Probably one of the most uncomfortable things that can happen between an honest buyer and an honest seller is for the coins to go missing in the mail. Both sides feel awkward, wondering if the other side thinks they're trying to take advantage. Consider this scenario:
I sometimes buy freshly dug-up coins from the Middle East and Europe, the lands once occupied by the great empires of ancient Rome and Greece. When purchased wholesale from the "source countries" (such as Israel, where they can be legally exported,) these coins are typically sold in lots of 1,000 or more pieces. Since this is far more coins than any one person can reasonably expect to clean and restore (much less attribute and preserve) I typically recover my cost by selling of about 70% of the lot for a small profit. I run an informal ad in one of the discussion groups devoted to cleaning ancient coins, and people buy the coins in batches of about 10 to 50 coins each, typically for a couple dollars per coin. An extra $2 or $3 is added to the whole purchase for the shipping expense.
The last time I sold off some excess coins this way, everybody got their lots in good time and were very happy, except for one person. Buddy emailed me about 2 weeks after the sale, and asked if I had sent his coins out. He had purchased 20 coins, and hadn't received them yet. He was new to the discussion group where I had posted the coins for sale, so he really didn't know much about me, and he was becoming concerned that he might have been ripped off. His first email read something like this:
Hi, I sent you $42 by PayPal to buy 20 of your uncleaned ancient coins and haven't gotten them yet. It's been 2 weeks. Can you please check to see if they've been sent? Thanks, Buddy.
I checked my paperwork (I track everything when I sell coins!) Buddy's payment had come in via PayPal as he said, for the amount he specified, and his coins had gone out in the mail the next day, 12 days ago. So I sent the following reply:
Buddy, Thank you for your inquiry about the coins I sold you. My records indicate that I sent them out on Tuesday, March 11. The postal service isn't what it used to be, and sometimes they can take awhile, so let's give it another week or so and if you don't have your coins by then, please let me know. Susan.
A week later, I get this message:
Hi, I still don't have the coins you said you sent me. Are you sure they're coming? 3 weeks is a long time, even if you didn't send them Priority. Please let me know what's going on! Buddy.
I sent Buddy the following reply:
Buddy, I am sorry that you haven't received your coins yet! I am 100% certain I sent them to you on the morning of March 11. Could you please verify your address with me, just to make sure we don't have any mistakes anywhere? I have "123 Main Street, Coinsville, CA. 91214," is this correct? Thanks, Susan.
(I have changed the address to protect Buddy's privacy.) Buddy's email response came the next day:
Susan, You have the right address, but are you SURE you sent the coins? I've bought coins before, and they've always come within a few days. What's going on here?! I'm starting to get worried. Do I need to call my bank and stop the payment?
Buddy didn't even sign his name to this one, a probable sign of his escalating concern. At this point, I began considering options:
(a) I could refund his money through PayPal, and rely on him to send it back when his coins finally arrive.
(b) I could send him replacement coins, so that he gets something in good time, and when the original lot turns up he can either buy that one, too, or return it to me.
(c) I could ask him to allow another 7 to 10 days, since mail that goes missing is almost always found within 30 days (according to the clerk I asked at the post office.)
(d) I could wash my hands of the whole thing and tell him that I did my part, I sent his coins, and that my role is finished. Whether he gets them or not is not my concern. I mean, what if he's lying to me, trying to pull one over on me? I know I sent the coins, but do I know whether he is as honest when he says he didn't receive them?
(e) I could refund his money, apologize for his inconvenience (and the post office's failure) and wash my hands of the whole thing by telling him that I'll just take the loss. If his coins ever show up, consider it a gift from me.
What would you do in this case, if you were the dealer? Would you perform one (or more) of the options above, or do something else entirely? Why would you do this? Please share your thoughts via the "comments" link below, and next week we'll look at some of them. I'll also tell you what I did, and how the whole thing turned out in the end!