Oooops! I’ve made a big eBay mistake! How do I cancel?

Mistakes do happen, and if they’re serious enough, they need to be undone.

Everyone makes mistakes, but mistakes made while buying or selling on eBay can be very frustrating and at times even frightening.

At least once in their eBay lives, every buyer or seller is likely to find themselves having accidentally:

  • Listed an item for the wrong price that sold immediately
  • Listed an item you don’t have that sold immediately
  • Placed and/or won with a bid higher than you intended
  • Submitted a best offer at a higher price than you intended
  • Accepted a best offer at a lower price than you intended
  • Completed a “Buy It Now” without meaning to

When these or similar things happen as mistakes, it’s not about fraud or about bad intentions; it’s usually about having modern, twitchy hands or thought processes that are on “Internet autopilot,” clicking, clicking and typing, typing almost without our noticing until suddenly we say “Omigosh, that’s not what I meant to do! Help!”

Where are the “undo” or “cancel” buttons?

When something like this happens, a common first impulse is to want to find a “cancel” or an “undo” button somewhere. While eBayers making accidental bids can retract them, in the other cases above and most like them, there is no such button.

Officially, you are expected to:

  • Deliver the item at the listed or offer-accepted price, even if it was accidentally way too low
  • Pay for the item you purchased, even if you didn’t really want it and the purchase was in error
  • Pay for the item you offered on, even if the accepted offer was higher than you meant to enter

Of course, life isn’t always so black and white. While in some cases you may be willing to do these things, in other cases—say, when there are a lot of dollars at stake—it doesn’t make sense to follow through with them.

What to Do, Even Without a Cancel Button

If you’ve just made an eBay mistake and you’re frantic to take it back before it “really becomes a reality,” here are the steps to take, as quickly as possible.

  • Contact your trading partner and explain. From the item listing or using eBay’s search tools, contact the buyer or seller in question and breathlessly explain everything to them. Apologize. Plead. But also say that you really can’t complete the transaction. Then, if it really was a mistake and it doesn’t make sense to make it right, don’t complete the transaction.
  • If you’re the seller, issue a refund. If the buyer has paid already, or if the buyer insists on paying, log into PayPal and issue a refund of their purchase price immediately, restating your explanation. Do not for any reason hold onto or use the funds if or when they arrive.
  • Prepare for anger, disputes, and bad feedback. Even though you’ve made a mistake, you can expect your would-be trading partner to be rightfully frustrated. They thought they were getting a great deal and/or they though you were making a purchase from them. It’s not just that you’re undoing what they imagined was done, but that you’re making additional trouble for them beyond what they’d have experienced if you’d never existed in the first place. Keep your cool. Be polite, professional, and apologetic. And don’t be surprised if negative feedback and/or disputes enter the picture.
  • Please your case with eBay, if necessary. If a dispute comes into play, just explain yourself to eBay. Make the case, if you can, for removing negative feedback if it’s been left. In general, if the end result is that no money has changed hands, eBay will just move on for one-time mistakes. They may or may not be willing to remove negative feedback if you’re a seller—it depends on the case and on your professionalism.

Don’t Get Complacent About “Oopses”

Beware, whether as a buyer or seller, that eBay takes a dim view of repeat mistakes. A one-off “oops” followed by a frantic refusal to complete a transaction (and a refund of payment if you’re the seller) won’t get you into long-term eBay hot water.

On the other hand, a series of just two or three mistakes like this in succession, if each is brought to eBay’s attention, is as likely as not to earn a suspension, and if you are a seller will certainly damage your feedback, detailed seller ratings, seller performance rating, and best match search placement.

It’s true that you can’t expect yourself to finish a transaction that makes no sense to you, but it’s equally true that eBay expects you and everyone else to take buying and selling on eBay seriously—every transaction, every day.

by Aron Hsiao


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