In 2022, the AARP found that more than 1 in every 3 Americans falls victim to online purchase scams. As online shopping continues to grow, it’s more important than ever to be extra conscious of where and how you sell things online.
Whether you are just starting your eCommerce business or want to make some quick bucks with your used items, let’s make sure you can protect your seller rights and sell your items safely with these 7 pro tips from experienced reseller Amanda Manera and business attorney Brooke Davis.
1. Pick Your Online Selling Platform Wisely
There are primarily two types of online platforms you can use to sell your used items online: eCommerce websites and online social platforms.
Online social platforms
These can include Facebook groups (which are different from Facebook Marketplace), Reddit, and Craigslist. These platforms require no seller fees and usually have few (or no) restrictions on your sales; however, it will cost you time as you have to handle the transaction all on your own, including payment processing and delivery.
The lack of regulation also means that you are under zero protection, as the social platform you use to connect with the buyer is not liable for any negative consequences caused by your private transaction.
Famous websites such as eBay, Poshmark, and Facebook Marketplace are only a fraction of the many websites built for online sellers. Each platform has a slightly different orientation: Poshmark, for example, is suitable for clothing and fashion products, while eBay is valid for rare items, electronics, and antiques.
Apart from the apparent advantage of exposure to a larger audience, sellers on these large-scale online marketplaces can enjoy extensive protection with their existing user policies. Nevertheless, competition on these platforms is usually fierce, and most ask for transaction fees when your item sells.
Consider the nature of the item you are selling before you decide where to sell it. If the item is valuable, it is best that you sell it on a secure, organized platform to avoid any issues.
2. Know What You’re Selling and Who You’re Selling To
Make sure you read the terms and policies of your selling platform before you list out an item, as there may be different restrictions on sold products on various platforms. Products prohibited by most e-commerce websites for individual sellers include:
- Animal products;
- Counterfeit items;
- Firearms and weapons;
- Human body parts or fluids;
- Medical products that require a prescription;
- Used cosmetics.
As there are more inherent risks to selling online than in physical retailing, business attorney Brooke Davis advised that you ensure the trustworthiness of your buyer by:
- Asking a lot of questions. It can be a friendly chit-chat or a formal question list; whatever approach you feel most comfortable in, try to understand the rationale behind the buyer’s interest in the item you are selling, especially if it is something of great value (i.e., motor vehicle). If the buyer’s story seems suspicious, think twice about the deal.
- Checking profile. Always check the buyer’s profile before you commit. Large e-commerce platforms like eBay allow you to review buyers’ ratings. If you use social media, check your prospective buyer’s account profile and activity history.
3. Document Everything
Make sure you keep records of the following:
- Communication. Save all exchanges of messages in a secured method so that there is proof you have reached a consensus on every detail of the transaction. This is critical on social media platforms that allow users to retrieve messages, such as Instagram.
- Your original listing. No matter how different the done deal looks from your initial offer after negotiation, you should keep a copy of your original listing in case dishonest accusations regarding your product description occur.
- Tracking information. If you send your item via courier, providing tracking information to your buyer proves that you’ve done your part. You can also use the tracking information to confirm if the item was delivered safely. Without tracking, ill-intentioned buyers could claim they never received your item and ask for their money back.
- A video recording of the item and you packing it. This acts as proof that you sent the same product the buyer purchased from you. Many victims of online shopping scams have had the experience of receiving a completely different (and usually worthless) item but not the item they paid for; if you run into a malicious buyer who tries to hold similar claims against you, it might be difficult to prove yourself without a video recording. The recording also allows you to demonstrate the item’s condition so that if the item arrives damaged or defective, the buyer knows who to blame exactly.
- Proof of payment. Make sure you receive the exact amount in the way you and the buyer agreed upon so the buyer doesn’t come back and accuse you of anything regarding payment.
- Buyer’s contact details. Create a bill of sale and write down the buyer’s name, address, and contact number. Verifying the buyer’s identity is particularly important if your item is of high value, branded, or requires registration—be it a vehicle, jewelry, or livestock. Ask to check the buyer’s ID if necessary; while the buyer has the right to refuse, you also have the right to pick another buyer for your valuable item.
- Item information. Outline every detail the buyer needs to know before completing the transfer, such as its color, year of production, etc. Once you and the buyer sign, the bill of sale acts as proof of acknowledgment for the transaction. In other words, the more details you state on the bill of sale, the less likely a malicious buyer will come back and accuse you of not fully disclosing information about the sold item.
