintin stories and for a while, HBO was showing them on TV here in the United States, but for reasons that I can’t understand, the animated Tintin features aren’t available to purchsae in the United States.
A perfect job for eBay, right? I searched and found that a Chinese seller was offering an 11 DVD Tintin boxed set. I emailed her a query asking if they’d play on an NTSC DVD player since I didn’t have a PAL-compatible unit (PAL is the European format, NTSC is the US format). She responded saying that what she had were already in NTSC format and that they’d play fine on an American DVD player.
That was all it took. I won the auction, Paypal’d the money, and about ten days later received a package from China with the DVDs in a boxed set. So far, so good, even though I knew that the chance that they were bootlegs was greater than zero.
When I went to put them in my DVD player, however, I found out that they were indeed PAL format, not NTSC. I then tried to play them on my computer and that worked, but I hadn’t spent $50 to be forced to sit in front of my computer screen to watch them. Rather than throw in the towel, I tried various tools on both Mac and PC to convert the PAL to NTSC, but I couldn’t get all the steps to work… somewhere along the way I’d lose audio, or the DVD I burned wouldn’t play in my DVD player, or something else would go wrong.
So I contacted the seller and said that she had misrepresented the product and that I was going to return it and that I’d like a full refund, including the additional $12 shipping I had to pay to send the DVD set back to her in China. She agreed to refund my purchase price.
Finally, she acknowledged receipt of the DVDs but then for a few weeks kept emailing “I paypal next week. account not working now. If not, I have friend send money to you”. Eventually, I figured it was just a stalling tactic, so two days ago I sent the following message:
“By now I expect that you’ve received the DVDs back from me. If I don’t see a refund by this time tomorrow for the full $58.82 amount I am going to be left with no option other than to leave negative feedback on eBay and file a claim with the eBay and Paypal fraud groups. I’m sorry to have things come to this, but I am not willing to just lose $58.82 over this transaction. DaveT”
Within six hours, I had been refunded the original purchase price. But not the additional amount of shipping that I had to pay, the $12 that I lost because the seller had misrepresented the product.
And so, finally, it came down to this:
I realize that there are risks involved with online auctions, but this is particularly frustrating and while I waffled for a few minutes, I finally did click the “submit” button and leave my first negative feedback.
In an ironic post-script, I asked a pal in the UK to buy the legal, official, The Adventures of Tintin 75th Anniversary DVD set and it arrived yesterday.
I’m also buying a new PAL-compatible, all region DVD player. But that’s another story and another rather amazing eBay fiasco, with one player destroyed in transit by FedEx Ground and another where the player shipped wasn’t the player listed on eBay. But that’s enough kvetching for one weblog entry, I think. If you really want the details, it’s an interesting story: The best DVD player I’ve ever owned: Philips DVP-642.