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Bringing Back Caveat Emptor

In high school, I was taught a couple Latin words that I've somehow managed to remember for the past twenty years:

Caveat emptor - buyer beware.

Caveat emptor is the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made.

It's about personal responsibility. If you buy the wrong item or a poor quality item, that is your fault. You made a poor decision - deal with it. The incentive for sellers to not rip people off is that selling is probably their livelihood. Too many unhappy customers will put a seller out of business. This keeps buyers and sellers in check. The system has worked for a long time.

eBay changed all that. If the buyers are afraid to purchase items on eBay, eBay and their PayPal subsidiary don't make money. These companies don't care about the buyers or the sellers as long as they are transacting. They also know that the sellers are likely to continue selling, despite the risks. As such, they have turned the tables on sellers.

Caveat vendit - seller beware.

Simply put, the seller gets screwed if there is a problem. PayPal gives the money back to the buyer, and the seller often doesn't even get their item returned. This eliminates the fear of purchasing from strangers online. Unfortunately, buyers are free to swap broken items for functional items, file fraudulent PayPal chargebacks, and employ numerous other scams. eBay and PayPal will side with the buyer nearly every time.

This is similar to the perils of running an online business that accepts credit cards. A certain percentage of customers are going to scam them by filing fraudulent chargebacks, and businesses must factor this when setting their profit margins. It is considered a cost of doing business.

Here's the problem: many sellers on eBay are not businesses; they are individuals selling a rare, old, or unique item that cannot easily be replaced. If somebody is selling an Earthbound Super Nintendo game cartridge or a Black Lotus card from Magic: the Gathering, they probably cannot recover their money or replace the item if the buyer rips them off. It is no longer a cost of doing business, it's plain robbery.

There is nothing to keep buyers in check. It is not even possible to leave negative feedback for buyers anymore, so sellers are forced to enter their transactions blindly with no knowledge of a buyer's true reputation. Anything that might prevent people from transacting doesn't jive with eBay's business model.

Fortunately, I have a solution. A new take on buyer beware. A new service that will keep buyers honest without preventing them from transacting.

Here's how it works: Sellers can opt to give this service a percentage of their eBay selling price. If they do, and the buyer scams the seller, goons will be sent to the buyer's house to beat the crap out of them. This service would be called PainPal.

Problem solved?


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Erica Marceau
Feb. 25th, 2015 09:48 pm (UTC)
It does seem to be odd that the sellers are assumed to be horrible people willing to take advantage of innocent buyers just to make a profit, while ignoring the fact that some buyers do the same thing to sellers. It doesn't matter the quality of your product, how often you kept it touch with the buyer, how quickly you shipped because if a buyer complains it's considered to be the seller's fault. It would be better if eBay and PayPal acted impartially to determine who was at fault, but that takes time and manpower and it's just easier to appease the complainer so they go away.
Feb. 25th, 2015 09:53 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, maximizing profit is their primary concern, and that often conflicts with treating people fairly.

I don't think they are assuming the sellers are always in the wrong, they just don't care. Figuring out who is right or wrong in a dispute costs eBay and PayPal money that they would rather keep.

Sellers need to sell their products, and they don't have many places to do so. They'll be on eBay regardless, and eBay knows this.

Buyers, however, have a lot of options on where to buy things. eBay makes more money by making sure those buyers come to eBay rather than anywhere else. The guarantees they make to buyers help with this.

Edited at 2015-02-26 03:19 pm (UTC)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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