Yesterday I had my worst ever eBay experience. A while ago, I purchased seven computer components from a seller, to the value of around £700. One item, a hard drive, was faulty. I contacted the seller to make refund arrangements, but my request was ignored. I let several days go by, then yesterday I decided to leave a negative feedback comment on his eBay profile. Several hours later he phoned me up and immediately started threatening to leave a string of seven negative feedback comments against me (one for each of the items I had bought), if I didn’t agree to withdraw my initial feedback comment. I did my best to calm him down, telling him there was no need to threaten me, that we could resolve this amicably. After a minute or two of talking, I was able to gauge a few things about his character, and it became clear that he was never going to agree to a refund, so I told him I was going to let the feedback comment stick. If he wanted to leave seven negatives for me, that was up to him.
Then he changed his tactics. In light of my massive purchase, the seller had originally waived a £9 surcharge for shipping to Northern Ireland (something I wasn’t even aware of until that point, if it was true at all). Now he threatened to re-open the transaction, add the surcharge, leaving it as incomplete and thus voiding my warranty on all the items I purchased. He also discussed the nature of the fault with me, ridiculing my IT knowledge and spinning enough half-truths to make me consider that the hard drive might not be faulty at all.
In the end I gave in to his bullying and withdrew my feedback. I felt bad for not standing my ground, but I knew it was one of those battles where the victory would not be worth the hassle.
On reflection later, I realised I had the same power against him that he had against me: the ability to leave seven negative feedback comments. And he had a lot more to lose, being a Power Seller with a lot of expensive stock. I can still leave those comments, of course, and let the public know just what kind of man they’re trading with. But it will rebound on my head. If he has a serious grudge, he could place false bids on my future auctions and make my online trading life very difficult. And if he finds out I have a homepage promoting my novels and films, there’s no telling what havoc he could wreak online. And even if that didn’t happen, I just don’t like him having my phone number and knowing where I live. If there was more at stake than a hard drive, I’d do something. But a £65 loss is just not worth the grief.
After the phone-call, I kept thinking about this Scripture: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” (Matthew 5:38-40). When the guy wanted to charge me the extra £9, I should have shocked him by saying, “OK, send me the bill, and I’ll pay the extra.” He wouldn’t have believed his ears. By agreeing to pay, I would have robbed him of his power over me. Unfortunately, during the conversation it didn’t occur to me; I simply got stressed about how complex this mess could become.
It took all evening, and the early hours of the night, for me recover from the stress of that phone-call. It’s not being out of pocket that annoys me, but the encounter itself. Despite the faults we see in ourselves and others, it’s not often you come face-to-face with a genuine bad guy. Here I am, essentially a victim of petty theft and not really giving the loss a second thought, and here’s this guy, seething with anger, dishing out lies and threats, trampling all over his own conscience for the sake of £65. It’s kind of chilling, but it’s also really sad.
Well, there’s a lesson to be learned from all this: On eBay, don’t buy more than you can afford to lose. It won’t stop me trading, but the next time I get the urge to spend nearly ten grand on a De Lorean car (see an earlier post), I’ll give myself a good slap.