eBay, is it time to take responsibility for illegal seller terms?

By Jane Bell December 1, 2011 - 9:56 am

Jane Bell, one of the top eBay Education Specialists who provides consultancy to a host of eBay businesses has been a staunch friend of TameBay since the site was launched. Today she talks about her frustrations with seller terms and conditions.

I’ve blogged previously on the problem of Illegal Business Seller Terms on eBay on a couple of occasions. In April this year while browsing as a buyer and 3 out of 5 of the outlet sellers I looked at that day had illegal seller terms and put me right off buying from them … yes the eBayAnorak bought from Amazon, not the first time.

So, how much responsibility should eBay take for its Top Rated Business Sellers who continually flout the law and the EC Distance Selling Regulations as regard returns and refunds?

As a ‘selling venue’ is eBay responsible for the Top Rated Sellers’ it promotes from front page, outlet & deal of the day etc? Should eBay check that they are compliant with the law along with the other criteria for entry?

As I type this, a very large national retailer all over the eBay front page is charging a 10% restocking fee for returned items over £25. Ultimately the retailer is responsible for their T&C’s. eBay promote the ‘good buyer experience’ how can they promote a good buying experience at the same time as promoting companies with illegal seller terms that actually give a bad buying experience.

I firmly believe that in most cases this is an education issue eBay has made it easy for the Mumpreneur, the front room/garage based business and the teenage start up to progress in the world of online retailing at low cost and so are unaware they are breaking the law. Learning about Distant Selling Regulations, EC Rulings and UK business law is usually not on the priority list.

eBay, please, what does it take to send out an email or short multiple choice button survey to all new business registered sellers to let them know that these phrases/terms are not permitted?

But, Outlet sellers’ shame on you, you should know better, some of you have been bought to book before.

Terms like:

  • We are not responsible for items lost in the post (Yes you are!)
  • We charge X% restocking fee (No you can’t!
  • Buyer has option of shipping insurance in case of damage in transit (Seller responsible until it reaches the hands of the buyer)
  • Refund less PayPal & eBay fees (fraud as they get fees back from refunds
  • Refund less original P&P (Refund including original P&P)
  • No returns, or no returns unless faulty (this applied to items relating to returns due to hygiene reasons; buyers have the right to change their minds)

The list goes on …

Business Sellers, give your buyers a reason to purchase from you not 10 reasons to be scared to, know the rights of your buyers and your legal obligations as a seller.

eBay, take some responsibility for those sellers you promote.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer but advise you read this OFT (Office of Fair Trading) document on the Distance Selling Regulations

  • 10 years ago

    Yes they should, but I doubt they will. This has been a bugbear of mine for some time.

    A couple of years ago at the request of a senior employee who was puzzled by the Outlet bashing on the eBay forums, I compiled a comprehensive list of every Outlet seller and where they failed to adhere to the law regarding returns etc. (again I’m no expert but have a fairly good knowledge from years of experience and being a bit of a geek).

    The promise was made that it would get actioned, but it never was.

    I once wrote to a major retailer who had an eBay shop with illegal terms and politely pointed out where they stated they wouldn’t refund original P&P, and that if I had to do so, why shouldn’t they? I also pointed out that they were potentially costing me and 1000s of other sellers money, because they could put people off buying from eBay.

    To their credit, they changed it. Maybe instead of asking eBay to do it, those of us who feel strongly about it should pressure the actual retailers.

  • 10 years ago

    An interesting article, well written. I would point out, however, the the distance selling regulations fully applies to fixed price auctions, ie Buy It Now sales on eBay, but not to auction style listings, particularly on second hand goods. Before anyone goes quoting this article as fact, check with the regulations.

    • 10 years ago

      I should have mentioned this although the article is not meant as a complete guide but a reference questioning eBay’s responsibility, this is why I referred to the OFT leaflet for people to read as a complete and factual guide 😉

  • 10 years ago

    An interesting article, well written, but the distance selling segulations in the UK pertain completely to Buy it Now type auctions, but not wholly to auction style listings, particularly on second hand goods. Check the regulations before quoting everything in this article as fact.

  • JD
    10 years ago

    The DSR’s are a powerful tool that eBay could and should use more widely to promote site sales. Why wouldn’t they?

    Consumer protection seems at the very heart of the (eBay) proposition.

    But of course on ‘the forums’ it’s a fine line between law enforcement and scammers paradise.

  • Henrietta
    10 years ago

    Unless PayPal is different in the UK from the USA (very possible) a refunding seller does not get back all the PayPal fees.

    Both PayPal and Google Checkout retain the 30c transaction fee on a total refund, it shows as a debit on GC.

    DSRs do not apply to Very Important Very Large Sellers any more than listing fees do.

