The Box Cutter Rebellion

Sometimes for fun I browse through eBay, the world’s largest online garage sale, to see what odd things people are selling and what odd prices other people are willing to pay for them. One day I happened upon a couple of brand-new DVD sets going for cheap that I knew I could resell at a profit elsewhere. So I bought them, but upon receiving them discovered they were not in the condition described on the eBay listing. I e-mailed the seller, a girl whose first name was “Christal” (which should have been an immediate indication of trouble), and explained the situation:

Hello —

I bought “X-Files” season 7 and “Deep Space Nine” season 7 from you, item #[item number] and #[item number]. There are some problems with the items, which I received today.

Your description of the “X-Files” set said, “has been opened but never viewed in great perfect shape.” In fact, it has not been opened — which would be a plus, except that instead, it has been scratched on the back cover, about two inches long, through the shrink wrap and into the case itself. It looks like a box cutter did the damage. This is not the same as “has been opened”; this is “has been damaged.”

Your description of the “DSN” set said, “new but has been opened but never viewed.” I can see it has been opened; the outer shell has also been sliced open, perhaps by the same box cutter as before, and taped up. The slice got through to the inner case, too, making it impossible to resell the item as “new,” or even “like new.”

I see that you sell a lot of things, so I’m guessing these were just oversights, where things were accidentally listed in the wrong condition. An honest mistake, I’m sure. But I can’t resell them, which was my intent, so they are of no use to me. Please indicate how quickly you can refund my money, and give me the address to mail them back to.

Eric D. Snider

A fairly polite letter, I believe, and you’ll notice I gave her the benefit of the doubt when I pretended to think it was an honest mistake, when in fact I believe she did it on purpose because she is evil and stupid.

Christal’s reply was thus:


Right. Well. I immediately realized I was dealing with a foreigner, and by foreigner I mean a person from a different planet, one where written language exists only in its most primitive, all-caps form.

Since she appeared not to have grasped what I was telling her — that the items were not the way she said they were — I replied and explained it again:

No, see, that’s the problem. The items were NOT as described.

I’ll repeat myself: You said of the “X-Files” set, “has been opened but never viewed in great perfect shape.” But it is NOT in “great perfect shape”; it has been sliced with a box cutter. My imagination is not fertile enough to envision a situation where an item that has been lacerated with sharp implements is still considered in “great perfect shape.”

You said of the “DSN” set only that it was “has been opened but never viewed.” That may be true, but you omitted the fact that it, too, has been sliced and taped up. The fact that it has never been viewed seems disquietingly beside the point.

Both items are damaged. Your descriptions of them on eBay gave no indication that they were damaged. Quite the opposite: You said they were in like-new condition.

Your descriptions were misleading. Therefore, I am entitled to a full refund, including shipping. Please don’t make me go to eBay with this, because I will. Avoid negative feedback and eBay on your back by doing the fair thing and giving me a refund.

Thank you,
Eric D. Snider

Here I employed the most powerful tool you have against a dodgy eBay trader: the threat of Negative Feedback. The way it works is after each transaction, whether you were the buyer or seller, you are invited to post feedback on the other person, letting others know how smoothly or unsmoothly the sale went. Positive feedback boosts your overall rating, which enhances your reputation and lets others know you are reliable. The more positive feedback you have, the more people like you, the more confident and relaxed you feel in your daily business, the more you’re the envy of your friends and colleagues. A high feedback rating gives your skin a healthy glow and can lengthen your life by several years. Your positive feedback can testify as a character witness in your behalf in a criminal trial. In the afterlife, positive feedback can be redeemed for the absolution of your sins.

Negative feedback, on the other hand, is the bane of all eBayers’ existence. It is a curse, a pox, a brand, a scarlet letter, the mark of Cain, a big giant “666” on your figurative forehead. EBay traders will do ANYTHING, up to and including murder, to avoid receiving negative feedback. To threaten negative feedback is like using Hitler as an example in an argument: You won the fight, but you fought dirty.

By the time Christal replied to my last e-mail, she had drunk enough whiskey to render herself unconscious, at which point she fell face-forward onto her keyboard and deactivated the caps lock key:

ill give you the refund but please dont bid on any more of my items you need to send a invoice requestion a refund for my records thanks and iam sorry you wornt happy

I’m entertained to know that she thought she had to TELL me not to bid on her auctions anymore, as if I had been likely to do so otherwise. I sent her the invoice requestion a refund, even though I don’t know what “requestion” means. My best guess is it means “to ask a second time,” which I suppose is what I did when I demanded a refund twice.

Out of curiosity, I checked her feedback to see what others had said. What I learned told me I ought to have checked BEFORE I bought from her, not after. I found this item, a complaint from someone a few weeks before I had my run-in with her: “Item listed as opened, not cut with a razor blade. Seller not willing to refund.”

Christal posted this response: “payed for item quick but never read item discreption complained”

I THINK what she means is, “The buyer paid for this item quickly, without having read the item description, then complained when the item wasn’t what he thought it would be.” This is a reasonable defense, until you look at the actual item description, which says, “has been opened but never viewed in new condition!!” I can’t imagine why Christal would claim the description noted the damage when all you have to do is click on the link to SEE what the description said. Obviously, Christal is more stupid than I previously thought, which is saying something, because I believed her to be the most stupid person who had ever lived.

Another buyer says this: “Seller represented that the game was ‘new and never opened’. Seal was cut!”

And another: “DVD sets were to be XMAS Presents! Can’t Give with RAZOR BLADE DAMAGE TO BOXES!”

And another: “Seller came to my house and cut me with razor blade! Not willing to call 911!”

OK, I made up the last one. Anyway, apparently Christal sits around with her brand-new merchandise and slices it with razor blades. Why does she do this? I don’t know. Maybe it is the custom on her home planet. In fact, that is my conclusion. I’m sure you wornt going to offer any better theories.

I like this column because it begins slowly, establishing the situation, and then mostly allows the insane behavior of someone else to provide the comedy. I also like it because it is 100 percent true. If I made up e-mails as horribly written as Christal's, you would accuse me of going over the top, exaggeration-wise. When you realize they're actual e-mails, though, it's hilarious.

The phrase "my imagination is not fertile enough to envision a situation" has been one of my favorites ever since I read it in the liner notes to "The Remains of Tom Lehrer," a fantastic three-CD box set of all the recordings by Tom Lehrer (who was, by the way, the greatest musical satirist of the 20th century). He is asked, "What conditions would impel you to resume performing?," and his reply is, "My imagination is not fertile enough to envision such conditions." Lehrer has a marvelous way with words, and I'm happy to steal from him whenever possible.

Buying eBay merchandise cheap and reselling it, either on eBay or, can actually be a mildly lucrative endeavor, if you have the patience and creativity to do it right. In fact, it is my belief that no one has ever actually opened and watched any of the "Deep Space Nine" sets. They only buy them and resell them, the same hundred-thousand copies, all exchanging hands constantly without ever actually being used. Isn't capitalism great?