What You Need to Know When Buying Watches with PayPal

I recently bought a watch from a forum seller (Watchuseek, Reddit, Rolex Forums… it’s all the same for purposes of this article. Even eBay largely falls in this category). I rarely buy watches new from a store or authorized dealer — I buy and sell so much that it’s not worth it to me to pay the brand-new MSRP markup — so look to forums for the best prices. There are also “trusted seller” sites like eBay, Chrono24, Torneau, and WatchFinder & Co (recently purchased by Richemont), but buying and selling peer-to-peer on a forum cuts out the middle man and the accompanying middleman markup. Plus, I’ve been around these forums long enough that I find the people to be generally trustworthy and nice.

That said, I had quite the scare when buying my newest watch, a Tudor Black Bay 36, from a forum seller. Like most forum transactions, we negotiated price and then I paid with PayPal Goods & Services, which charges a 3% fee on top of the sales price. This is the first note: never pay with PayPal Friends and Family. That money is gone as soon as you send it. I used a debit card to pay through PayPal, and the seller shipped the watch insured through USPS. A few days later, I got a notification from USPS tracking that my watch had been delivered. I went down to my door person (I live in a large building in a city center), and he’d seen no such delivery. The watch was delivered as “signature required on delivery,” meaning that I was supposed to have to sign for the watch before the USPS courier could actually drop it off. But, the USPS tracking showed a rather uninformative signature: it was nothing more than a straight line through the signature box. I had no idea who had actually signed for a package that had allegedly been dropped off at my building.

I waited a couple days before getting too worried. It’s not uncommon for couriers to sign for and mark packages as delivered at the end of a business day when they haven’t actually been delivered yet. FedEx, USPS, UPS all have targets to meet in delivering items that are sent as priority or 2-day shipping (think Amazon Prime 2-day delivery and the massive contract it has with the USPS), and people have claimed before that delivery workers will mark items as delivered even when they’re not to make Amazon and other shippers happy.

After a few days, I started to get worried. So worried that I made a Watchuseek post about it. Forum members lent a sympathetic ear as well as some good advice, but my watch remained missing for an entire week. So, the seller and I started an investigation with the USPS. To even start an investigation with them, you basically need to have an insured package. If it’s not insured, they don’t really care. I started dealing with the local USPS customer service in my city, and they were (surprisingly) very helpful, if not a little slow (the first day I called, all of their computer systems were down. The office decided to close at 3pm).

Thankfully, about a week later, the package finally arrived at my door. I have no idea where it was in the intervening time, but it was finally in my hands. Perhaps it was in the back of a USPS truck and a delivery person had forgotten to drop it off. Who knows if the USPS investigation would have uncovered anything, but I wasn’t hopeful — they’re processing thousands of packages just in my town, how were they ever going to find a little watch box?

PayPal is not Actually Protective of Buyers

This brings me to the point of this article: what if the package were really lost? Would I have gotten my money back from PayPal or USPS?

While PayPal has a “Buyer Protection Policy,” PayPal’s policy doesn’t actually cover items lost in transit. According to the full PayPal user agreement, “If the seller presents evidence that they delivered the goods to your address, PayPal may find in favor of the seller for an Item Not Received claim even if you claim you did not receive the goods.” If the seller shows proof of shipment or proof of delivery, the buyer’s claim will not qualify for PayPal’s purchase protection. This is a lesson for sellers to save those shipping receipts and to take a photo of the box with shipping label before shipping, so that you can prove shipment should it come to that. But for the buyer, it offers little protection in the event of a lost package. For the buyer, this offers little solace. In fact, on the its Buyer Protection page, PayPal lists a number of things not covered by its policy, but somehow it forgot to mention items lost in transit:

A list of situations not covered by PayPal’s Buyer Protection Policy. Items lost in transit are not covered either, but PayPal somehow forgot to include that here.

A list of situations not covered by PayPal’s Buyer Protection Policy. Items lost in transit are not covered either, but PayPal somehow forgot to include that here.

I could have filed a claim with PayPal, but I probably would have lost it. Oddly then, my only recourse would have been with the USPS, but the seller is the one who purchases insurance with USPS. So while I can file the insurance claim, I’m completely reliant on the seller to have bought insurance and documented the value of the shipment correctly, in addition to sharing the payout of any claim won. I read stories good and bad from people winning and losing USPS insurance claims, but I’d hardly want a stodgy government agency to be my only recourse in the case of the lost watch (by the way, this is likely a little unfair to USPS. I’ve read that UPS and FedEx are not much better in honoring insurance claims).

In the end, I was lucky the watch showed up, because as a buyer, I had very little actual recourse. The one mistake I made was paying with a debit card. If I had paid with credit, I may have been able to file for a chargeback with my credit card company. But if you pay with a debit card, that money is gone. That’s the one tip I’d leave all buyers with: most credit card companies have a no-questions-asked chargeback policy up to a certain amount, and are especially generous if you’ve not filed a chargeback before. Of course, the process will raise more eyebrows the higher the dollar amount, but I wouldn’t recommend buying a five-figure watch from reddit anyway (especially after everything I went through with this watch).

Takeaways and Tips for Buyers:

  • Send money using PayPal Goods & Services (eat the extra 3% if you have to)

  • Pay with a credit card to leave open the option of a chargeback

  • Ask the seller to buy insurance and insist it’s well documented (eat the insurance cost if you have to)

Buyers, be careful out there.