eBay today announced managed returns, a new service that aims to streamline the process for reverting a purchase or a sale. The company is offering it publicly today, thanks to a major collaborative effort involving more than 34 product teams across eBay and 33 support teams, but only on an opt-in basis for eBay Top-rated sellers. To do so, go to your All Selling or Site Preferences page in My eBay.

eBay has admitted it has “a variety of return procedures, restrictions and policies” that often make it “impossible to know what returning an eBay purchase will be like.” In other words, the online auction and shopping website knows its system sucks, and is attempting to fix it.

Note that the return policy can still be specified the same way: based on timeframe, refund method, restocking fee, and whether the seller or the buyer pays return shipping. This is all about the actual execution of a return.

Here’s how it works:

  • If you’re a seller wanting to return something, click on “Return this item” next to the transaction in My eBay, choose a reason, and print a return shipping label and packing slip. If you’re the buyer, you’ll automatically be notified.
  • eBay pays for the return shipping upfront and then either charges the buyer’s PayPal account or adds it to the seller’s next invoice, depending on who was specified to pay for shipping.
  • If you’re the seller, when you receive the item, you simply click a button to issue a refund. If you’re the buyer, your final value fee for that transaction will show as a credit on your next seller invoice and a portion of your PayPal fees will also be refunded.

eBay says the managed returns process “virtually automates returns for sellers and buyers” and even streamlines the communications between them. The company gushes that the new system gives buyers and sellers clear guidelines for the returns process, as well as the necessary tools to create packing slips and pre-paid shipping labels for tracking and receiving returned items. Yet that’s all rather useless if most eBay users can’t use it.

Unfortunately, while it launched as a pilot on July 10 for select eBay sellers and while eBay says it will eventually become the long-term solution for all transactions, it wouldn’t say when that will happen.

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