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Wed Aug 8 2007 11:36:30

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

By: Ina Steiner

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AuctionBytes ran a piece on Tuesday about Pottery Barn Outlet stores banning eBay sellers from making any purchases. As expected, this is generating lots of discussion. Some sellers who were banned from the stores wrote to me to share their experiences, and I'd like to give them the opportunity to share their thoughts here. Please feel free to comment below.

Here are some questions I have for these sellers, plus I'd be interested to hear what others think about this, and if they have had similar experiences at other retail stores.

How important are Pottery Barn Outlet store purchases to you in your eBay businesses (for example, what percentage of your eBay inventory is sourced through Pottery Barn purchases)?

Have you been banned? If so, what was the reason given? (and from which store?)

If you were banned, how did the store staff know you were a reseller? Had you ever given the store your tax-exempt reseller number?

What kind of behavior did you observe from eBay sellers in the store, was it ever disruptive? If so, was it an ongoing problem? What did the store staff do to try to minimize the disruption? (which store?)

If you were banned, did you send someone else in your stead to make your purchases?

I've read that retailers often will put limits on how much of a particular item a customer may purchase. Would that work in the case of the Pottery Barn Outlet stores?

Why do you think Williams-Sonoma's Pottery Barn banned eBay sellers from their Outlet stores, and is there anyway they could ever enforce such a policy fairly?

There's also some talk about Williams-Sonoma's activity in terms of asking eBay to pull auctions that violate their trademark/copyright through the eBay VeRO program. Any observations?

This is an issue I'm sure I'll be revisiting, thanks for your comments, and feel free to email me as well.

Comments (130) | Permalink

Readers Comments

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: A Banned Ebayer

Wed Aug 8 20:23:45 2007

I am a Banned Ebayer from the Pottery Barn Outlets and I thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions.  This has been my experience:

1.  Pottery Barn was 97% of my inventory, anything else I had was a result of being in the outlet center 5+ days a week and stopping into other outlets.

2.  I was Banned, I was told by the Store Manager a few minutes before the store opened.  There was NO reason given, our manager did not have an exact reason for us.  I pursued it with different levels of corporate and was told ''it was their policy, they are now going to enforce it.''

3.  The store I shopped had a long history selling to Ebayers ( about 8 years total) I started about 4 years ago.  They knew who we were by the amount of things we purchased and the amount of time we were there.  There were not many direct discussions about it over the years.  I NEVER gave a tax ID number, we bought just like other customers.  We were never labeled as ''wholesalers''.

4.  In our store, anyone who acted aggressive as an Ebayer was addressed by the management immediately.  I have to say our store did not have many problems.  All the Ebayers that were in our store knew each other, and were friendly.  We found a way to work together so to erase the competition factor.  We knew our manager would not tolerate any bad behavior.  I have heard that other managers did not manage their stores as well as ours did when it came to Ebayers.

5.  I have not sent anyone else into the store to purchase for me.  This job requires an in depth source of knowledge of all of Williams Sonoma products, and it would be very difficult to transfer that knowledge and have the ''shopper'' keep up with what they would need to know.

6.  We actually had several limitations on us for over a year.  Limit of 6 Per SKU, a no return policy & limits as to how long we could shop in one day.

7.  I really do not have any idea why they banned us.  There does not seem to be an upside to them.  What we took was a ton of overstock and stuff that they had a hard time selling when it was in the catalog.  We spent allot of money and if they are not feeling it yet, it is my opinion that they will be in the off months, when we still spent thousands a day.  It is very strange to me, because they simply do not have control over it.  They have nothing to track us, other than being recognized in the outlets that we shopped.  However, I have not been stopped from shopping retail or the Catalog,which I have normally shopped for Ebay for years as well.  Seems odd that one side would ''ban'' us, and the other side of the company sends out preferred customer letters to the very same people.

There are also dozens of new ebayers in these outlets since the ''recognized'' ones have been banned. Management is supposed to rely on checkout people to make the distinction, which puts them in a rough position, since asking the higher end customer that may be buying for several homes they own would probably freak if asked if they resold the product.  As I mentioned before, the company has absolutely nothing in effect to back up these managers in recognizing the ebayers.  They have done nothing to diminish the amount of items on Ebay, so it appears to be a moot point.