    • 10 years ago

      What’s confusing in the UK and the EU is we have two DSRs. This article is refering to EU legislation called the Distance Selling Regulations, not eBay’s Detailed Seller Ratings 🙂

  • Fozz
    10 years ago

    Yes , of course they should.

    Ebay constantly tell us about improving the buyer experience. Well i’ve only purchased from an ebay outlet on one occasion, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.
    Incorrect item. Slow resonse to emails.Had to open a claim to get it resolved.
    Experiences like that send a lot of people running away from ebay.

  • ncb
    10 years ago

    Its not just on eBay, A well known TV shopping channel offer a money back guarantee excluding return postage.

    Hidden in their T & C’s they state that they comply with the DSR’s, which of course I’m sure they do when challenged.

    They just advertise something quite different which of course most buyers think is fantastic.

    • Mark
      10 years ago

      According to the OFT document linked to at the base of the article it is the customers responsibility to return the goods to the merchant (unless the goods are faulty).

  • 10 years ago

    One of the maddening things is how hard it is to set business-wide returns policies — I noticed that we had a non-compliant policy recently where an old version of the terms was still lingering and quite simply couldn’t make the change through eBay.

    There is a section in the account management section (dare you to find it: took me 20 mins) which allows you to specify the shop-wide Returns Policy, but this doesn’t then apply to all the auctions. Just some of them. How it picks which it applies to is beyond me.

    But on the bright side, it’s impossible to report a listing for a non-compliant returns policy. When you click through the report a listing tree, there is no sensible option for illegal terms, and you have to fit the report in an incorrect category and write a cover note.

  • 10 years ago

    The thing that most sellers fail to realise, is that if buyers told up their complaints with Trading Services the seller would get fined for illegal selling.

  • Bunchy
    10 years ago

    Ebay should send something out. Whether the outlets would read/act is another matter. But what ebay SHOULD be doing is acting on reports and from what I have seen so far, they don’t.
    Sellers and buyers alike will “police” the site for them IF they acted. As it stands, anyone who has reported ANY listing and got nowhere will give up as the faith is gone.

  • Toby
    10 years ago

    Refund less PayPal & eBay fees (fraud as they get fees back from refunds)

    Not exactly true, as Paypal now withhold 20p from every refund

    • 10 years ago

      OK fraud other than 20p, it still shouldn’t be deducted from a refund 😉

  • Stuart
    10 years ago

    I totally get the point of the article and hate that some people are getting away with it, however it is their loss. If customers come up against this there will be many who won’t come back!

    We offer, or try to offer, a complete no quibble returns policy and I think this helps customers have faith in you as a brand, so let them do it just make sure you don’t!

    But also if Ebay are promoting these business, common sense should be that they would check they comply!

  • Gary
    10 years ago

    eBay spend £££££££ on marketing and promotion to try and win customers.

    This inconsistency and law breaking by their “top” sellers which ebay clearly condone by their inaction has the entirely opposite effect of increasing customer churn rates and destroying their promotion and marketing efforts.

    Net effect ebay loose customers.

    We know its all complete nonsense but this is how ebay work and waste the revenue from our fees that we all pay!

  • Terry
    10 years ago

    I have an intresting question.

    Cust buys our goods and gets them and changes their mind, rings us a get a returns number and sends them back by royal mail first class, 2 weeks later we have still not the goods back

    who is responsible?

    I wud ov thought the buyer

    Anyone any ideas?

    • 10 years ago

      It’s worth noting that the Distance Selling Regulations require you to refund the buyer as soon as possible (no more than 30 days) and they specifically separate the requirement for the goods to be returned from the right of the buyer to get a refund.

      However the buyer is responsible for taking due care of the goods and so you can sue them if they don’t turn up, or they can choose to claim for the loss from Royal Mail and reimburse you.

      Whether you want to be known as a retailer who takes their customers to court is of course a different matter.

    • Bunchy
      10 years ago

      Read this: The actual text legislation of what Chris just said

      Mainly 3.62
      If the goods get lost in the mail, look at 3.45

    • 10 years ago

      … and 3.46 where it says you have to refund them even if you don’t get the goods back 🙁

    • Jinbo
      10 years ago

      Have there been any examples of customers managing to enforce this rule through the courts/trading standards I wonder?

      I don’t personally feel overly obliged to emphasize all the rights that a customer may or may not have but would always like to think that I deal with my customers in a fair way (oh and would fully comply with regs).

    • James
      10 years ago

      Im with you on this one Jinbo. Having read chris’ link I think the customers already have too much in their favour, they dont need reminding of these rights.

      People need to learn to take responsibility for some of their actions, not be able to turn around and claim for everything.

  • steve
    10 years ago

    You do have 2 sides of the coin!!!!! i can put perfectly legal terms in my T&C and ebay will also not inforce.

