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Resolving Online Seller Disputes (Like eBay): Do I Need a Lawyer?

Most online marketplaces, like eBay, allow you to resolve disputes with sellers without the need for a lawyer. Online marketplaces like this often have procedures that let buyers communicate directly with sellers. 

If you need help to resolve a dispute, eBay will step in and help. You can also try their online dispute resolution service or get your full refund from PayPal or your credit or debit card company.

If you are unsuccessful, you can try to sue the seller in small claims court for breach of contract. Unless they are present or do a lot of business in your state, your only option may be to sue them in their state. Suing an out-of-state party poses many challenges. You would greatly benefit from having a lawyer's help if you decide to go this route.

Online Marketplace Disputes

Online marketplaces continue to grow in popularity. According to, nearly half of global e-commerce sales, estimated at $2 trillion, took place on an online marketplace in 2020. As of 2018, Amazon has led the market in terms of the number of visits to its site. eBay, which does not make or sell its products, is still the second-leading online marketplace in the United States.

Most eBay transactions go off without a hitch. The seller ships the merchandise, the buyer pays, and both parties are happy. 

Not every buyer is so lucky. From time to time, disputes with online sellers arise. You may be very upset and want to fight, but bringing a lawyer in shouldn't be your first move. There are several things you can try before that.

eBay Disputes and the Dispute Resolution Process

There are two common types of disputes with an eBay seller:

  • You pay for an item, but it does not arrive during the specified time frame or at all
  • You receive an item, but it arrives damaged or does not match its listing's website describes its dispute resolution process in detail. In most cases, eBay offers either a full refund or a partial refund, depending on the details of each case.

Contact the Seller

eBay first recommends that you try to work out your dispute with the seller yourself. You don't need a lawyer for this. All you need to do is click a button under your purchase history on eBay's website, known as the Seller Hub.

This lets you communicate with the seller. If you want the seller's phone number, that may also be available. Many disputes are resolved through direct contact.

According to eBay's procedures, the seller is supposed to try to resolve your dispute within three days. If you don't hear from the seller or cannot work out your dispute within 21 calendar days, the next step is to bring eBay in to take over for you.

Get Help From eBay

The process is easy. You click a button in your order history that asks eBay to step in. eBay takes it from there. This action is under eBay's Seller Protection policies. eBay aims to resolve disputes in favor of either the buyer or the seller, based on each circumstance.

As eBay describes on its customer service page, once they receive your case, they review it and try to get back to you within 48 hours. If they need additional information, the process may take longer.

It may be worth the wait. If eBay decides the case in your favor, eBay's money-back guarantee covers your transaction. You should receive a refund within 48 hours.

Once eBay reaches a decision, they close your case. If you disagree with eBay's decision, you can appeal by providing new information within 30 days of the date they close your case. eBay lists the specific information that they would be looking for:

  • Photos showing that the item does not match its listing
  • Tracking details showing the seller received an item you returned
  • Proof that the seller sent your item to the wrong address
  • A copy of any police report (if you file one)

eBay reviews the new information and tries to get back to you within 48 hours with a final decision. Again, you can do this on your own without a lawyer.

Negative Feedback

eBay sellers and buyers have the option to leave each other feedback, which can be negative. If you leave negative feedback, a seller can choose to respond or dispute it if they think it's unfair.

If a seller disputes your feedback, eBay will email you the details. You then have ten days in which to either:

  • Revise the feedback (your original comments will no longer be displayed)
  • Decline the request (you can choose to keep your reasons private if you want)

eBay will send you a reminder email after seven days, but the feedback stays the same if you don't respond within 10 days.

Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)

If you're still unhappy and the seller consents, you could try online dispute resolution (ODR). ODR is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that takes place online. Thanks to the efforts of a few pioneers in the field, including Colin Rule and Ethan Katsh, there are now many ODR platforms you could work with.

According to its website, eBay has a relationship with SquareTrade, an ODR service. SquareTrade advertises two different services:

  • A web-based forum in which you and the seller can try to work out your dispute 
  • The ability to hire an impartial mediator for a small fee who hears from both sides and works with them to come to a resolution

SquareTrade boasts an impressive 90% success rate, so chances are it'll work for you.

Contest the Transaction Through Your Payment Method

Perhaps you are still unable to reach or are unhappy with the resolution. You could seek reimbursement based on your payment method without a lawyer's involvement.

PayPal Buyer Protection Program

Many eBay buyers make their purchases through PayPal. If you use a PayPal account for your purchase, PayPal's Buyer Protection Program may cover your transaction.

According to this program, you have 180 days from the transaction date to dispute the charge in PayPal's Dispute Resolution Center. The process begins by opening a dispute, which provides another opportunity to try to work it out with the seller. If you can't, you have 20 days from the date you open your dispute to raise a claim with PayPal. PayPal takes over from there.

PayPal will investigate your claim. Although they try to get back to you within 10-14 days, it can sometimes take 30 days to hear back. If they decide you're right, you will get your money back, and the program covers the transaction.

Chargeback Through Bank

If you can't work it out with the seller or have no luck with eBay, you can dispute the charge with the bank.

You start by contacting your bank and opening a claim. You can do this by phone or online. You provide the details and they conduct an investigation. If the bank believes you have been defrauded, they will reverse the charge and refund your money.

Sue the eBay Seller in Small Claims Court

As you can see, you have several ways to get your money back if an eBay sale goes south. If none of these work, you may be able to sue an eBay seller in small claims court.

Many small claims cases can be handled without a lawyer. In some states, a lawyer is not allowed to represent a party in small claims court. In addition to the resources provided by the link above, you can get specifics about how to bring a claim and the amount you can recover from your local court's website.

This is an easy, practical, and cheap option, but chances are it won't be available to you. Jurisdiction is the word lawyers use to describe the power of a court to decide a dispute. Although the subject can get complicated, your small claims court would only have personal jurisdiction over an eBay seller if they are in your state or do a lot of business there.

That is not going to be the case for most eBay sellers. If your small claims court is an option, you may be able to handle it on your own without a lawyer.

Some Situations Would Justify a Lawyer

You have many options at your disposal that don't involve a lawyer, but you should consider having one in your corner in a couple of situations.

A Lot of Money Is Involved

The first is if there is a lot of money at issue. Hiring a lawyer might not be worth the expense if you buy something small from an eBay seller and are unsuccessful in getting a refund or a chargeback.

If enough money is involved, a contract lawyer could negotiate with the seller on your behalf. That would demonstrate your seriousness and give you extra leverage in the discussions. A lawyer could also help you prepare a court case, even if you represent yourself in court.

Seller Is Out of State

Assuming it's worth the expense, you could also use a lawyer to sue an out-of-state seller, particularly if you're out more money than their small claims court handles. It would help if you got a lawyer licensed in the state where you can bring your case.

Legal Help for Online Disputes

Facing unresolved issues with online sellers can be stressful due to issues like payment disputes involving a significant amount of money. Although eBay's platform resolves many disputes, the resolution process can be challenging. In this case, the advice of a litigation and appeals lawyer becomes helpful. 

These legal professionals can assist you in navigating the intricate legal landscape of resolving online seller disputes. They can represent your behalf if necessary and maximize your chance of a favorable outcome. Don't let the complexities of the online marketplace overwhelm you. Seek legal advice from a litigation and appeals lawyer.

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