Handling Angry Customers

handling angry customers when selling vintageAs a seller on Ebay for 10 years, and Etsy for 3, I’ve had the occasional irate customer. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, you will. It’s just a matter of time. I have learned a method of handling angry customers that works for ME every time.


When a problem arises, there are certain presumptions that come into play~


Presumption #1

**Buyers are out to cheat or harass the seller.  NO! They just want a transaction with no surprises.


Presumption #2

**When things go wrong, buyers immediately assume you are out to cheat them and keep their money.



handling angry customers when selling vintageThe first imperative you MUST do when writing a listing description is be honest about any flaws no matter how minor. Describe them as if there were no photos. Take pictures from every angle.



Therefore, when complaints arise, you have it in your listing. Proven fact: Buyers do not read descriptions. For YOUR protection, write a detailed description anyway with flaws documented.

The best protection for vintage sellers is writing a description with all flaws documented.Click To Tweet


I recently had such a situation on Etsy. I sold a vintage sewing pattern, with most of the pattern pieces missing…an old 30’s “Hollywood pattern,” but I listed it because the envelopes are collectible. A person bought it and 2 other vintage patterns. After they received it, I got an angry email about the missing pattern pieces. I was accused of dishonesty for selling the pattern, and threatened with an opened case against me on Etsy.


Calmly I told the customer:

*Name I don’t blame you at all for being disappointed!


*I wondered if you had read the description where I clearly stated that most of the pattern pieces were missing.


*I debated about reminding you before shipping that the pieces were missing, but I usually assume people have read the description before purchasing.

(The latter 2 statements tactfully puts the responsibility back on the customer for not reading the description.)


*I promised to refund money for the pattern and part of the shipping. (I received a sheepish reply and an apology about “the misunderstanding.”)


*The money was promptly refunded.



Steps for Handling Angry Customers:


Don’t respond in anger or defensiveness. Be professional.


Be honest about flaws. Describe and photograph them.


Disclaimers are good reminders for buyers. “Vintage items are pre-loved and have normal signs of use. It is not a new item.”


When complaints arise, you have it documented.


Agree with their complaints, which helps deflate anger.


Tactfully remind them that it was in the description.


Promptly refund the money.


A much happier buyer is the result. You have protected your reputation and the buyer is happy. **The maddest buyer becomes a lamb when you refund their money.

The maddest buyer becomes a lamb when you refund their money.Click To Tweet

18 comments on Handling Angry Customers

  1. Good advice, Florence. I recently had a nasty review left on Etsy feedback BEFORE the customer bothered to contact me first. I immediately contacted her, apologized and offered to replace her item that was damaged, reminding her that shipping damages (which this was, despite meticulous packaging) are out of my control. I also asked that once she received her new order, she would consider editing the feedback she left, as I’d never had a negative review before. USPS covered my damages, the customer was pleased and she left a very positive review. Also, your advice about describing every flaw is spot on. Great post!

    1. You’re right Cecilia…the USPS can sure mess up packages. I’ve had it happen to me more than once. Good thing your buyer was nice & revised their feedback. But it’s a shame they leave the bad feedback & then not contact you. That’s the pits, and it happens far too often. In fact, I had a buyer once on Etsy that left me glowing verbal feedback, but left me a low number rating. They must have thought #1 was the best rather than #5!

  2. You are spot on! Yes, always disclose any damage or even anything that could be perceived as damage. I’d have been uneasy about the pattern with missing pieces, too. I have sent that email making sure they saw the damage or flaw before.

    Thankfully, I very rarely have angry buyers, but when I do, I always go with an “I don’t blame you” attitude, too. But three years ago, I had the angriest, most unstable buyer in the history of all internet sales, all over an $8 item that I had misplaced during a very busy move we were going through. He was so bad, it made up for not having angry buyers before or after. I tried to cancel the order when I realized I couldn’t find it, but he had already mailed the payment. (I’ve since stopped taking payments by mail.) I kept hunting the item. His payment arrived. It was cash. $10 and I could “keep the change”, which was about .25. He started to get irate when I told him I still hadn’t found the item and would refund the money. He accused me of trying to take his money, cheating him, taking advantage of him, he was deaf, blah, blah, blah, even saying I was not a Christian! That was out of the blue. I am, but never said I was. Anyway, I always answered apologetically and professionally. I cancelled the order and mailed him a check for the refund. That made him even madder because it would cost him $3 to cash the check! He was writing insane convos, each crazier, more nonsensical, and creepier than the last, and left something like a 2000 word feedback. That was back when there was no limit on feedback length. The more he wrote, the more it sounded like he had not taken his crazy man medicine in awhile. It got to the point I was afraid to open my email. This is just a brief synopsis. There was more. Much, much more. I was ready to give up online selling. My hair started falling out! It was horrible. Etsy handled it for me. That feedback is no longer in my account, but I saved all the convos and feedbacks. It still makes me sick to my stomach when I think of it. Funny things was, once it was over, I picked up a stack of linens and there was his item. And…. all this was actually over before it was even due to be sent.

    So, yes. If you sell online, it WILL happen. Eventually. He was my first true nightmare customer in what was at the time, 16 years of online selling. I hope he’s the last.

    1. Wow! That kind of feedback should be handled by whoever you were selling with, and I’m so glad they did. That person sounded way over the top. And all over $8 when you made it right with them. That’s what I meant by “Presumption #2.” When things go south, buyers immediately assume the worst. I’ve gotten to where I will email buyers ahead of time when I know there’s a major flaw to make sure they’ve seen it…less headaches all around that way. And I’ve had a my share of nightmares. Though they are rare, each one always worried & upset me.

  3. Florence, this is great advice when dealing with angry customers. I’m glad things worked out with the customer. You dealt with the situation very well.

  4. I am not a seller, but having worked in retail (and being teacher) I can say that I agree with your advice 100%. People are always looking to argue and assume the worst. Diffuse, disclose and depart the situation!! Yes!

    1. Thanks Patti. Yes it was difficult for a bit there, but I’m glad it ended with a positive outcome. I would really rather give people their money back if they are unhappy. THAT usually makes them happy!

  5. Great advice. I think you handled it well, and you basically bent over backward to please him. But some people have to vent on someone and there you were, his punching bag.

  6. Such wonderful advice, Florence–so wise and godly, too. In the long run it pays off in so many ways to keep your cool. Thanks for sharing your methods with us at Vintage Charm!

  7. Florence you are a true l ady and a smart business woman! Always keep the customer happy! 😉 Here in Greece they don’t know what that means and act as if they are doing you a favor by letting you step foot in their store..haha!

    1. Aww, Mary, that must be a difficult situation over there! Don’t you hate it when shopkeepers have an attitude like that? THank you for the encouragement and kind words!

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