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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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. And that my friend is why after 10 years of offering ebay consignment services we are shutting the service down. We have taken our 10 years of ebay selling experience selling OOAK’s and using that knowledge to make new streams of income. We have started two new dropshipping businesses, we are selling a niche product on ebay and direct through our own website. And we are producing our own “how to” products we can sell as electronic product.

    While ebay offers unlimited opportunities to get started in business on virtually a shoe string budget, there comes a time when its appropriate to use the lessons learned to find more lucrative, less time consuming, not to mention less aggravating, ways to make money on ebay.

    Selling finer one of a kinds on ebay has become a gamble of sorts. With every listing you wonder, will I get ripped off this time, losing the item and money. You wait out each transaction with nervous intimidation by the powers at ebay and the occasional ignorant buyers that live to game the system.

  2. The average person has no idea what problems you go through to sell their items. There is certainly more to selling on ebay than meets the eye. All your work is appreciated by this writer.

  3. It appears that ebay is also not giving me any course of response after telling them that I can’t send any item with lithium-ion batteries in them by airmail back to China.They had given me 10 days to respond after which they wiped their hands of me.Because I was absent from my computer for 3 weeks ( on holiday )I have lost my mobile & cost of sending it back by FEDEX to “mobilemania42”.Be very wary of this company as I have found out to my concern,they asked me to send back the item & stating that the cost was only $20.00 when in actual fact is was nearly $400.00

  4. Ebay has gotten so buyer focused that they cannot see the forest through the trees. I sold a pair of Victorian pink and white diamond and sapphire earrings to an Ebay buyer who damaged the original protective package from the Jeweler in India where I purchased the earrings who has been in business since the 1700s. He then either broke the pink sapphire pendant on one earring while trying to remove it to replace it with a lesser material before claiming “not as described” and sending them back, or dropped one on a really hard surface that caused one pendant stone to break off. He tried to glue it back on sloppily and failed as the stone was much to heavy to be held by glue.

    To make a long story short, Ebay found in his favor despite my lengthly and excellent selling record and when the earrings came back almost 30 days later, one of them was broken. I was glad to have held the package for opening by my jeweler who saw immediately that the buyer had damaged the earrings. This jeweler had seen the earrings a few days before I listed them as I wanted confirmation of the facts so he knew that they were in pristine condition.

    My jeweler talked to Ebay and they didn’t believe him or me. So, Ebay ignored the expertise and credibility of a time honored jeweler in India and my jeweler who has 37 years of global experience in jewelry crafting and sales and me, who errs on the side of caution to a fault.

    Ebay does not care about its sellers at all. They believe any lie told by a buyer and this guy really knew how to work their system. He never told me in his emails that anything was broken. He just said that a jeweler told him the pendants were quarts and that he thought he was buying sapphires. He did say that the jeweler said that there was a glued repair. He never said that anything broke off.

    Ebay’s Trust and Safety department is the biggest group of know-nothings on the planet. I wouldn’t sell there again if they were the only game in town, which thankfully, they are not.

    I sent those earrings in perfect condition and insured them so after Ebay released my money to the thieving buyer, rather than have egg on their face, they told me to try to collect the insurance. I told them that I am not a scam artist. Their buyer damaged the earrings and he should have gone to collect the insurance but it was way easier to pull the wool over Ebay’s eyes than the post office, for sure.

    A word to the wise. Think twice before you trust Ebay with any aspect of our business. They own the sniping services that keep your sales prices down, they take a % of not just your sales but your shipping, which is a cost, not income. How long are they going to be able to keep this up without getting closed down by the FEDS who definitely should be taking a hard look at the income stream and business practices.

  5. When Chinese people refer to EMS in my experience they norminally mean this:

    This is a Chinese courier similar to FED EX. It doesn’t exist where I am (the UK) and probably doesn’t in America either.

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