Know the rules before selling trademarked items on EBay

Q

What are the rules when it comes to selling trademarked or branded items, such as Gucci handbags or Tiffany & Co. jewelry, on eBay?

A

EBay’s rules about trademarked items are simple to state but difficult as the Dickens to apply in practice. Even experienced eBay sellers make mistakes in this area. The rules are basically these:

• You cannot sell knockoff or counterfeit items on eBay — never, ever, ever, world without end, amen.

• It’s up to you to determine if an item is genuine or not. EBay won’t help you determine.

• If the manufacturer or owner of the brand or trademark wants your listing terminated because it thinks you are not selling genuine merchandise, eBay will shut down your listing, even if you are selling genuine merchandise. For repeated violations, eBay will kick you off.

• You cannot hold yourself out as an authorized reseller of a manufacturer unless you truly are one.

• If you have questions about whether an item is genuine or not, eBay wants you to talk directly to the rights owner or manufacturer about it and has set up a program called VeRo (“Verified Rights Owner”) to help you do just that.

Details of eBay’s VeRo program can be found at http://pages.ebay.com/help/tp/programs-vero-ov.html. Many leading manufacturers participate in eBay’s VeRo program but offer little guidance to eBay sellers to determine whether or not an item is genuine. When you click on a manufacturer’s “About Me” page in the VeRo section, many just repeat eBay’s rules about not selling counterfeit or knockoff items with their brand names and trademarks on them and warn you of the perils of doing so.

EBay does require participants in the VeRo program to give you an email address where you can ask questions about the merchandise, but don’t hold your breath waiting for your messages to be answered. There are some very good business reasons why manufacturers and brand owners won’t go out of their way to help you sell their merchandise on eBay, among the following:

• Many luxury-goods makers view eBay as a liquidation or flea market venue and do not want their brands sold there under any circumstances for fear of tainting the brands’ marketing image.

• Many manufacturers want to protect their distribution channels from low-cost competition of eBay sellers.

• Many manufacturers, especially those of luxury goods, do not want to see an aftermarket in used (but genuine) merchandise competing with their new high-margin offerings.

• Many manufacturers want to avoid lawsuits and negative publicity from buyers who are angry with their eBay purchases (because of irresponsible or inexperienced sellers) and claim that the manufacturers have aided and abetted the eBay seller’s actions by encouraging sales on eBay.

There are also some very good business reasons why eBay won’t do more to help you sell branded merchandise on the site:

• EBay is viewed as a marketplace or platform on which transactions take place and is legitimately concerned about jeopardizing its neutral status by taking sides between sellers and trademark owners.

• EBay is petrified (and rightly so) by the prospect of being sued by powerful Fortune 500 corporations (such as Gucci and Tiffany & Co.) with deep pockets and big-name law firms behind them. It will bend over backward to avoid offending these companies. Is it worried about lawsuits from little old you? Not so much.

To begin your education on eBay’s brand-name merchandise policies, begin with eBay’s Guidelines for Creating Legally Compliant Listings (https://www.ebay.com/pages/br/help/sell/compliant-listings.html). Next, review eBay’s VeRO page and read the guidelines posted there: http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/questions/vero-ended-item.html (under “What Are the Guidelines?”). Finally, go to the list of VeRo Information Pages posted on eBay by individual manufacturers, https://pages.ebay.com/seller-center/listing-and-marketing/verified-rights-owner-program.html#m17-1-tb3, and search for the rules that apply to the specific item(s) you want to sell on eBay, keeping in mind that not all manufacturers have posted information pages on eBay. You now know as much as anyone does about selling brand-name merchandise on eBay.

The bottom line is that when you sell brand-name merchandise on eBay without the manufacturer’s permission or authorization, you are taking a risk and have to expect that eBay will occasionally terminate one of your listings, even if you are convinced the item is genuine. If you bought the item yourself, post a photo of your purchase receipt on your listing (blacking out any personal information, of course). And remember … if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. That “genuine Gucci handbag” you bought from a store in a back alley in Rome for 50 Euros (about $55) is almost certainly not genuine. Don’t even think about selling it on eBay!•

Cliff Ennico (crennico@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist, author, and former host of the PBS television series “Money Hunt.” Opinions expressed are those of the author.

© 2019 Clifford R. Ennico

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