8.  The vero is in effect for the sellers who use WS Stock photos in their auctions.  I guess they also go after anyone using their product and alter it to make something (i.e.: childrens decor) I know of 2 or 3 sellers out their in Ebay who use Pottery Barn in the titles of their auctions all the time when they are not actually selling Pottery Barn Items, yet they never seem to get shut down by the Vero program.  Also, on the Ebay VERO Page for Williams Sonoma, it cleary states ''It is legal to resell WS merchandise in its original, unaltered form''.  In the 4 years I have been doing this, I have never seen any of the outlet Ebayers doing anything other than that.  It is very discrimitory, even if they found a ''legal loophole'' to ban the ''known'' ebayers, it is never going to stop.  They just stopped the people who spent the most money at that moment.  And only on the outlet level.

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Liz

Thu Aug 9 06:31:27 2007

I used to sell a lot on eBay (UK) with 5 different suppliers and brands including my own. I only have one brand/suppler left that has not banned eBay. I would buy around 10K a year off all suppliers, and I bet there were many more like me. One well known brand I know is struggling one year after the ban. I hope pottery barn goes bust!

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Karen Davis

Thu Aug 9 08:26:51 2007

This is insane. How is it legal for a store to "ban" a buyer? If they are buying retail, if they haven't bounced checks, if they buy within the stated rules like quantities, how can a store do this? Weird. I think it will backfire on them.

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Roger

Thu Aug 9 08:33:50 2007

If I were a Pottery Barn manager I would love every minute of the eBayers grabbing distressed mdse.  The perceived value would go up, as they would naturally take a markup for their profit.  Why run a store if you don't want to sell?

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Simon Russell

Thu Aug 9 08:41:22 2007

Manufacturers and retailers are all sensitive to exposure on eBay as this is now seen as damaging to their brand. eBay's sole message to its buyers over the past years has been "cheap cheap cheap". I don't blame any retailer or manufacturer from wanting to distance itself from sellers in a marketplace that cheapens their reputation.

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Brian

Thu Aug 9 09:06:57 2007

Thanks to eBay pitching itself to large-volume sellers, failing to police the marketplace and charging as much in fees as they possibly can, eBay has become a synonym for fly-by-night sellers and fraud.

Pah. No wonder that any reputable brand doesn't want to be seen on eBay.

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Ann

Thu Aug 9 09:41:46 2007

In many states it is illegal to offer merchandise for sale and then to discriminate as to who may purchase that merchandise. While a retailer is allowed to place broad restrictions such as ''limited to 2 per customer''  or only available during certain hours the policy must be applied across the board.

It will be interesting to see what happens when complaints are filed by the banned ebayers with their state's Dept of Consumer Protection.

For those who have been banned, I would urge them to check on their state laws particularly if they were not purchasing as a reseller with a sales tax exemption number.

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Margene Smith

Thu Aug 9 10:04:00 2007

The banning at the Pottery Barn has not affected us, but we have been banned from other stores.  I have even had the Salvation Army stores ban me because we buy so much.  I thought I was providing money to serve the community, but the manager said I was taking product from the disadvantaged.  Interesting.
Margene Smith

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Sam

Thu Aug 9 10:23:57 2007

I myself have been banned from coach. I think it is only a mater of time before there is a class action lawsuit. These people are doing nothing wrong and made to feel like you are breaking the law. Their efforts are not working there is still the same or even more items showing up in the search on ebay. How can you have an ''outlet'' store and still not cheapen your ''brand'' you can't have it both ways. If you want to stay full price and not cheapen your brand then why in the world would you open a outlet store???? You don't see Gucci or LV brand with an outlet store. They want the best of both worlds.I feel it is only a matter of time before this backfires.
This is America we should be able to purchase what ever we want. If I want  to use it for firewood after it is purchased I should be able to. As long as you pay taxes on what you purchase and do it in a legal way we should be able to. This is America right. Big Companies should not be able to pick and choose who they sale to as long as you are not breaking any laws or acting a fool in their stores. I myself was friends with everyone in the store and was very mute while shopping. I didn't go everyday, maybe once every 10 days. When given the letter they felt so bad. That said that is putting a lot on a clerk to comply with corporate
This is just crazy to me if you want to put limits fine but to ban someone is just not American to me!

