Ebay: penalising the professional

As part of my work as a self-employed computer fixerer I sometimes have things to sell on ebay. It’s a handy place to offload stuff rather than chuck them in the bin/send them to be recycled. However, some things have annoyed me over the years.

I originally set up two accounts, one, a “Personal” account, for buying stuff that I needed, and another, a “Business” account, for selling.

I was concerned that buyers from my Business listings might delve into my feedback and see what I had been buying, such as the very thing I might be selling at a profit (unlikely, but still), so using separate accounts seemed ideal.

I chose a Business account for selling because this seemed like the right thing to do; I was a business. But gradually I felt more and more penalised.

Firstly it was through government legislation that stipulated that, as a Business, I must publicise my business address. This wasn’t so much a problem at first when I had actual business premises but when I moved to working from home this bothered me; my home address would be made public on each of my listings. This issue wasn’t confined to ebay, I was legally obliged to publicise my address on any trading website. The only way around this, I conceded (besides paying for something like a PO Box) was to not sell things directly through my website, and fortunately I had done little of this over the years.

The second issue, specific to ebay, came about more recently. You see, each listing can be made to last a certain number of days. This used to be up to 30 days and at the end of this period the listing would end. I could then choose to relist the item and when I did this I would generally take the opportunity to make some amendments to the listing such as lowering the price a little to further encourage a sale. The problem came about when ebay elected to automatically renew such listings automatically every thirty days. Helpful, you might think. But not really, and there is a catch. For Business sellers each listing incurs a fee and when they automatically relist items at the end of the 30 day period, you incur a fresh new fee. Nice.

At first I tried to better manage my listings, to check them at least once a week, and if they’d failed to sell within 30 days, take down the listing to avoid that recurring fee. At least once though I thought I’d ended a listing, and had some time out from selling, only to log in some months later to find an item was still live and had been incurring relisting fees. You’re welcome ebay.

Not any more though.

Another way ebay penalise their registered Business sellers is by offering free listings to Private sellers. Since I have one of each account type I have been aware of this for some times, but if you only have a Business account you might not ever realise what you’re missing out on: Free listing weekends and selling fees capped at £1 for your first 1000 listings. Yes, as a Private seller you can list up to 1000 items to make use of this offer. 1000 items seems like an awful lot of stuff for someone who is not operating a business; that would surely be a full time job. I guess ebay have this leeway, whereas the Inland Revenue might not. I only sell a handful of things every now and then, things I have likely been given, so from now on they’re given to the non-Business me.

I’ve now switched all my selling over to my non-penalised account after gradually working up my feedback score there.

I also recently noticed some “legal terms” sneakily changing when buying things on ebay which had me concerned:

By clicking Buy, you’re entering into a legally binding contract for the purchase of the item from the seller.

You’re responsible for reading the full item listing, including the seller’s instructions and accepted payment methods. Seller assumes all responsibility for listing this item.

That’s quite the request considering the mass of generic Ts&Cs a seller might copy and paste to each of their listings.

At the end of the day private customer is legally entitled to return a BuyItNow item for any reason, within 14 days. Business customers aren’t treated so well.

Ebay aren’t the only company to penalise Businesses. A supplier I used to use a lot, upon sign up, asked me to specify if I was a business or not, so I naively said I was. I then found myself being plagued by sales calls every time I was logged in and browsing their website… “Hi I’m [so-and-so] your sales manager. I see you’re looking at such, I’m here to ensure you get the best deal….” or just the random ones each time I was assigned a new sales manager (I assume because the previous one had annoyed too many people also). One day I got to the end of my tether when I needed to return something but because I was a Business I wasn’t covered by the same legal rights as an individual and I wasn’t entitled to a full refund. I asked them what it was, then, that I was actually benefiting from by having a Business account with them. They could provide me with no reason, and neither could they change a Business account to a non-Business account, so I closed my account and opened a fresh new one without that stipulation. Needless to say I haven’t bought much from them since; these tactics leave a bitter taste.

Banks too generally charge for a Business account. I remember the days of paying for each of the cheques I received to be cashed, and paying an annual fee on top of that. When “The World’s Local Bank” stopped being my local bank I started cashing my cheques into my personal account (being sure to request my clients make the cheques payable to me personally). I wish I’d done this all along and saved myself some money.


  1. What concerns me about these enormous internet companies is that they change their terms and conditions any time they feel like it. Some of them, like ebay, have access to credit cards and bank accounts so can impose fees after changing terms and conditions. Users who haven’t checked their accounts for months or even years could be caught out by this. Don’t trust any of them. It would not be impossible, for example, for Blogger or WordPress to decide to delete most past content on non-fee paying accounts. I keep a copy of all of mine in case I might want to use it again.

    • I too like to keep copies of my own blog posts; imagine logging in one day to discover the service had ceased and all your work had evaporated with no ability to perhaps share it on another platform.

    • We kind of do, but it doesn’t seem so popular and not so much content that is local to me. There is also Facebook Marketplace which I have never delved into.

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