Williams-Sonoma's Pottery Barn Outlets Ban eBay Sellers
By Ina Steiner
Williams-Sonoma's Pottery Barn Outlet stores have banned eBay sellers from acquiring inventory at their stores for resale. It appears the policy is not new, but enforcement has been stepped up - possibly due in part to disruptive behavior on the part of eBay resellers.
When contacted about the policy, Pottery Barn Brands Director of Public Relations Leigh Oshirak said, "We have a policy in the outlet stores that states: "We do not sell to wholesalers or other customers intending to resell merchandise they have purchased from our store." There is signage to this effect in all of our outlet stores."
An eBay seller who said she was barred from making any purchases at an outlet store, even for her own personal consumption, told AuctionBytes that staff at the Pottery Barn Outlet store near her home in California know the eBayers because they are regulars. And, she said, "The known ebayers are marked, because they are so rude." She went on to describe how some eBay sellers were very rude to the regular store customers, and described behavior such as fighting, yelling, running and "tug of war" in the store.
This seller said several others who rely on "scraps" from Pottery Barn Outlets as their eBay inventory had written on boards in May that they were contacting attorneys about the ban. A letter obtained by AuctionBytes that is purported to be from Kathleen McCarthy, Vice President/Associate General Counsel for Williams-Sonoma Inc. and written to Maloney & Campolo law firm dated July 20 stated that company stores maintain a policy of selling to consumers only.
The letter stated that the policy is not new "and has been posted in our Outlet stores for some time." The letter cited several reasons why the company takes the policy seriously: the prevention of counterfeiting on auction sites; prevention of Intellectual Property Infringement; prevention of misleading information (inaccurate product descriptions); and assuring a quality shopping experience in stores.
eBay is facing growing pressure in the media and in the courts over issues of counterfeiting and the fencing of stolen goods. And its sellers are experiencing greater restrictions and enforcement from manufacturers, distributors and retailers due to such concerns (http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abn/y07/m06/i25/s02). USA Today spotlighted the problem in an article published last Tuesday called, "Online resales worry retailers" (http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/services/2007-07-31-resale-ebay_N.htm). The newspaper reported that retailers are taking steps to curtail customers who are buying products for resale in order to protect their businesses and their brands. "Retailers are especially concerned about reselling of clothing and accessories," the article stated.
CNBC recently ran a segment about fencing on auction sites featuring an interview with the head of eBay's Trust & Safety department, Rob Chesnut. And in July, a San Antonio, Texas television station reported on the case involving a woman who was banned from a Pottery Barn Outlet store: "Woman claims she was blacklisted for reselling outlet merchandise on eBay," (http://tinyurl.com/yrkmu2).
Tim Maloney of Maloney & Campolo did not return our requests for information, and Pottery Barn's Oshirak did not reply to inquiries about the authenticity of the McCarthy letter.
Note 8/8/07: Article misidentified the eBay seller as being from California.
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About the author:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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