- Proof of ownership transfer. Not only is a bill of sale essential for your buyer as proof of purchase when registering certain items, but it is also crucial that you, the seller, can prove the completion of the ownership transfer. Without such proof, you may still be liable for violations committed by the buyer after the item is transferred (such as speeding tickets in the case of a vehicle).
- Agreement details. In addition to a bill of sale, you should also create a purchase agreement with your buyer. Before you ask—no, you cannot use a bill of sale and a purchase agreement interchangeably. While a signed bill of sale indicates what the transaction is about and when it happens, a purchase agreement states how the transaction will be completed, including the agreed delivery method, payment method, and warranty.
4. Keep Your Listing Smart and Concise
When creating a listing for your prospective buyers, experienced reseller Amanda Manera recommends that you ensure your listing is:
- With minimal personal information. Do not disclose your contact details under any circumstances on your listing. Communicate with your prospective buyers via the private messaging system your platform provides.
- Honest. False descriptions or pictures of your listing could come back to bite you. Do not make promises that you can’t keep.
- Specific and clear. Describe your item in the most detailed way possible. Upload photos of your item from several different angles. Make sure your item is in the best light and that the color of the item is portrayed accurately in the pictures. Set the item on a solid background so that there aren’t any “visual noise.”
5. Deliver Your Item with Care
If you are meeting with local buyers:
- Choose a bright public area as your meet-up location;
- Bring someone with you (or at least tell someone about the meet-up);
- Avoid carrying large amounts of cash.
If you choose to hand your item over to the courier:
- Use your own shipping label (or the one your e-commerce platform creates);
- Purchase insurance (especially if your item is high-value, fragile, or both);
- Video-record your packing process.
6. Determine the Safest Way to Receive Payment
Many large e-commerce websites have their own payment systems in place. Whether you are selling on a platform with or without such a system, here are some tips to boost your payment security:
- Make sure your deal is eligible for protection. Mature e-commerce platforms such as Facebook Marketplace and eBay have comprehensive protection policies that secure payment—only if your transaction abides by their policies in the first place. Payment methods unapproved by these e-commerce websites enjoy zero protection, even if you and the buyer are first connected through them.
- Be cautious of requests to have money wired. Scammers frequently use these platforms to swindle money. When receiving electronically using money order apps, access the website/application directly to check your balance; do not believe screenshots from your buyer.
- Beware of check fraud. If your buyer prefers to pay by check, try to meet in person at your bank. Verify the check first by calling the bank that issued it. Only deposit the check after ensuring that the check is real, as depositing a fake check could get you in legal trouble even if you’re the victim.
- Outline a payment plan. For higher value items such as selling a car or a boat (which requires a car bill of sale or a boat bill of sale), it may be possible your buyer can’t afford to make this payment all at once. In that case, you can set payback terms with a promissory note.
Regardless of your payment method, only send out your item after payment is ensured.
7. Understand Your Liabilities
You might have heard about the famous McDonald’s “hot coffee case” from a few years ago: a 79-year-old woman sues McDonald’s for her third-degree burns caused by spilled hot coffee, and the court rules that McDonald’s must compensate $640,000 to the woman as they bear product liability of their coffee.
So what if the used item you sold ended up causing harm to your buyer? Will you be liable for the buyer’s injury? According to business attorney Brooke Davis, that can depend on what you write on your listing and how often you sell items online. Generally speaking, you as the seller could become liable for the buyer’s damage if you:
Made promises to your buyer regarding the item’s safety or indestructibility. If your buyer can prove that these promises were a driving factor for the purchase, you might be liable.
Knew about the defect in the item all along. If a defect in the item causes your buyer damage or injury, and the buyer can prove that you were aware of the defect before selling the item, you might be liable.
Take online sales as a serious career. If you run an e-commerce business and regularly sell the particular kind of item that caused your buyer damage or harm, you might be liable. In other words, you’re probably safe if you are just getting rid of your vintage furniture or selling your old pick-up in a one-time deal.
Although there is no guaranteed outcome in any case, taking some extra time to note down every detail of your transaction in a purchase agreement as an honest seller can protect you from being responsible for any accidents after the done deal.
Conclusion: The Dos and Don’ts
While selling online, it is important to take the necessary steps to protect yourself from potential disputes and scams. After all, anyone could fall victim to them. Here’s a summary of the dos and don’ts for you.
Creating both a bill of sale and a purchase agreement allows you and the buyer to clearly outline information about the transaction and prevent any misunderstandings. Additionally, it helps to perform due diligence on potential buyers and research their reputations before agreeing to a sale.
Remember that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Now that you’ve learned the safest way to sell online, get out there and start selling!