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eBay bidding problem

Last Sunday (2008apr27), I was at Audience Inc. in Mountain View, setting up a conference room for a Monday meeting with some engineers from Agility Design Solutions. After everything was set up and I was preparing to go home, I was reminded that the computer keyboards I had there were a little better than the one I was using at home, and since I've been working a lot at home lately, I considered swapping them.  Then, I thought "hey, maybe I can just get another good one on eBay," so I did a search.

Lucky me — someone was selling exactly the keyboard I was hoping for:

To make sure that the keyboard was as good as it looked, I sent an email to the seller, asking ...

Hi, you describe this keyboard as "used but functional" ... it looks pretty clean in the picture ... how is the touch? Do all the keys respond the same way, or are there ones that are noticeably different (either stiffer or less stiff, sticky, noisy, etc.)? I love these keyboards: I have two that work perfectly, one that's marginal (springs are too weak), and for each of these, I've thrown away three or four that have developed buggy keys (or, much less common, failed entirely).   I know they only last so long, so I'm hoping to stock up with enough to cover me until Matias makes a satisfactory replacement. Thanks for your help.

... and headed home to Richmond, thinking I had plenty of time.

However, traffic on 880 was worse than I expected, and by the time I got home, the end of the auction was near; I rushed to my computer, where a response from the seller was waiting ...

I'd say that all the keys are about equally responsive.  If one was being *really* picky,
then the left Shift and Control keys might be a little less stiff, but they still provide good tactile feedback.
For something well over 10 years old, it's in good shape.

Yay, sounds great! I logged into eBay and placed my bid (for $20) ...


The error message said that this was due to restrictions the seller had placed on who could bid — something to do with my PayPal account.

This was the first time anything like this had happened, and I use PayPal all the time and have never had a problem, so I figured it was probably something special the seller had done.

I emailed the seller ...

Hi jawamookey, something strange just happened. I got home from work just in time to bid on the keyboard, and when I did, my bid was refused, with an explanation that had something to do with PayPal. I've never had this happen before. I pay for all my eBay purchases with PayPal (unless the seller doesn't accept it), and there's never been a problem. When I win an auction, PayPal always comes up as the standard way to pay, and my PayPal account is set up to come out of my checking account, with a credit card backup, so there should never be a reason for it not to work. Did you set up this auction so that some kind of special secret PayPal handshake is required?

The seller responded ...

The only thing I did was set PayPal as my preferred payment option.  Nothing else.
Sorry you weren't able to get your bid in there. ...

So, I initiated a "chat" with a support person at eBay, who suggested that I read the documentation for Buyer Requirements, which I did.

On that page, eBay tells sellers that they can block bids from buyers who ...

Since none of those applied to me, I wrote to eBay support ...

Message: When I tried to bid on item 300218820919, my bid was refused. The explanation given had something to do with the seller putting restrictions on who could bid, and that my PayPal account was not set up the right way. I've used my PayPal account for my eBay purchases for over eight years, and nothing like this has ever happened. I contacted the seller (after the auction, which ended before I could figure out what was going on), and he said that all he did was select PayPal as his preferred method of payment. What went wrong?

... and they responded (in part) ...

Dear Stephen,

Thank you for writing eBay in regard to not being able to bid on an 

I understand your concern that while bidding on item you got the message
that you are being blocked.

Please note that it is not eBay who is blocking you to bid over the item
but it is the seller who have set the preferences. Please understand, 
sellers can make their listings unavailable to a specified list of 
bidders. Blocked bidders will receive an error message that states they 
are not allowed to bid on that seller's listings. In such a kind of 
situation you will need to contact your seller and  request him or her 
to exempt you from block bidder's list.


It is my pleasure to assist you. Thank you for choosing eBay.

Veanna M.

eBay Customer Support

Veanna hadn't noticed that I said that I had contacted the seller ...

Sigh. Try again ...

Dear Veanna M.

I looked at the Buyer Requirements page but didn't see any option that would have excluded me.

>It is my pleasure to assist you.

