Sleepless in Tucson – A Rolex and Chinese Customs

We recently sold an expensive Rolex watch to a buyer in China.  Although, I believed I had restricted bidding to the United States only, somehow the item sold to a Chinese bidder…go figure.  Setting up selling restrictions on eBay is actually more complicated than it looks.  It is actually a two step process, and since the first step seemed so intuitive, I thought I had set my selling requirements up correctly.  I have since learned how to actually do this, but that is another blog in and of itself.

Selling expensive items to the international market requires that one use FedEx as the carrier, since PayPal will only protect sellers if they get a signature on every sale of $250 and higher.  The US Post Office does not offer this feature on international deliveries.  They say that they do, if you use US Express Mail Guarantee, but in actuality, they pass the package over to Fedex for delivery.

The Chinese market has really grown very rapidly over the last couple of years and it seems that people have the money to purchase high end goods.  The buyer told me that he wanted the watch sent through the US Post Office.  I believe that he thought that by using the post office one could avoid customs duties, which is certainly not the case.  We ship with Priority Mail through the post office all the time for items to foreign markets, including China, and the buyers always have to pay customs.  I told him that it would be cheaper for him to pay for shipping through FedEx, since we have an account and get better rates, but he insisted on EMS (US Express Mail Service).  There are two EMS services – regular (no signature required and therefore not covered under the PayPal seller protection plan) and EMS Guaranteed (which uses FedEx and makes sure that the package is signed for).  I sent the package using the latter method.

I always try to track items shipped and in this case tracking showed that the package was in customs for a very long time. I finally called the post office to find out what was going on, and they gave me a FedEx number to call.  It seemed that customs was trying to verify the actual value of the watch and the buyer kept telling them he didn’t know it.  Customs would not release the package until they could verify the value to determine the customs taxes.  I wrote to the buyer at least a dozen times and he never answered me.  Customs told FedEx that the watch was new, even though the paperwork included in the box showed that it was bought in 1996.  I sent the eBay auction listing to FedEx to show the value and they forwarded it to Chinese customs.  The buyer still would not verify this.  Finally, after a month in customs, I requested that the watch be returned to me.  Chinese customs told me that not only would I have to give them my FedEx account number to guarantee return postage charges, but I had to give them a copy of my US Passport.  If I did not comply, they would keep the watch.   I can’t stress how many nights sleep I lost over this issue.

I placed daily phone calls over a three week period with FedEx to follow up.  After a week with one agent, I was transferred to another specialist who was assigned my case.  We spoke so often that we got to know each other on a first name basis.  She was the first phone call I made every morning.  Each day she would write to her contact in China and the next morning (with the time difference) we would go over the responses she received.

Finally, I tried calling the buyer in China who recognized my name, but acted like he didn’t speak English (even though his emails were all well written in English).  He finally wrote me back and told me to get the watch returned and re-send it to him through the regular mail.  Again, I have no idea why he thought that would avoid customs, but it was never going to happen.  I was told that Chinese customs would not send me back the watch unless the buyer wrote them that he was refusing to pay.  At this point, the taxes were $600 (30% of the value).  The buyer wrote me that he would refuse the shipment (at which point it would cost me over $100 to get the watch returned to my address).  If the Chinese customs ever, in fact, released it, I was told it could take up to 3 months for them to do so.

My personal FedEx representative told me that it looked like the buyer was talking to his family about paying the taxes.  We were now approaching the 45 day mark when a buyer could file an “Item Not as Described” claim on PayPal.  I was still worrying that I could be out both the watch and the money on this deal.  A few days later, my FedEx rep told me that the buyer was going to pay the taxes.  A few more days passed and I noticed that the watch was finally delivered.  Now I was really worried that the buyer would file a claim on PayPal, but instead I received a positive feedback on eBay from the buyer.  The next day he again wrote me an email under the topic “Item Not as Decscribed” asking me to split the cost of the taxes with him.  I should give him $300!  I didn’t even bother to answer his request.  After 45 days of aggravation, worry and sleepless nights, this guy had the nerve to ask me for pay half his country’s import tax!

This was probably the most stressful experience I have had selling on eBay.  It is getting more difficult with each transaction that takes place, as eBay is becoming more rigid and requires much more from its sellers.  I’m glad this incident is over.  All I can say is Good Night. I need to catch up on some well needed sleep.

Published in: on April 12, 2012 at 7:22 am  Comments (5)  
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