See the whole archive of Selling Stories here.

While I sell a lot of collectibles, there are a few custom items we have made for us in bulk that we sell in our store. One such item are these car stickers which are popular in certain toy fandom circles. We don’t make a lot of money on them (and they actually hurt our DSR score) but I list them because they bring people into the store and encourage them to purchase other items while they are there. They’re also a great add-on item that people throw into their cart when ordering other things.

One day I got an email from a buyer asking if I stocked an alternate version of one of our stickers in a different color. I informed him that I did not, but that I could get one done up for him as a custom order if he really wanted it. But I warned him that the price would be higher for this special order than for the usual listing because I’d only be getting one made up and the usual listing reflects the bulk discount we get when ordering that item. He said he understood and would I please quote the price for just one sticker in the custom color?

I went to my printer, mocked up the alternate sticker and got a price quote. But just before I was about to email it over to him, I got another eBay message that made me pause. It was from a completely different eBay buyer asking me if I could offer a custom version… of the same sticker in the same color.

I was immediately suspicious. My very first thought was that this was the same guy, only on a different eBay account. He was pretending to be a second guy to get me to order more so I could offer it at the lower price (why oh why did I ever mention the bulk discount!) and then Guy 2 would disappear and I would be stuck with all these extra stickers. What a sneaky little scammer!

And then I stopped and thought to myself… that sounds kind of ridiculous now that I think of it. Would someone really go to all that trouble just to save a few dollars on a sticker? Isn’t it more likely that, instead of some vast conspiracy, that there’s some inside joke or upcoming event happening that has made a couple of people want this alternate version at the same time? Maybe there was a perfectly logical explanation.

I answered the second guy the same way I did the first one. He also agreed to paying more for the custom item just as the first guy did. Hmm.

Was I being scammed... or just losing my mind?

I wavered back and forth. Was I being totally paranoid here and this was just two legitimate requests or was this the same guy trying to pull a fast one? I finally decided to pretend I never got the second email. I took the quote I got from my sticker printer for a single sticker, marked it up to the same profit margin I made on the other stickers and told both of them that price.

Both guys immediately said they wanted to buy it at that price, chose their color shade (and they chose the exact same shade… but it was also the only one that didn’t leave the text too light to read so it wasn’t that weird) and asked me to please get the item made for them. OK, I said, but I was going to ask that they pay upfront because I didn’t want to fork out the cash to get this alternate version made and then be stuck with it later. They both said they had no problem with this.

So I created a custom listing for the item with a quantity of two. I didn’t explain to either party why I was offering two of this item I had said I was getting exactly one made of and neither asked which, honestly, made me even more suspicious. But both guys used Buy It Now on the item anyway at the full price for a single sticker so, if they were running a scam, it was not a very good one because they were paying full price anyway.

The first guy paid immediately and that’s when I get a third email. This one wasn’t through eBay at all, but rather through a message board I’m on, one where I’d offered some of these stickers a few years ago. That account is barely connected to my eBay ID. But this third fellow wants to know if, you guessed it, I could possibly sell him a version of the sticker in THE EXACT SAME COLOR THE TWO OTHER GUYS WANTED.

So now I’m even more suspicious. Which weirdly makes me start to believe the innocence of this even more at the same time? Because, if this all is the same guy, how the heck did he even find me on this message board to email me? And why the heck would he even bother to go through all that trouble? He’s already paid for the item at full price! What does he possibly have to gain now?

Guy 3 asks for the price and my PayPal address, promising to send me payment at the end of the week when he refills his account (a common request).

I start to Google around, trying to figure out if these three identities are linked somehow but come up with nothing. It all looks legit from the outside. But there’s still something fishy about it.

I think about it for a long time and finally decide I must be being paranoid. Maybe this isn’t a scam. Clearly, there’s something going on in this fandom, be it inside joke or event or whatever, that I’m just not in the loop for and what I’m seeing it just an uptick in demand.

After a lot of deliberation, I decide to purchase ten copies of this new style of sticker. With three already sold, that only leaves me with seven left to sell and, surely, I can move those eventually, especially if there is some kind of increase in demand coming up.

The printed stickers come in. I send Guy 1 his since he’s already paid, let Guy 2 know his will ship immediately when I get his payment, let Guy 3 know I’ve got it on hand for when he pays. And I hear back immediately back from Guy 1 and he’s really nice and thanks me for all my trouble in getting this made up custom for him and I find myself feeling bad because now, having ordered ten of these stickers, I have overcharged him.

And a lot of you are sitting there rolling your eyes at me but I feel really guilty when I overcharge someone. Like if I make up a price for an item that’s maybe more than it’s worth and someone buys it at that price? I am fine with that. But if I charge them $10 shipping and end up finding a way to ship it for $3? I feel really guilty and dishonest if I don’t refund them that $7.

I know, I know. I’m a bleeding heart. But every time I’ve done it, I’ve won myself a customer for life who appreciated my honesty so, shut up, sometimes being a bleeding heart is good business.

So I start to feel like I charged him extra basically because I was being suspicious and thinking he was trying to run a scam on me when, really, he’s been nothing but nice and patient. So I send him an email saying, “Hey, it ended up costing a little less than originally expected, here’s the difference.” and refunded him a dollar.

He was very appreciative and thankful and left great feedback. So, happy ending right?

Um, no because Guys 2 and 3 both ghosted me. Neither ever actually paid for their items, even after filing a claim on Guy 2, and I ended up stuck with 9 freaking extra copies of this sticker. And this totally convinced me that Guy 1 had been playing me this whole time and, gah, I fell right into his hands and refunded that dollar! I was such a fool!

This whole incident was a thorn in my side for years. Every time I would fill an order for one of our usual stickers I would see those extra stickers I ordered and ended up stuck with in the box and just absolutely STEW about this guy who pretended to be three guys just to get me to knock off a dollar off the price. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about the money or getting stuck with the additional inventory, it’s that I KNEW he was playing me from the start and yet I still went against my instincts, ordered those extra stickers and gave him that discount. It’s the principle of the thing, dang it, and it totally stuck in my craw.

He is out there somewhere, laughing at me. I hate him. He is my arch nemesis.

Though, as I write about it now, I have to wonder… if he really was running some kind of scam, he put in a lot of work for just $1 off. Isn’t just as likely that the other two just lost interest in whatever the joke of the moment was and that’s why they ghosted? And isn’t it just as likely I have thought wayyy too much about this and am maybe just losing my mind and should just let it go?

Now when I first wrote this story, I still had almost all of those custom stickers unsold in my inventory but in that funny way things happen sometimes, since I wrote the first draft of this, I got a bunch of random orders for those stickers in a row until I actually sold the very last one off a few weeks ago. So for all my gnashing of teeth over this guy… it all worked out in the end anyway. I sold all the stickers, recouped what it cost to make them, no harm done.

But even though it ultimately worked out fine, I have to ask you… What do you think that was all about? Were all three of those interested customers the same person or was it just a coincidence? Was I right to be suspicious or am I just completely losing my marbles?