eBay posted an announcement on its Australian marketplace clarifying why some buyers are seeing “duplicate” charges from their financial institution when making purchases on the marketplace.
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The company explained that to ensure a transaction will clear, a payment processor (that would be them with eBay Managed Payments), communicates a pre-authorization amount to a user’s financial institution when a user attempts to make a purchase.
eBay claims this pre-authorization provides certainty to a seller and allows order fulfillment to be completed quicker without having to wait on the buyer’s financial institution to finalize the payment.
It is this process eBay says that can lead to buyers seeing duplicate charges on an account until the pre-authorization hold has been removed by the financial institution.
The company emphasized there will be only one payment deducted from the financial institution for any purchase. However, it also said that pre-authorization holds may appear on buyer credit or debit card accounts for up to 60 days after purchase.
What is interesting about this notice is that pre-authorization holds are not typical for credit or debit card purchases when the final price is fixed. They are more common in a two-step payment process. Let’s explain this a bit.
Credit and debit card authorization holds are commonly used by hotels, car rental agencies, or gas stations to hold a certain amount usually above the final anticipated charge, until the customer checks out, returns the car, or finishes fueling. This is often called a two-step transaction as well.
This way of processing a payment ensures the customer has the funds to complete a transaction for which the final price is not known yet, up to the pre-authorized amount.
For example, a hotel room may cost $180 per night, but the hotel offers amenities (mini-bar, bar, restaurant, spa, etc.) that guests can charge to their room. The hotel will run a pre-authorization for let’s say $280 ($100 to cover incidentals in hotel speak) ensuring the customer can actually pay for additional charges during the stay. Once the guest checks out, the hotel will finalize the bill and settle the pre-authorized transaction.
Unfortunately, for various reasons from human error to how charges are processed, this can result in a temporary double hold where the original pre-authorized amount is not cleared when the charge is finalized.
But as eBay stated, the “second” hold will fall off resulting in only one charge. While eBay said it may take up to 60 days, normally this happens within 7 to 10 business days.
By comparison, in a typical retail sale, the cost of buying the product is fixed and the buyer is charged the full and final amount at the cash register or when they complete the online checkout process.
Those purchases usually show up as a “pending” charge (a hold) on a debit or credit card and typically turn into a “posted” charge within 1 to 3 days.
eBay Running Another ‘Hidden’ Experiment?
That makes eBay’s notice about pre-authorized holds interesting. Why would they need a pre-authorization hold when the typical transaction on eBay is actually a fixed-price transaction and should process like a typical retail sale?
eBay has said with eBay Managed Payments they will be able to reduce unpaid item cases, so is this some new experiment in that direction?
With bids and Best Offers, eBay could use pre-authorization holds to ensure buyers have the funds to complete a transaction. But that would be such a significant change for the marketplace (even if just an experiment), they should really disclose this as it could have major cash-flow or credit availability implications for buyers.
There is already a “hidden” experiment with Best Offers that has buyers and sellers upset since there is no way for sellers to turn off the function and buyers are blindsided with immediate charges when they may want to combine orders.
Hence, we wonder if the pre-authorization hold announcement is somehow related to the Best Offer experiment since as we outlined, they could be related.
eBay did not provide any detail for which type of transactions pre-authorization holds may show up on buyer accounts. It is also unclear if this is localized to Australia only or affects users globally. Presumably, eBay Managed Payments processes payments the same way in all countries.
Pre-authorization holds on debit cards are really problematic as users lose access to the held funds for some time, potentially even after the “settled” transaction clears the bank. At least for credit card users, pre-authorization holds only reduce the credit line, not take away cash.
We are trying to get more information on this situation. For now, we suggest buyers avoid using debit cards on eBay (unless you have lots of cash in the bank) until there is more clarity on why and when the company is using pre-authorization holds.
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