That's good, because I think I need more assistance. I would like to understand why my bid was blocked, even though the seller did not block me , and

  • I don't live in one of the "countries to which I don't ship,"
  • I have a positive feedback score,
  • I have no Unpaid Items strikes,
  • I have paid for all my items, and
  • I have a PayPal account.

    What caused my bid to be blocked?

    >Thank you for choosing eBay.

    Choosing? I thought eBay was a monopoly.

  • A few rounds later, I got this ...

    Dear Stephen,
    Thank you for writing eBay in regard to bid refused for item number 
    I have investigated the above auction and could not find any reason why 
    your bid was not accepted because the seller had not set any buyer 
    requirements for his auction. 
    Some buyers place their bid at the very last moment. This method of 
    last-second bidding is called "sniping" We don't recommend it, but many
    bidders do it because every listing has an exact ending time that can't 
    To avoid being outbid at the last second, I recommend that in future you
    enter the absolute maximum you are willing to pay for an item. Our 
    bidding system can automatically bid up to your maximum bid for you. 
    This way, if you are outbid on an auction, you know it's because the 
    winning bidder was willing to pay more for the item than you were.
    Remember: You won't necessarily pay your maximum amount. eBay will only 
    use as much of your bid as necessary to win.
    It is my pleasure to assist you. Thank you for choosing eBay.
    Dominic L. 
    eBay Customer Support

    Since this didn't answer my question and added another complicating factor, I responded ...

    Dear (Whoever responds to this),

    The answer you gave is not satisfactory. Let me explain why.

    You say you "could not find any reason" why my bid was not accepted. What does this mean? Does this mean that you have identified a bug in the eBay bidding system? Are you going to fix it? Have you opened a bug report ticket on it? Do you have a record of my bid? "We don't know what went wrong" is not very confidence-inspiring. Is that your official position?

    You mention sniping, but you do not say how it was related to my failed bid. Are you saying that my bid failed because someone was sniping? If so, where is the record of the sniper's bid?

    Please help me understand what happened.


    Stephen Malinowski (mam on eBay)

    The response to this was a little surprising ...

    Dear Stephen Malinowski,
    Hello, my name is Katie and I am happy to assist you with your question 
    regarding being outbid by another bidder in regards to 
    auction #300218820919.
    Stephen, the last agent answered you correctly.  What they mean is it's 
    possible your bid was outbid by a last minute bidder.  If you need 
    further information regarding this auction please contact eBay as PayPal
    employees have minimal access to eBay therefore you may receive an 
    answer that is more detailed.  ...
    Thank you for your time.
    PayPal Consumer Support
    PayPal, an eBay Company

    Pardon me? I thought I was communicating with eBay ...

    Oh, well ...

    Since the history of my attempt to get an answer was getting long (and I didn't want to have to quote from it in emails any more), I made this web page.

    Here's what I put into eBay's "Contact eBay Customer Support" form ...

    Hello eBay Customer Support,

    Last week, my bid on item #300218820919 was refused.

    I have contacted the seller of the item, eBay support and PayPal support, but I have not been able to get a satisfactory explanation for what happened.

    For your convenience, I have documented these communications here:


    Because some of the responses from eBay/PayPal support have been repetitive or have ignored things I've said, I've highlighted the important points of the story in red.  Please, before responding, make sure that you understand the situation and are providing new information — not just introducing irrelevant details or repeating something that's already been said.   If you don't feel you can do this, please find someone who is better able to help me.

    Thank you.


    Stephen Malinowski (mam on eBay)

    And here's the response ...

    Dear Stephen,
    Thank you for writing eBay in regard to the item you gave me.
    You were the only bidder on the item and there are no answers we can 
    give you on why the bid was refused by the seller. He is the only one 
    who can tell you that.
    There could be a couple of reasons that would come to mind. If you did 
    not have a pay pal account and he requires it, if your shipping address 
    is not confirmed, or the seller has you blocked after you bid. Like I 
    said you will have to ask them.
    It is my pleasure to assist you. Thank you for choosing eBay.
    eBay Customer Support

    It's hard to know how to get through when they aren't paying attention long enough to hear what I'm saying ... I tried answering them point by point ...

