Year in Review: eBay poachers cackle with glee

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The wonderful thing about capitalism is that there is a free market. Demand sets prices, although people can choose to charge whatever they want for their wares. The terrible thing about capitalism is there's a real "me first, me only" mentality that can cause people to throw out their ethics, their logic and their common sense in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

I've touched on this topic already this year. But no year-end review would be complete without talking about the ebay re-sellers out there. To be clear, this post isn't about people who sell items they own but no longer wear on ebay, or people who buy items above retail at their discretion. Most eBay sellers are running honest businesses and it's a few bad eggs that ruin everyone's perception. What is this post about? A few unscrupulous practices.

Price gouging. This post is in part about people who go out and purposely buy popular current and recent-season items at Anthropologie with the hopes of re-selling them for a profit. People who comb the blog community posts for popbacks, buy them, and then try to re-sell them at a mark-up. They profit on product scarcity, in part by creating that scarcity themselves.

I first saw this happen with J.Crew, circa 2008. It was a great year for the brand. Over at J.Crew Aficionada blog owner Alexis and the community started noticing a prevalence of postings by resellers and items listed for sale on eBay. These were current-season items and usually the seller had multiples. It was clear they were ordering 2 or 3 of each size. Then they'd wait for the item to be either low stock or sold out and start listing theirs on eBay, often at double the full-price of retail. What was $98 became $196, etc. The community over at JCA, like here, would post product popbacks as well as tips and tricks for how to find stock on the website. And like here, the resellers started using those tips and tricks to their own benefit.

There was an uproar over the practices of these price gougers over at JCA. And I stand firmly in the "against" camp on these so-called businesses. They will come here and get defensive, accuse us of not understanding how capitalism works, call us names, claim to be providing a service and tell us that they have the right to set the price of an item however they want. But no matter how they try to defend themselves it's pure bullshit. It might be capitalism but it's the ugliest example of it. At least when people flip a house they do work to that house, make improvements, etc. All these people do is buy an item and try to sell it for more. There's no defending that. What they do is profiteering, pure and simple and ugly.

Now unfortunately it's Anthropologie's turn to suffer the wrath of price gouging. Many of those same sellers that jacked up the price on J.Crew items have set their sights on Anthropologie. New gougers have popped up too. I get the temptation. Who wouldn't want to make a quick buck on a pupular item? Except that it's such a despicable act and a blatant sign of our consumerism. There's no question that Anthropologie marks up the items they sell. But they are the company designing (or commissioning) these items, they have the overhead, they have the production costs. Price gougers have none of these things but attempt to make money off it anyway.

Fake items. This one really gets my goat. There are a variety of permutations.

Sometimes it's an item that looks just like the Anthropologie item, except a few details are off. Maybe the tag is wrong (Deletta instead of C. Keer or it says Elevenses but the font is wrong, etc.) or maybe the buttons aren't quite right. Maybe the lining is wrong or non-existent. It's a fake.

Sometimes an item's description will say an item was sold at Anthropologie when it clearly wasn't. No, that Lauren Conrad top came from Kohl's, not Anthropologie. What's with all this Sweet Pea clothing being claimed as an Anthropologie brand? For someone with a long love of the brand like me these are laughable but how is a new brand fan supposed to know the difference? They're fakes.

Sometimes the culprit is keyword spamming. Come buy my "J.CrewAnthropologieAnnTaylorNanetteLeporeDVF Dress"! PLEASE! LIKE NEW. Or I love those sellers selling "Anthropologie Earrings and some dress that is so not Anthropologie but maybe you'll think it is!" Trying to pass off something as Anthropologie that isn't? Faking it.

Shrinkage. It's hard not to wonder about sellers who have tons of a current item for sale in multiple sizes. Especially the ones that seem to be either factory seconds or the sellers who have bought items at "closeout factories." Does Anthro even have those?

I also worry when I see repeated listings from a seller who has no tags, online order bags or any evidence of purchase history for items. I realize it happens sometimes -- maybe you get an item or a few as a gift, or you throw out the tags before you really decided. But to have that happen repeatedly, for over a year? Smacks of something else to me.

Why doesn't Anthropologie do anything? Or eBay? I wish that Anthropologie would take an active hand in stopping fraudulent auctions -- items that are clearly fakes. And I wish they'd take an official stand against price gougers. But for now they are uninvolved. I don't know if they are monitoring these eBay sellers or what. If the brand itself took preventative action perhaps these gougers would stop.

That goes double for eBay. Aren't they just sitting pretty collecting all these seller fees, Paypal fees, listing fees, and fees fees fees. Yet they don't really seem to care much about the actual items for sale: whether they're real or fake, whether they're stolen or purchased, whether they're marked up 0% or 1000%. eBay takes the file-sharing service stance. They're just the channel and they can't control the product. But it's not the same eBay, and as far as I'm concerned you are not living up to your corporate responsibilities. The lack of concern about the items sold on the auction site speak volumes about their true motivation.

What can I do? I know all of these issues have people in the community upset. But let me be clear: I'm not going to hide or tell anyone to stop publishing popbacks/tricks. These gougers would find the items whether we help them or not, and you're only hurting the community by keeping information to yourself.

Truly, the most you can do is speak with your wallet. Don't like the price of something? Don't buy it! I buy probably 5-10 items off eBay each year. Sometimes I find an item I want and the price is over retail. It's hard, but I don't buy those items. It's especially hard when it's a current item that you really, really want. So long as we keep supporting these people they will continue their practices. To truly stop them we have to let them either drown in product with no sales or wait til they drop the price back below retail to begin with.

Another thing you can do is report items to eBay. If someone asks me about an item and I determine it's fake, I report that item to eBay. You should do the same! It's another way for the community to help protect itself.

Lastly, remember the EA Trade Market is as much for reporting transactions as it is for making them. So if you have a great transaction on eBay with an Anthro seller, why not mention it? Conversely if someone gouges you on price or improperly describes/ships/etc an item, why not report that? The Trade Market is viewed over 30,000 times a week. It will absolutely make a difference.

What are your thoughts, community? I will be monitoring comments closely and will delete anything off-topic, offensive or outrageous. Let's keep everything courteous no matter which side you land on. And if you totally disagree with me, I invite you to write your own counter blog-post about that mean, pretentious EA blogger and her damn anti-price gouging posts!