eBay Policies You May Not Know About

A sampling of rules to help you stay out of trouble, or just give you a chuckle

by Sarah Brown
- Dec 23, 2013

It's amazing what you can find on eBay. If you need a replacement piece for your vintage electric mixer, you might find it on eBay. If you're looking for the latest fad toy, the online auction giant may have it listed at the lowest price in the world. If you're interested in the weird and unusual, go to eBay. It might be listed there.

Perhaps what's more interesting about eBay, though, is the company's list of policies regarding what sellers can and cannot list on the site. For example, you cannot sell alcohol on eBay, but you can sell wine, as long as you obtain preapproval.

eBay has an index of every policy it has written. Some of these are legal restrictions sellers should already know. Others are more interesting and, perhaps, good to mentally file away. Still, some policies may just make you think, "Huh?"

I read through every single policy this month, and present some of my favorites below. I hope they either encourage you to revise your current listing practices so you don't get your hand slapped, or at least give you a chuckle and something to share around the dinner table.

You cannot 'borrow' text or images from outside sources, manufacturers or other eBay sellers who are listing the same item

Legal stuff to be aware of

Copyright and Descriptions: Sellers are expected to create listings using their own words and images, unless they have authorization from the manufacturer or use eBay's catalog service. This means you cannot "borrow" text or images from outside sources, manufacturers or other eBay sellers who are listing the same item. You may glean information from these sources, but must rewrite it in your own words.

Plants and seeds: Before you start listing morning glory flowers or other plants on eBay, be aware of which states might prohibit your product. Some territories prohibit certain plants and "noxious weeds" from being imported into their borders. eBay gives you a few links to get started on all that fun research.

Privacy policy: Among eBay's long list of policies is a page or two about which pieces of your personal information are shared among third parties.

Well, that's good to know

Accessories: Brand name products often come with accessories, warranties or packaging. Unless the manufacturer itself sells these accessories individually, eBay sellers cannot list the accessory, unless it includes the intended original product. This policy exists to help restrict counterfeiters from using the accessory to their advantage. Examples of these prohibited items include zipper pulls, jewelry boxes, branded tissue paper and warranties.

Sellers cannot reference brand names or other product details unless these directly describe the product being listed

eBay: It seems the online marketplace has grown weary of having its name misspelled and misused. This policy explains how to spell "eBay" correctly. Also, it explains that sellers cannot use the eBay name and logo on business cards and mailing labels, and screenshots taken from the eBay website are prohibited.

Feedback: Buyers cannot threaten negative feedback or low DSRs in order to obtain a return, refund or replacement. This is called "feedback extortion." It happened to me once and the buyer's threat worked, but I wasn't aware of this policy at the time.

Offensive listings: While profanity and nudity are relegated to only certain adult-only sections of eBay, other offensive materials are not tolerated at all. These include "items that promote or glorify hatred," and related material. Items from crime scenes and other human tragedies are disallowed because sellers should not be able to profit from suffering. Memorabilia, newsletters, pamphlets and similar such things related to the Ku Klux Klan are not allowed, nor are certain Nazi or Holocaust books, music and films. Items related to serial killers and violent material are also prohibited.

Search manipulation: Keyword spamming, duplicate listings and the use of special characters are prohibited by eBay. For example, sellers cannot reference brand names or other product details unless these directly describe the product being listed. Also, listings cannot contain special characters and symbols, such as hearts, fractions or copyright symbols.

Seller guidelines: Sellers with a special, top-rated status cannot make references to "Top-rated Seller," "trusted seller" or other such phrase, nor can images of top-rated icons be used other than in the way that eBay places these. Also, sellers may not use the phrase, "fast 'n free" in their listings; if a seller offers the service, eBay will place the appropriate logo on the listing. When using eBay's product catalog service to list a used item, sellers must post their own photo of the item as the main gallery image. In addition, sellers cannot say in their listings that they are not responsible for the item once it's dropped in the mail. That argument won't hold up with eBay if a problem does happen.

There are strange dealings in the world these days, and individual states have laws to which eBay, too, must adhere

Unsolicited ideas: eBay does not allow, nor accept unsolicited ideas from the public. Any ideas a member does communicate to the company will be considered "non-confidential and non-proprietary." So, think twice before giving away your million-dollar idea to the billion-dollar company.

Things that make you think, 'Huh?'

Animals: Most animals and animal byproducts are prohibited on eBay. However, sellers can list such things as worms, escargot and hatching eggs from chickens.

Human remains: Once in a while, you can find listings for finger-nail or toe-nail clippings. I wonder if these fall under the list of prohibited human remains?

Lottery: Just so you know, you can sell expired or invalid lottery tickets, but you cannot sell fast food game pieces.

It seems unusual that eBay would have to spell out guidelines for actions that seem like common sense, and some of its policies might not sound just or fair. Yet, there are strange dealings in the world these days, and individual states have laws to which eBay, too, must adhere. I believe eBay's policies are in effect not just to protect the company, but also to defend sellers and buyers.

Violations of eBay policies can lead to listing removal, membership suspension or other action by eBay.

About the Author

Sarah Brown is a freelance writer who writes about e-commerce and small businesses. She recently graduated from Chico State with a journalism degree and is also a budding online entrepreneur, having launched two Web businesses and her own line of handmade products.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

Other Entries by this Author

Follow Us