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Sandy

Thu Aug 9 10:51:43 2007

  I have this same problem selling on Ebay. I sell better lingerie. These are the same brands you find at the better and high end department stores. My Ebay store has been declined by every better lingerie brand for wholesale purchase with resale rights on Ebay. The reason given is always that it cheapens the brand image. 95% of all lingerie stock photos used on Ebay are illegal. Ebay sellers don't have legal permission to use the stock photos yet it doesn't seem to stop my competitors. This illegal usage angers the brands yet they refuse to apply for VERO to protect themselves in order to maintain their distance from Ebay. This aversion to Ebay is industry wide.
  The brand that uses ''Angel'' marketing is the only lingerie brand I am aware of that openly denies Ebay resellers purchasing rights in their boutiques. They have a long standing policy in this regard. They also are very diligent VERO members. Of course they also use the most well known models on the planet to sell their products.
  Off Ebay direct lingerie wholesale purchases are easy. The same brands are more than willing to work with my business and allow purchases for my other sites. Some manufacturers require a written agreement concerning Ebay and others just require a verbal agreement. It is understood that any diversion of the merchandise to Ebay will result in being banned from future purchases.
  These terms are agreeable so I don't have a problem. The wholesale market is plentiful so the current situation is workable for my business.

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Steve L

Thu Aug 9 11:30:26 2007

Like has been stated, merchants such as Pottery Barn and Coach are taking these steps because they feel it is cheapening their brand.

What they fail to realize is that they themselves are to blame for any cheaping of their brand.  They are the ones selling at closeout prices.  eBayers are, in fact, driving UP the prices by taking the closeouts and selling them at higher prices.

If I produce an item that normally sells for, say, $200, and sell it at distressed/closeout price of $40, I have just revalued the item as being only worth $40.  If an eBayer then takes it and sells it on eBay for $99, they have just increased the value of the item (and thus increased the value of not only that particular model, but of the brand as a whole).

Unfortunately, places such as Pottery Barn and Coach fail to comprehend this simple fact.

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Jason Golod

Thu Aug 9 11:56:25 2007

Sorry to hear that some people have lost their revenue stream, but clearly this is the future.  It has amazed me that it has taken this long for the big retailers to try and prevent the ''commoditization'' of their products.  It has always amazed me the lengths people will go to to make $1...or less when selling a product, no matter how much they paid for it or it is worth. There always seems to be someone who is willing to undercut you no matter what you are selling on a website or on eBay.   I started an online retail site in 1996 and finally called it quits because everything we sold eventually became a commodity and the manufacturers were not willing to do anything to protect their authorized retailers or their brand.

But, that was and is their prerogative.  I think anyone who is talking about lawsuits and legalities of selling to whomever they want to needs to have their head examined. This is not a socialist country. If I want you to get out of my store, for any reason, I have the right to do so...period.  Since when is it government's place to tell a business owner that they HAVE TO sell to someone? Gimme a break. Sorry to hear you are not making money this way anymore, but suck it up and move on. If you didn't plan ahead then learn from your mistakes and move on.

Pottery Barn / Williams Sonoma and other big retailers spend tens of millions a year developing their brands and their product lines. I am pretty sure that selling their scraps is not an issue for them, or something they lose sleep over. Just check out any of their employee sales that they hold on a regular basis in San Francisco.

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Jerry C.

Thu Aug 9 12:39:05 2007

I see Ebay as the world's biggest garage sale. This is it's roots and it's slowly grown into the world's biggest unauthorized clearance center. As a big brand I can understand why they wouldn't want their products listed on Ebay. As a company I would rather have my customers shop my outlets and buy addtional accessories, then to see a price-cutting frenzy on Ebay with some questionable sellers. I don't see the surprise here.

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Dephny

Thu Aug 9 12:48:35 2007

I don't have that problem yet, as I try to make myself very inconspicuous when shopping outlets, and TS;s but How in the world would they be able to ban people from shopping.  

Pottery Barn and the like are still making money

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Richard Chemel

Thu Aug 9 13:27:01 2007

Great blog piece. I believe that Pottery Barn is opening themselves up to legal issues- as it appears all outlet store policies are not the same.

Furthermore, How do they know that items posted on eBay were not posted by regular consumers. Once again- Shoot First- Ask Questions Later.

Manufacturers have a right to protect their ''brand'' name, but when they zealously appproach the matter, like Pottery Barn has- it sucks.

Can you imagine if Kodak wanted to stop all sales of Kodak Branded Products on eBay, only because the seller was using the Kodak Brand name. Under eBay's Vero Program- it's possible- because simply eBay takes VERO applications at the applicants word.

This issue is going to get bigger, and Ina, I hope you continue to report the inconsistancies in policy from these Manufacturers.  

