Every eBay buyer loves getting that order shipped notification but does shipped really mean shipped?
Regular readers know I spend quite a bit of time looking at eBay from the seller perspective but today I'll flip the script and take a look at the buying experience.
Warning: gratuitous cute dog picture ahead!
This is Bruce - Bruce loves tennis balls, but unfortunately even the toughest ones only last about 5 minutes with this power chewer, so I headed to eBay to see what kind of indestructible dog toys we could find as a replacement.
I'll save comments on the search and checkout side of things for another day and instead focus on just the post-purchase experience with this order.
The order was placed on a Sunday and to my surprise the seller sent a message almost immediately confirming the order would ship on Monday, which is what I expected given the 1 day handling time stated on the listing but it's always nice to get reassurance - so far so good.
On Monday morning I received a notification my order had shipped with an estimated delivery of June 30 - July 1 and here's where the trouble started.
The first thing I noticed was a slight discrepancy in verbiage between the website and the confirmation email. My on site notification said "shipped" while the email confirmation used the more ambiguous "is being shipped" - which is it eBay?
As a seller, I understand that this notification is triggered as soon as the tracking number is entered and that in most cases the tracking will show activity within a few hours once the package has been accepted by the carrier.
So I patiently waited until the end of day and checked back only to find the order status page showed the much more accurate designation "tracking provided" - meaning a label had been printed, but the package was still not in the possession of the carrier.
At this point, eBay still showed the latest estimated delivery date as July 1. So I waited...and waited and on Wednesday there was still no acceptance scan and no indication the order had actually shipped, so I sent a message to the seller.
Miraculously, a few hours later the package was finally actually taken to the post office and received an acceptance scan. At that point eBay updated the tracking to show "shipped" on June 29 and changed the estimated delivery date to July 5.
Poor Bruce now has to wait an additional 4 days for his new toy, which is like a whole month in dog years.
Why Is It Important?
Some people might say it's simply a semantics argument to split hairs between "tracking provided" and "shipped" - so why is the language eBay uses for notifications so important?
First and foremost, when it comes to legal and regulatory matters governing everything from the FTC 30 Day Mailing rule to insurance coverage, carrier service commitments/terms of service and more - it all comes down to the simple question of who is in physical possession of the package and when that physical possession occurs.
The US Code of Federal Regulations Part 435- Mail, Internet, or Telephone Order Merchandise gives this explicit definition of "shipment":
Shipment shall mean the act by which the merchandise is physically placed in the possession of the carrier.
Beyond those legal and regulatory concerns, receiving notification that your order has "shipped" when in fact it has not is just a terrible buyer experience that erodes trust in the platform.
Ebay facilitates deceptive shipping status:
The word, "Shipped" has a universally recognized definition and is PAST TENSE.
Seller should not be able to mark items, "Shipped" while retaining possession for more than 24 hours.
If a shipping company does not HAVE (present tense) an item, it CANNOT be, "Shipped" (past tense).
At the same time Ebay status can show 'shipped" while the shipper status is "awaiting acceptance"
It is within Ebay's capability to fix this if they do not want their site to imply a status that is misleading.
I agree and have complained to eBay about this quite a while ago and it still isn't fixed. Seller metrics are based on the carrier getting the Acceptance scan and uploading that to the eBay Sold item which is when the item is actually SHIPPED ...
You are 100% correct, until the carrier has the package in their possession it has NOT shipped. Printing a label is NOT shipping a package ...
For me the litmus test is what eBay uses for the Seller metric for on time shipping, meaning getting the Acceptance scan within the Handling time. When the Carrier scans the package in to their system it is Shipped ... nothing prior to that equates to the package being Shipped. "Processed"? sure, "Label created?" sure.
If a Seller "marks" the item as Shipped eBay needs to state that AND point out that the package may or may not be in the Carrier's possession ... which is true until a verifiable scan has been completed.
As these community members point out - eBay could easily solve the problem and offer a better user experience by simply having "label printed" or "tracking provided" be a separate event from "shipped" with appropriately worded notifications for each event shown to the buyer to accurately communicate the status of the order.
When do you consider your online orders "shipped" and are you happy with how marketplaces like eBay communicate shipping status to buyers? Let us know in the comments below!