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Chapter 4. Selling > Keeping Out Deadbeat Bidders

Hack 54. Keeping Out Deadbeat Bidders

A little diplomacy will help keep out deadbeats and still allow healthy bidding on your auction.

"Good judgment comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment."

One of the most frustrating aspects of selling on eBay is dealing with winning bidders who don't pay. Not only are non-paying bidders a waste of the seller's time and money, they end up ruining honest bidders' chances of winning the auction.

You can always tell a seller has been recently burned by a deadbeat from the harsh warnings in their auction descriptions:

  • "Don't bid if you don't intend to pay!"

  • "Serious bidders only."

  • "If you have zero feedback, email before bidding or your bid will be canceled!"

  • "A non-paying bidder will receive negative feedback, lots of threatening email, and a note to your mother."

The problem with all of these is that they typically do more harm than good. For example, you should never tell visitors not to bid on your item, regardless of your intentions. The tone is angry and threatening, and sends a message (even to honest bidders) that dealing with you will likely be a less than pleasant experience. Besides, your average deadbeat bidder probably won't read your description anyway.

Instead, start by thinking about why someone may not pay after winning an auction, and then find a diplomatic way to weed out such bidders.

In most cases, it will be new eBay users — with a feedback rating of less than 10 or so — who end up bidding and not paying, a fact due largely to their inexperience rather than any kind of malice. For instance, new bidders will often wait until after they've bid to read the auction description and payment terms (if they read them at all). Or, a bidder might bid and later discover that he or she no longer needs or wants your item. And since inexperienced eBay users typically don't know how to retract bids or communicate with sellers, nor do they understand that they can simply resell something they don't want, they simply disappear, hoping that the problem will go away if they ignore a seller's emails.

Naturally, there are also those clowns who bid with no intention of paying. This is actually quite uncommon, and such abusers of the system don't last long on eBay. If you suspect that someone with a vendetta against you might bid on one of your auctions just to leave feedback, you may want to update your Blocked Bidder List (described later in this hack).

So how do you tell the difference between honest bidders and dishonest deadbeats? Go to Search → By Bidder, enter the bidder's user ID, and click Yes to include completed items. If the user's bidding history seems reasonable (a few bids, all along the same lines), then he is probably a legitimate bidder. However, if the user is bidding as though it were going out of style, trying to buy up as many high-priced items as possible, then you've likely found yourself a deadbeat.

4.23.1. An Ounce of Prevention . . .

Since the problem of deadbeat bidding is most often caused by a lack of experience, any notes of warning in your auction description should instead be welcoming and instructional. Think of it as educating your bidders on eBay basics:

  • "Attention new bidders: please read the auction description carefully and make sure it's what you want before you bid."

  • "Please read my payment and shipping terms to be sure you can complete the transaction before you place your first bid."

  • "If you have any questions about this auction, please contact me before you bid."

Not only do these examples encourage bidders to bid on your auctions, they enforce the practices that will help ensure that they're happy once they've paid and have received their items, which will reduce the likelihood of negative feedback and having to deal with returns. See [Hack #39] for more ideas.

Finally, to avoid misunderstandings that can lead to non-paying bidders, take steps to make sure your payment and shipping terms are as clear as humanly possible. See [Hack #48] and [Hack #40] for ways to remove clutter and set apart important policies in your auction descriptions, respectively.

4.23.2. Being Proactive Behind the Scenes

Probably the best approach to preventing deadbeats is to be a little sneaky about it. Instead of relying on bidders to effectively censor themselves (which they won't), simply let them bid freely. After all, only the intentions of the high bidder count; all lower bids — even those placed by deadbeats in the making — only serve to raise the final auction price.

Check back and review the status of your running auctions every few days. If you see any eBay users with zero feedback or the little "new user" icon next to their user IDs, just send them a quick note to verify that they're serious. If you don't get a reply in a day or two, cancel their bids and let them know why.

Now, if any of your auctions has a high bidder with a negative feedback rating (less than zero) or a feedback profile with excessive negative comments, don't feel bad about canceling their bids and blocking them from bidding on any of your auctions.

4.23.3. Canceling Bids and Blocking Bidders

Canceling bids is easy . . . and fun! With the ability to cancel a bid at any time and for any reason, a seller wields tremendous power (over his or her own running auctions, anyway).

To cancel a bid, go to Site Map → Cancel Bids on My Item, and follow the prompts. All bids placed by the specified bidder will be canceled, and the auction price will be adjusted accordingly. (You can also cancel all bids on an auction in one step by going to Site Map → End my listing.)

Once a user's bids have been canceled, you'll have the opportunity to add that user's ID to your Blocked Bidder List, available at Site Map → Blocked Bidder/Buyer List. The list is simply a textbox with the user IDs of all the bidders you don't want bidding on your auctions, separated by commas. Note that although blocking a user prevents the user from placing any future bids on your auctions, it has no effect on any open bids placed by that user on any running auctions, so you may want to check your running auctions when you're done for any remaining bids that need to be canceled.

eBay doesn't allow you to automatically block bidders based solely on their feedback rating, which is a good thing. After all, every eBay user has to start somewhere. Don't assume every new user is going to be a deadbeat, but don't expect new users to understand all the ramifications of bidding, either. If you get stuck with a deadbeat bidder, they'll usually shape up with a little diplomacy and motivation; see [Hack #71] for more information.

Timing is important when canceling bids. Canceling a bid too early is usually pointless, since the user is likely to be outbid by someone else, and the cancellation would just lower the final price needlessly. Canceling too late is also not a good idea, since it would keep the final price artificially high close to the end of the auction, which might scare off bidders planning to snipe. A good window in which to cancel bids is typically about 20-30 hours before the end.

Regardless of the timing, there's usually no benefit to canceling bids by a user who isn't currently the high bidder, with two small exceptions. First, unless you block a bidder, he can bid again and become the high bidder. Second, if the high bidders retract their bids, then a once-trailing bidder can take the lead. Of course, bidders cannot retract their bids in the last 12 hours of an auction, so that particular threat is minimal.

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