  • Gary
    10 years ago

    What puzzles me is why is not the ebay feedback system working?

    Or maybe it is?

    Surely if buyers were unhappy with terms and conditions this would be expressed in feedback and DSR scores.

    But clearly it is not so buyers must be happy and ebay want happy buyers!

    And as buyers are happy with these practices then maybe I should start implementing some of the practices described above and this is actually all a bit of a non story perhaps?

    • Chris
      10 years ago

      But surely most transactions are completed to the complete satisfaction of both buyer and seller. It is only when things go wrong that the question of buyers rights jump into most people minds. Then for many if they feel that they have in some way been cheated and find that they cannot get satisfaction they get annoyed. But instead of kicking up a fuss many will abandon ebay and go elsewhere. So those of us who try to be completely fair at all time to our customers will suffer because some are breaking the rules and treating the customers badly.

    • Bunchy
      10 years ago

      There is a particular seller on ebay and I can’t possibly believe she’s the only one: Her t&c’s clearly state if you leave negative feedback you will be pursued through the courts for it’s removal AND be liable for the costs (citing some kind of libel guff from wiki).
      WE know she’s bluffing and it has no legs but there some who will think it’s real.
      That’s why feedback (sometimes) doesn’t work as it should.
      Lord knows how many people have been put off ebay by her and what state her feedback should really be in.

    • steve
      10 years ago

      Its not working because contrary too ebays belief/propaganda. Not all buyers are good buyers. And feedback is one sided.

      There is a good percentage of buyers that will attempt to scam for goods or abuse the feedback system.

      Bad sellers are no longer the main problem, its bad buyers. Since they are spread across multiple sellers accounts the situation is diluted. Unlike the previous situation with scam sellers.

      Ebay are fully aware they will get more earache for bad sellers than they will for bad buyers.

  • 10 years ago

    RE:•No returns, or no returns unless faulty (this applied to items relating to returns due to hygiene .

    I do believe it is acceptable to state skincare & cosmetics products may be returned aslong as they are still sealed.
    As the buyer is only allowed to examine the goods the same way as they would in a retail shop.

    I would be too scared to re-sell any returns sealed or not in case it had been swapped over .

    • 10 years ago

      @Sarah, There should be a ‘not’ in that sentence.

      ‘this applied to items ‘not’ relating to returns due to hygiene’

    • Jimbo
      10 years ago

      As I understood it, not be able to re-sell a returned product is not a valid reason for not accepting a return.

      I’m not sure if hygiene is consider a valid reason for not accepting returns according to the DSR’s

  • Gary
    10 years ago

    Simple solution. eBay should introduce a feedback DSR for “terms and conditions”.

  • JohnC
    10 years ago

    I cannot believe that anybody is asking for ebay to dictate what is and is not legal in Ts & Cs given their proven inability to deal with much simpler matters properly!

    The Distance Selling Regs, for example, do not apply:
    to B2B transactions,
    if the seller is outside the EU,
    if the buyer is outside the EU,
    to auctions, although whether ebay auctions are auctions within the meaning of the legislation is debatable,
    to certain software items and the like once unsealed,
    to personalised items.

    There is not a simple standard set of terms which ebay should be seeking to impose. The remedy for an unhappy consumer lies outside ebay, and attention from Trading Standards is likely to have a much greater effect (always supposing the sale is within their remit, and many aren’t).

    • Gary
      10 years ago

      Many of the big sellers under scrutiny here do not ship outside the UK. Its too much hassle for major outlet stores to recalculate shipping and to mess around with customs requirements and VAT adjustments.

    • JohnC
      10 years ago

      That’s true, but it’s not just DSR. At least one of the big retailers says that their terms constitute the entire PO contract, in other words ebay’s site terms are to be ignored.

      I’m surprised ebay are happy to accept that, but the outlet saying so is not breaking the law, it’s a matter of contract, not law.

    • Chris
      10 years ago

      The thing about this is that the Courts will set aside any Contract Terms that are themselves Illegal. Basically you can say what you like but if challenged in the Courts you are likely to lose if your trying it on.

      Of course the problem with this is that somebody(a customer) has actually to challenge the “Contract” terms in the Courts and unless the amounts involved are significant most will not bother. So the Trader gets away with it. But sometime somebody will challenge the terms and then the Courts will act.

  • 10 years ago

    Is it just me or was ebay a heck of a lot better and had less problems when it was a “community” before they tried to be Amazon and fail at every step of the way.

    Ebay has killed the community with the way they have moved to get the big sellers and it shows with the lack of buyers because if people don’t sell on ebay they don’t buy (The Paypal Pound)

  • 10 years ago

    you lose respect when your only concern becomes $$$…. the sooner ebay learns that, the better

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