    Dear (Whoever answers this),

    Sorry, but the answers you have given me are not consistent with the facts.

    You said "You were the only bidder on the item." That is not true. The winning bid was by dgk0404. My bid was refused.

    You said "... there are no answers we can give you on why the bid was refused by the seller. He is the only one who can tell you that" but as told you, I contacted the seller, and he said "The only thing I did was set PayPal as my preferred payment option. Nothing else." And eBay Customer Support agent Dominic L. said "I have investigated the above auction and could not find any reason why your bid was not accepted because the seller had not set any buyer requirements for his auction."

    You said "There could be a couple of reasons that would come to mind. If you did not have a pay pal account and he requires it," but as I have said, I have had a PayPal account for over eight years and have used it to pay for hundreds of eBay items without any trouble (including items offerred in auctions ending a few days before and a few days after the auction in question).

    You said that a bid could be refused "if your shipping address is not confirmed," but my two shipping addresses are both confirmed.

    You said that a bid could be refused if "the seller has you blocked after you bid," but my bid was refused immediately, and the seller says he did nothing to block my (or anyone else's) bid.

    You said "Like I said you will have to ask them." Like I said, I already did ask them.

    You said "It is my pleasure to assist you" — and so have several of the other eBay Customer Support agents who have responded to my requests. However, the amount of pleasure you get out of this no longer concerns me. Call me uncaring but, at this point, given the choice between being given a run-around by people who take pleasure in it and being given an intelligent and comprehensive answer by a person who took no pleasure in it, I would unhesitatingly choose the latter.

    So far, I've had a "chat" with an eBay Customer Support person (whose name I forget), and had emails from Veanna M., Natalie, Dominic L., Katie, and Lynda. This amount of effort on both our parts would be acceptable if everybody understood the issue and was passing my request to someone who was more capable, but that's not what has happened. Instead, nobody is paying attention to what has been said before, and the responses have been irrelevant, redundant, and contradictory.

    The full history of this incident is here


    I would suggest you look at that before responding to this email.

    Please try to take this more seriously.


    Stephen Malinowski (mam on eBay)

    But no luck ...

    Dear Stephen,
    Thank you for writing eBay in regard to your concerns about your bid 
    being canceled by the seller.
    In this case, I'd like to you know that, just as a buyer can choose 
    which auctions to bid on, a seller can decide which bids to accept or 
    reject. That's why we allow sellers to cancel bids. Most sellers will 
    place terms within their listing if they have any restrictions on who 
    may bid, though not all sellers do this.
    Also, I'd like to explain you that, why would a seller cancel a bid?
    There are many reasons why a seller might cancel a bid. For instance, 
    the seller may no longer have the product. Or perhaps the buyer didn't 
    meet the seller's requirements. You can contact the seller to find out 
    why your bid was cancelled.
    If the auction is still going on, you can use the "Ask seller a 
    question" feature to ask why your bid was cancelled. Please keep in mind
    that the seller is not required to share this information with you.
    To ask the seller a question, visit the item page and click the link 
    "Ask seller a question" under the "Meet the seller" heading near the top
    of the page.
    It is my pleasure to assist you. Thank you for choosing eBay.
    Ralph Sh. 
    eBay Customer Support

    I feel like I'm dealing with somebody with Alzheimer's ...

    Let's try the Contact eBay Customer Support page again ...

    Hi Customer Support,

    On April 27th, I contacted Customer Support with a problem. I tried to follow the advice I was given by the support agent, but found that it was not applicable to my situation.

    Since then, I have been in daily contact with eBay (and PayPal) Customer Support, but each response I've received has been from a different support person, and none of them has answered the question I'm asking.

    Rather than ask the question again, I refer you to this public web page ...


    ... where I am keeping a running log of the difficulties I am having getting eBay Customer Support to help me with this issue.

    If you don't want to appear in future updates to this log as another in the long chain of inattentive or uncomprehending eBay Customer Support agents, you would do well to study the history of this issue carefully before responding.

    If you feel that it's appropriate to respond by merely repeating the responses of the other Customer Support agents, please re-read my criticisms of those responses until you understand why they are inadequate. If you are unable to do that, please refer this support request to someone more capable.

