What is in a handling fee?

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What is in a handling fee?
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The scenario is an all too common one on eBay....a buyer purchases an item only to discover that the shipping cost is higher then initially understood.  After emailing the seller for an explanation, the buyer discovers that there is a handling charge on top of the actual shipping charge.  Outrage and irritation can potentially result on both sides if the handling charge is not deemed to be fair by the buyer.  For sellers, this guide offers simply suggestions on how to answer this question from buyers before and after the sale.  For buyers, this guide will hopefully help them understand what is fair and what some of your rights are in a transaction.

First of all, it is in your best interest to mind your manners....

The initial contact between the buyer and seller before, during, or after a transaction is very important as it sets the tone of the relationship.  It is extremely important for both parties to be courteous throughout the communication.  Name calling and fraud accusations simply should not happen during any of the communications as these actions can potentially haunt you later by making you look like an absolute idiot.  (Profanity and emotion never read well in an email no matter how justified you felt in sending it.)  Do edit yourself  when you are not upset and if you absolutely feel that you must write an inflamatory email to someone, draft it first and then save it to read later.  To make sure that your message is understand, you should review your email again with the mindset that you are the receiving party before sending it. 

On a personal note, my own experiences as a buyer and seller have taught me that given the opportunity, most people will bend over backwards to help you as long as you give them the opportunity to do so by being respectful and courteous.        

What exactly is a "handling charge"?

For many sellers, handling charges are different things.  Ideally, a handling charge is charged on a per item basis to specifically pay for those expenses required to handle and/or pack and ship the item.  This can include shipping materials (boxes, labels, tape, bubble wrap, packing peanuts) as well as any additional services required such as delivery and/or signature confirmation.  Most reputable sellers charge modest handling fees that total up to the materials cost to send your item to you.  A good seller should be able to justly explain the costs associated with their handling charge.  For those sellers who are just starting out, it is extremely important for you to track your shipping and handling charges separately so that you aware of what they are as a seller cannot properly explain handling charges if they are not aware of their expenses.           

Because eBay is a free marketplace, no limitations are placed on how handling fees are charged.  Quite simply, there is no fairness barometer on handling charges which means that the seller can charge what they like as long as the charge is listed in the listing OR is included in eBay's postage calculator.  Most sellers (including myself) input the handling charge into the eBay shipping calculator so that the shipping rate provided to the buyer includes the handling charge.  For this reason, it is extremely important that buyers check their shipping rate by carefully reviewing the listing and/or using the seller's shipping calculator.  Being familiar with the shipment location and the different shipping methods/rates can go a long way towards helping the buyer quickly determine if the shipping rate has been excessively padded with a handling charge.  Prior to placing a bid or buying a storefront listing, it is to the buyer's best advantage to immediately contact the seller if the shipping and handling charge does not make sense.    Again, manners matter so proceed with courtesy until you completely understand what the shipping charge consists of.  If the shipping cost is too high due to inflated handling fees, simply do not bid on or buy the item.

I have purchased several items from a seller only to be charged full shipping and handling costs for each item...

In this situation, the very first thing you should do is contact the seller about the shipping cost for your multiple purchase as many times the seller has not realized that there has been a multiple purchase.  (As a buyer and seller, this has actually happened to me on more then one occasion.)  Again, courtesy is the operative word here in dealing with the seller as assuming the worst will only potentially complicate the situation. 

For future transactions, the best way to prevent this situation from happening is to

  1. Contact the seller prior to a multiple purchase. 
  2. Carefully review the seller's terms and conditions of sale in the auction.  By understanding what the terms are before you buy, you will be equipped to better communicate with the seller. 
  3. Review the seller's feedback.   Although reviewing feedback may not specifically tell you how a seller will handle combining your specific purchase, it will most likely give you an idea of what type of seller you are dealing with.  Most importantly, do keep in mind that combining and/or eliminating shipping/handling charges on a multiple purchase is a voluntary process by which the seller agrees to do as a condition of their selling policy or as a special benefit for a multiple purchase.      

Asking for post auction discounts on shipping and handling charges... 

Inevitably,  a very few buyers want to negotiate shipping and handling charges post auction.  Since every eBay seller is in business for themselves, each seller has their own policy in dealing with these types of buyers.  Although it never hurts for the buyer to ask for a discount from the seller, do be prepared for some possibly terse language from the seller for post auction shipping and handling negotiation.  This is generally frowned upon especially since with purchase, the buyer has already agreed to the terms of the auction.    

In my personal experience with handling charges, one of the very hardest things for new buyers to understand is that by purchasing an item, they have already agreed to the terms in that auction or listing.  I personally have run into several buyers that have purchased multiple items from a seller only to discover that full shipping and handling charges applied to each item as the seller does not combine shipping on multiple purchases.  (Watch out!  This does happen more then you might think!)  The adage that you get what you pay for was certainly exceeded in these particular situations as although they got a great price on an item, they paid many times more with a substantial  handling fee and separate shipping for each item.  In some situations, the seller has no choice but to ship each item separately due to time constraints or packing and insurance requirements for each item.  If you should find yourself in this unfortunate situation where you have purchased several items and are attempting to negotiate shipping and handling with the seller, you might want to consider the following...

  1. Read the auction terms before contacting the seller.  Sellers who do not combine auctions have a habit of telling prospective buyers that in their listings. 
  2. Politely contact the seller asking if they could possibly combine shipment for a discount.  (Again, the word here is politely.)  A gentle nudge can be used by noting that you wish to continue being a client but really cannot afford to pay separate shipping costs.  In most cases, the seller will work with especially since you have been courteous.  It is most important that you do not in any way threaten the seller into complying with your request as more then often threats simply give the seller a reason to be less cooperative.    
  3. If the seller chooses to not work with you on combining shipping, simply thank them for their efforts, pay for your item, and learn from your experience.  Do keep in mind that just because you have had to pay more for an item then you initially thought does not mean that you should beat yourself up about it.  The very best thing that you can do for yourself is to just affirm what has happened by moving on.
  4. If you have been victimized with fees charged outside of the auction contract, contact eBay's Safe Harbor and possibly PayPal's security center for fraud investigation.  Most importantly, do not wait greater then 45 days to pursue this as after 45 days, PayPal cannot investigate and possibly reverse the transaction in the event of fraud.  

I personally believe that out of several issues facing eBay, handling fees are probably one of the more difficult and least understood aspects of eBay. It is only human nature to question any fee charged above the actual shipping cost.  Each and every seller has their own policies on handling fees, so to fully understand the value of the handling fee charged by the seller, it is important to utilize personal experience and good communication skills. 

This guide is generated from the numerous discussions that I have had with buyers over the last 8 years.  To new eBayers, I always suggest that they ask questions before bidding on an item with a higher then expected shipping cost.  It is far better to figure out the shipping and handling cost at the beginning of a transaction instead of at the end.     

Best regards,

Judy @ squishcricket

   

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