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Those of you up on your Whine Seller lore know I started my eBay business when I was 17 years old. Well, one of the downsides to running an eBay business as a teenager alongside school and two jobs and a social life is that you’re a little distracted and distraction equals mistakes. I’ve made soooo many mistakes over the years like mixing up shipments or sending another random item along with the thing I’m supposed to be shipping or emailing the wrong buyer the wrong status update but most are usually fixed somewhat easily as long as you are liberal with the partial refund when needed to smooth things over and really nice and apologetic about it.

But one time I really goofed up.

It was one of those big ticket items that you expected to sell for a lot and it managed to sell for even more and you’re totally thrilled… until you notice that the buyer is a newbie with barely any feedback and what they have is bad. I was already wary about this transaction but was pleasantly surprised and very much relieved when the PayPal notice comes in and they’ve paid.

Whew! I pack the thing up, ship it out with that day’s mail, yay me.

It’s two days later when I had an angry buyer on my hands. They paid right away, why hadn’t I shipped their item yet? And that’s when I realize I’d made a terrible mistake. That PayPal payment? It wasn’t for my big ticket item.

Those of you from the smartphone generation may not understand how this could happen but understand that, back when I was in high school, people only checked their email once or twice a week. Now I have the details of all my eBay transactions in my pocket at all times but, back then, I had to rely on my memory in between days when I got the computer.

I know, I’m ancient. Deal with it.

See, I have a bad habit of looking at the first few letters of an eBay username, ignoring the rest and reading it in my head like “Oh, that’s 13prWHATEVER.” Which means that, if I have two buyers at the same time whose usernames start with the same few letters, I’m doomed to mix them up all the time. And the buyer that had paid was another buyer with a similar enough name that I assumed it was the one I was so nervous about paying.

I shipped the expensive item to a buyer who had not paid yet but didn’t ship the item for the buyer with the similar user name who HAD paid. Half of this problem was easy to solve. I got the buyer who had paid’s item in the mail right away with upgraded shipping and lots of apologies. That part was all fixed. But the other part of this wasn’t going to be so easy. 

The one thing I had going for me was that I took the shipping address from the listing, not the PayPal payment. So the item was going to the right place at least, I just hadn’t been paid for it.

This was bad. Very very bad. Because here’s this buyer who’s already known for not paying and trying to scam sellers according to their feedback and I just sent them this big ticket item totally free of charge. My heart sunk when I looked at the tracking and saw that I couldn’t even hope she’d pay before it arrived because SHE ALREADY HAD THE ITEM. There’s no reason she’d pay now.  I was so screwed.

But that item sold for A LOT of money. I couldn’t let it go without at least trying to get paid for it. But how?

A friend of mine had made a very similar same mistake once. He’d mixed up his buyers and shipped out an item that wasn’t paid for yet.  He’d tried to scream and threaten his buyer into paying after they’d received the item to no avail.

I needed a different tactic. And it was very unlikely to work but I had to give it a try.

I wrote the buyer a very upbeat email letting them know that tracking says their item arrived and I hope they are pleased with it. And then I said that I know a lot of sellers aren’t willing to give new buyers a chance, especially those with bad feedback, but I believe in operating in good faith which is why I got their item into the mail as soon as the listing ended. But that does mean I fronted the shipping costs and other fees on that item out of pocket by shipping it before I got their payment which was a big gesture of trust on my part so if she could please make sure to send payment as soon as possible I would really appreciate it.

Was this manipulative? Kinda. But what good was Catholic School if not to make me a master wielder of the guilt trip? And the basics of this were completely true. I HAD put the item in the mail ahead of payment and now I was on the hook for everything financially so I had to put my trust in them.

And, really, this person could have very easily read this email and written back, “Mwahaha! You sucker! I got this item and I’m not paying for it and there’s nothing you can do, loser!” But instead my bluff paid off. The buyer paid for the item in full that night and I felt like all the air finally went back into the room.

Then she sent me a very nice email saying she’d been a pretty awful buyer in the past but she was trying to get her act together and she really appreciated me putting my trust in her and that it renewed her faith in humanity.

And, of course, this made me feel kind of like a heel because I hadn’t really done this as a grand gesture of faith, I’d just totally screwed up and was trying to save my own ass. But it had a real emotional impact on this buyer and it made me realize, maybe we should all be giving each other a little more faith and trust where we can. That’s one of the reasons I often purchase from sellers with less than pristine feedback because, not only are their prices often lower and I’m protected by the Buyer Protection Plan anyway, and I always feel like I’m giving those people that same good faith gesture and trust that may be everything they need for that second chance.

Beyond that, though, I was just so relieved I managed to get myself out of that mess and I started being 110% more careful from then on because that was almost a total disaster.