    Thank you.


    Stephen Malinowski (mam on eBay)

    Omigod, would you look at this:

    Dear Stephen,
    Thank you for writing eBay in regard to being blocked from bidding.
    First, I would like to apologize for the fact that you have not gotten 
    the response you wanted from customer support.
    I have checked into your account, and I can confirm that you were blocked due 
    to your PayPal account.  When this happens, you simply need to relink your 
    PayPal account.  This is done through your My eBay under Addresses, click 
    on "View all shipping addresses" and where it states "PayPal address - This 
    eBay address book is linked to your PayPal account: stephen@xxxxxxx.com You 
    can remove this link."  Click on the Remove link and then Re-add.  This will 
    resolve the issue, if you have further bidding issues please let us know.
    We thank you in advance for your cooperation, and wish you luck with 
    your future eBay transactions.
    eBay Customer Support					

    It's actually a step in the direction of an explanation!

    He wished me luck; maybe I'll be lucky and get two helpful answers in a row ...

    Dear Joey,

    I sure hope you answer this email (if somebody besides Joey is reading this, please forward this to Joey), because you're the first person who's shed any light on my problem.

    I would like to understand what led to my bid being rejected and what I need to do to assure that it doesn't happen again. Please answer these three questions:

    1. You said that my bid was blocked "due to" my PayPal account. But I have used my PayPal account to pay for all my eBay purchases for years, and this has never happened. What was different in this case?

    2. You said that I could resolve the problem by relinking my PayPal account. What would cause my PayPal account to become unlinked?

    3. Is there some way to find out whether my PayPal account has become unlinked?

    Thank you.


    Stephen Malinowski (mam on eBay)

    ... and I did!

    Dear Stephen,
    Thank you for writing eBay in regard to your continuing bidding issue.
    We did experience a small bug that led some members' PayPal and eBay 
    accounts to become unlinked and cause some issues with bidding. It 
    affected a very small percentage of our members. It is corrected simply 
    by re-linking the two accounts as the previous agent has stated.
    The fastest and easiest way to ensure that your PayPal account and eBay 
    account are properly linked, please follow these steps:
     - go to your My eBay page.
     - under "My Account" click "Addresses"
     - click "View All Shipping Addresses"
     - If your PayPal account needs to be linked, you should see the PayPal 
    logo and a grey button that reads "Add PayPal Addresses"
     - If this is the case, click the "Add PayPal Addresses" button
     - Enter in your PayPal sign-in information and follow the instructions 
    on screen.
    Once those steps are completed, you should have no further problems with
    bidding on eBay.
    Thank you for using eBay for your online trading needs.
    eBay Customer Support

    ... which leaves only a couple of questions ...

    Dear eBay Customer Support,

    A couple of weeks ago, I had a bidding problem on eBay.  As I've documented here ...


    ... I've been working ever since then to find the cause of the problem.

    Today, eBay support agent "Gregory" provided the answer: my failed bid was due to a bug in your software.

    I would like to know:

    Q: Why didn't eBay notify the users that were affected by this bug?

    Q: When I reported the problem that was caused by this bug, why wasn't I given an explanation and an apology?

    Thank you.


    Stephen Malinowski (mam on eBay)

    ... which, more or less, were answered by this ...

    Dear Stephen,
    Thank you for writing eBay in regard to this situation.
    Stephen, I would like to apologize for the length of time it took for 
    you to get the answers you were looking for. I read your page word for 
    word, and I'm glad you finally got the answers you were looking for. 
    When we experience site issues such as the one that affected you, we 
    generally do post an announcement on the System Announcement board, 
    found here:
    Sometimes we get the issue resolved before the announcement is created 
    and posted, and that seems to have been the case in this situation. 
    As for why you did not receive an explanation and an apology, I can't 
    speak for the representatives who initially replied to your emails. I 
    would like to offer my apology for the inconvenience you experienced 
    while you were trying to bid, and I hope you're able to find another 
    keyboard soon.
    It is my pleasure to assist you. Thank you for choosing eBay.
    eBay Customer Support