I had two jabra headsets up about two months ago- exactly the same headsets- one got vero'd and one didn't. The difference was we had put the designer's name in the Auction Title. We got the item reinstated after lots of communication.


Richard Chemel

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Fred A. Murphy

Thu Aug 9 13:42:31 2007

Some things no one has mentioned.

Resellers can be the best customers a store has.  In three months of buying Webkinz, I became a platinum level card holder just at Hallmark, $3000 in purchases, at full retail.  Do you know anyone who has bought $3000 worth of overpriced Hallmark stuff in three months?  Ever?

Why are resellers buying stuff?  Because the store is selling it too cheap!  So why blame the resellers for your own lack of knowing what your product is worth?  Why not hire someone who knows how to price stuff?

Another argument stores use is they want to save their bargains for their regular customers.  Why are they rewarding the very people who didn't allow them a profit when the item was offered at regular price?  Knowing that the first money that hits the register when the price is drastically reduced gets the item will provide an incentive for those regulars to buy stuff before it has to be marked down.

I can understand limits of whatever sort, as long as they apply to everyone.  I buy toys for resale, both at full price and when they're on sale.  If I have the last half dozen and a kid or someone buying for their kid wants one, here ya go.  I'm just in it for the buck, I can sell something else.  To the kid, it's "important".

By the same token, one time I had a cart full of a toy and a young adult asked where there were more.  When he couldn't tell me which ones he was looking for, I simply said they were over on the end cap (which I wiped out), and if those were gone, other stores might have some.

I figure he didn't want them at $10 for months, or the two weeks they were sitting there at $7, and now that they were $2.48, they're mine.

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: JD

Thu Aug 9 18:15:21 2007

Guys, good luck winning in court.  The Supremes voted for big corporations when they allowed them to set minimum pricing.

I would bet if you sued over this, you could lose.  I hope you win, but I have no faith in our justice system when it comes to challenging entrenched monopolies.

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Lindsay

Thu Aug 9 21:09:31 2007

Hmmm... Now I'm thinking of going to visit outlets for Coach to resell.. Too funny.  Me thinks the outlets are crazy to ban eBayers.  

By the same token, there are too many rip off sellers with no moral decency that eBay allows to sell on their site.   Seriously, Ebay's policies make no sense at times.  Remember all of the Tiffany jewelry sellers?  Some were selling 25 to 100 pieces a day!  They weren't busted for ages.

Also, I've been ripped off many times by sellers that appeared to have good feedback but recently I found a cool free site that only tells you the neutral and negative feedback of sellers or buyers on Ebay!  This has been a miracle for me...  A seller could have 98% positive feedback on Ebay but at times when I've looked at their neutrals and negatives through, they've had horrible feedback.  Who has time to weed through 1000's of feedbacks (while you're on eBay's site)of a particular buyer or seller??  This tool does it in a nano!  

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: Sue

Fri Aug 10 13:18:26 2007

It's not just banning, there are other things that some retailers are doing to interfere with eBayers selling their merchandise on the site.  I recently bought some goods on sale from my favorite designer's boutique.  This is a designer whose goods are very difficult to find as they are available in only three locations in the USA (all in NYC), a couple in Paris, London, and Tokyo, and at a handful of upscale specialty stores (Neiman-Marcus, Bergdorf's, Barney's, Saks) and with no online sales of new product by authorized dealers. The designer has a dedicated following around the world, and even his shopping bags, advertising literature, and postcards sell well on eBay, as he puts the same artistry in them as in his designer goods.  

Anyway, after running my credit card and stamping the receipt NO RETURNS, the clerk began ripping and cutting away tags and labels from the garments, except for those that are required by law (like the origin and care label--which still have the designer's name, but in small print).  I tried to stop her, as she was damaging the goods!  She explained that it was company policy  now.  Removing the information makes it difficult to sell the items on eBay at the premium prices that a ''NWT'' feature would bring.

Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences   Retailers Banning eBay Sellers - Your Experiences

by: maria

Sat Aug 11 05:45:55 2007

I appreciate the points of view presented here.  However, the writers forget (or ignore) the fact that businesses have the right to set policy ("No shoes; no shirt; no service" or "No personal checks," for example).  eBay has done some pretty outrageous things, and people continue selling there.  Some people, anyway:  after my last auction ended this Spring, I called it a day.  So if Pottery Barn doesn't want to be a supplier for eBay sellers, there's no law that says they have to.

Just my two cents' worth...

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