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eBay and Amazon Change Stance on Confederate Flag Merchandise

The Confederate flag. The Atlantic calls it a pop culture phenomenon, politicians call it racist and “unnecessarily divisive and hurtful,” and many find it toxic after it featured heavily in a tragic hate crime in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine people dead.

But it also represents big business, as CNN reported, and “business” is how some online sellers see it as well. And while the marketplaces on which they sell are now prohibiting merchandise that feature the Confederate flag, sales are through the roof for some sellers, at least in the short term.

“Anything with confederate in the title has flown out of my store,” one eBay seller told EcommerceBytes on Tuesday evening.

eBay had announced earlier in the day it was prohibiting products featuring the Confederate flag, and Amazon confirmed on Tuesday it was pulling down Confederate flag merchandise.

The reader, who also sells on other marketplaces, said he hadn’t ever had sales like those he’s been experiencing on eBay. “I’m down to practically nothing, so if they do go through with the wide product ban like Amazon, at least I won’t have to worry about inventory.”

He said Amazon shut his Confederate items down at about 3pm on Tuesday after he had received quite a few orders. “Then the orders started shooting in from eBay, now people are panicking so much eCrater and Bonanza are starting to go wild even after I raised the prices.”

Another seller was concerned about the lack of information marketplaces were providing to sellers about what exactly they were prohibiting.

“eBay, Amazon and Etsy have buckled and are banning confederate flag items. But what does this even mean,” he asked. “Is it only the Red and blue Confederate Flag? Or all versions? Does it include flags like the “Stars and Bars” or the “Bonnie Blue” which don’t look anything like that confederate flag but are associated with the Confederate States? What about the Mississippi flag, which contains the Confederate Flag? Is that banned? How about the Georgia flag from Pre-2003? What about anything featuring the General Lee car from the Dukes of Hazard? What about a book called “Heroes of the Confederacy”? What about a shirt that shows a Confederate Flag with the slogan “Heritage Not Hate?””

eBay posted an announcement on its blog, writing in part, “We have decided to prohibit Confederate flags, and many items containing this image, because we believe it has become a contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism. This decision is consistent with our long-standing policy that prohibits items that promote or glorify hatred, violence and racial intolerance.”

While not publicly commenting, Amazon’s Offensive Products policy provides examples of prohibited listings, including “Products that promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views.”

Etsy spokesperson Sarah Cohen confirmed the company was removing Confederate flag items from its marketplace, explaining that its policies prohibit items or listings that promote, support or glorify hatred, “and these items fall squarely into that category.” Summer said it was hard to respond to hypotheticals or examples without seeing them, but she said sellers could contact integrity@etsy.com with their questions.

The second seller referenced above told EcommerceBytes he was really upset. “Most of our customers use these for Southern pride or Civil War Reenactment – not racism.” He also feared it would be the beginning of a trend of banning “all number of offensive items” – he said it was a “horrible precedent and a precursor to more bans in the future.”

“More than that, we are worried about the application and enforcement of this new rule – will the takedowns be violations? Will it really be enforced (you can find “banned” Nazi items on eBay constantly). With eBay and increasingly Amazon being flooded with counterfeit goods they are unable to police.

“How will they really prevent this,” he asked.

Comment on the EcommerceBytes Blog.

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.