So, here are a few tips to avoid falling into the same problems that I had.
Writing the Listing
Firstly, when writing your listing, check VERY carefully that you leave no loopholes for someone to come back at you. Using the Ebay pre-filled description can backfire badly if you do not check it thoroughly. If there any differences between what is listed and what you are actually selling, unscrupulous buyers will use this against you and claim the "item as not described" route. If you MUST use the pre-filled listing information, at least put a disclaimer that is worded something like this:
"The Ebay listing is given as a guide only, prospective bidders should refer to the description given in the lsiting"
Remember the less than honest buyer will use any loophole, Ebay returns policy for items "not as described" use the word "significantly".. There is no detailed description as to what constitutes "significantly". A netbook for example which is described perfectly but listed as a "laptop" could give the buyers an opportunity to pursue a return under this loophole.
Avoid lengthy descriptions in the listing, the more information you put, the more opportunities you give to those wanting to return for the wrong reasons.
Be honest and describe the item with all the obvious faults but unless you feel confident, don't go into extreme detail.
Blocking BiddersI now block any bidders who have had a spate of leaving bad feedback for others on a regular basis and who have done this unfairly. A tedious process but as I come across this type of feedback, the ebay member gets added to my block list. The feedback profiles are there, supposedly to inform other ebayers what they are dealing with, so I see no reason in taking pre-emptive action.
Avoiding ProblemsPack the item carefully before posting, don't skimp on packing materials, even the nicest buyer will be miffed if you send an item that is badly packed and may leave you neutral or negative feedback. Standards at the Royal Mail appear to have dropped and some parcels, if poorly packed will arrive in a damaged condition. Nothing is guaranteed to annoy a buyer who has been waiting for some time to get an item which is damaged in transit. Secure packing also deters items "falling out" of the packing during transit or the packing mysteriously "popping open". For that reason, I now,where possible, send everything via recorded mail, parcel force or courier. It may add to the costs to the buyer (and your paypal fees, which Paypal take a percentage of), but at least you have some comeback and compensation if things go missing. In my experience and that of others I deal with, it is the parcels that are sent via standard parcels that vanish into the twilight zone for some reason...
Retain all proof of posting, send your buyer a copy (the ebay messaging system does not provide for this), so email the buyer and ask them for their email address, keep a copy of your message to them that shows you asked them if they wanted proof of posting. At the very least email them the tracking info and code. Paying for postage via paypal is an excellent idea as they get a reciept from paypal showing that you at least created the label to post the item, however, IT DOES NOT prove that you posted it.
I assume you made a record of all serial numbers before posting? If so, then take a photo of the item showing the serial numbers on it as well. This deters those very unscrupulous ebayers who will swap parts and then pursue an "item not as described" claim. I also use a UV pen to mark all my items and photograph them under UV light for reference. It won't deter the most dishonest, but it WILL make any counter claim you need to make a LOT easier.
As soon as the item is posted, I email the buyers to inform them, also if I have had a delay in posting the item. It is good practice and helps keep your buyers faith in you. If there is going to be a significant delay, I will refund part of the postage or send via a quicker route as compensation. I ALWAYS refund any excess postage and packing costs.
Non ArrivalsI check to see if an item has arrived either through the tracking number or emailing the buyer as a courtesy. Where the buyer reports thay have not had the item, I will (after the 15 days that the Post office insist on), make a refund to the buyer and pursue a lost item claim. NOTE: The Post Office WILL check that they buyer has not had this, as if they have recieved it, they can refuse to make a refund.. be warned.. Some ebayers now pursue a policy where they will ONLY refund after they have had the money back from the Post office, (this takes up to 8 weeks). Personally, I would rather keep the buyer happy and my reputation intact than go through the process of dispute in ebay. Ebay don't seem to have a firm policy on this, but WILL freeze paypal funds until this is resolved, by which time, the buyer will in all probability have left you a negative.
Exceptions and my personal thoughts
Where a buyer tries the "item as not described" route (and I have had a buyer wanting to return the item because his "son did not like the way it looked"), I will no longer bow to pressure of the dispute process and make a refund automatically (the case above took 90 days to resolve, as even after being offered the refund, the buyer did not return the item, Ebay did not seem to be bothered or put pressure on them to do so)
I now will contest the return request in cases like these and take issue with ebay.
Don't be "bullied" by the standard freezing of funds and vitriolic complaints by the buyer in the dispute communications. IF YOU KNOW you are in the right. stand firm and contest the claim. You may get a negative or neutral feedback at the end of it, but at least you can follow this up in the response to the feedback and give your own version of events. Also do not give feedback as a seller first, wait until they leave it for you and then respond.
Where a buyer has given negative feedback BEFORE giving you the opportunity to sort out the matter and has then opened a dispute, I now will contest the refund process without exception (IF I am in the right).
There are a lot of excellent ebayers out there, the majority of which are reasonable, courteous and understanding. I always leave positive feedback that is personal to the auction for them and would want to trade with them again. Courtesy costs nothing and the payback can be very rewarding, it is sadly the few "serial complainers", "scammers" and dishonest ebayers who spoil it for the rest of us.