A Beginner Seller’s Guide to Return Shipping on eBay

Return requests are an evitable part of doing business on eBay. There are many reasons why a return may be necessary, such as a buyer making a mistake with a purchase or the item becoming damaged in transit.

In most cases, a return involves the item being shipped back to the seller. This article explains everything a new eBay seller needs to know about the return shipping process, including payment responsibility, shipping options and more.

How returns work on eBay

Before delving into the specifics of the return shipping process, it is important to first understand how returns actually work on eBay.

Return policy options

As of May 2018, eBay.com users have the following return policy options to choose between when creating item listings in the majority of categories:

Return policyDetails
No returns acceptedThe seller does not accept returns for reasons of buyers remorse (item was purchased by mistake, buyer no longer wants item, item does not fit etc.)
30-day buyer-paid returns Buyers can return items for any reason within 30 days, but must pay for the return shipping
30-day free returns Buyers can return items for any reason within 30 days and the seller will pay for return shipping
60-day buyer-paid returns Buyers can return items for any reason within 60 days, but must pay for the return shipping
60-day free returns Buyers can return items for any reason within 60 days and the seller will pay for return shipping

No matter which type of return policy a seller chooses, however, a buyer is always entitled to a return if the item arrives damaged, is faulty or does not match the listing description.

This right is protected by eBay’s Money Back Guarantee, which also allows the buyer to send the item back to the seller free of charge.

The returns process

The returns process usually starts with a message from the buyer indicating dissatisfaction with the item or an official return request made via eBay.

The seller has three business days to respond to the latter, with these options:

  • Accept the return request and offer a full refund
  • Offer a partial refund and let the buyer keep the item 
  • Offer a replacement or an exchange
  • Decline return request, if seller’s return policy allows it
  • Send a message to the buyer

The rest of this article will concentrate on the process after the seller has chosen to accept a return request, with the buyer sending the item back for a full refund.

Who pays for return shipping?

Responsibility for the cost of return shipping depends on the reason for the return.

The table below lists the most common return scenarios, noting whether the seller or buyer pays for the cost of the return shipping in each instance.

Reason for returnPerson responsible for cost of
return shipping
Item was damaged in transitSeller
Item is faultySeller
Item does not match the listing
description (‘not as described’)
Buyer purchased wrong itemBuyer, unless seller allows free returns
Buyer no longer wants itemBuyer, unless seller allows free returns
Buyer purchased duplicate itemsBuyer, unless seller allows free returns

If the buyer is responsible for return shipping but refuses to pay, it is possible to ask eBay to step in and resolve the issue. If the seller has already offered to accept a return, eBay is more likely to side against the buyer.

Options for return shipping

There are a number of different return shipping options available for sellers, all selectable from the View return details section under the Returns dashboard.

  • Send the buyer an eBay shipping label. For packages that meet USPS size requirements, sellers can purchase an eBay shipping label to send to the buyer to print. The cost of the label will be charged to the seller’s account. It is important to note that eBay labels do not offer insurance but tracking is automatically included and uploaded
  • Provide the buyer with a pre-paid shipping label. Sellers with a preferred shipping carrier can purchase a return label and provide the details to the buyer, including tracking information. Items with a total cost of $750 or more require signature confirmation
  • Send funds to the buyer to cover the return shipping cost. This method is most often used for international returns, when a language barrier can make buying a shipping label difficult. Funds are sent with the buyer’s preferred method
  • Alternative shipping arrangements. Alternatively, the seller can choose to arrange the return with other methods such as by freight or local pick-up

Return shipping issues

After the item is returned, the seller has two business days to evaluate and then issue the refund as appropriate.

In most cases, the return shipping will happen without any difficulties. Sometimes, however, things can go wrong, with the following two sceaniros being the most common:

  • Item is damaged on arrival to seller. The buyer is responsible for the item arriving to the seller in the same condition it was originally sent. If the item is damaged in transit, the seller may be able to offer a reduced refund up to 50% (depending on the damage). Unfortunately, not all sellers can issue partial refunds – only Top Rated Sellers or sellers offering free returns
  • Item is lost in transit. Responsibility for lost items is levied onto the person who paid for the return shipping. If the buyer paid, they must contact the shipping carrier to find out what went wrong. If the seller paid, it is their responsibility to investigate

Experienced sellers, have you had any difficulties with navigating the return shipping process? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section below.

Gemma is our all things eBay expert. Originally from the UK, she now lives in Canada and travels extensively. You can read about her travels at her blog Off Track Travel.

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