Addressing the address issue

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Judging from dozens of threads on eBay message boards, and the emails and IMs I’ve received this week, the most controversial change for eBay UK sellers is nothing to do with fees or feedback: it’s eBay’s decision that sellers’ addresses must be displayed on all listings.

Concerns about this new requirement have ranged from security – the entire world seeing where my stock is located – to personal safety – I’m home alone with my kids – to the practical – I’m not a shop so I don’t want buyers turning up on the doorstep. Few people are arguing that they’re unwilling to have their buyers know their address – just that they don’t want it accessible to all and sundry who happen to be browsing the eBay site.

I’ve yet to find one single ecommerce site that displays its geographical address on a item-listing page, or a checkout page: it is invariably put on an “about us” or “contact us” page – just like eBay’s own address.

Yet eBay say that displaying your address on your listings is a legal requirement under the Distance Selling Regulations, which say that

in good time prior to the conclusion of the contract the supplier shall –
(a) provide to the consumer the following information –
(i) the identity of the supplier and, where the contract requires payment in advance, the supplier’s address;
(2) The supplier shall ensure that the information required by paragraph (1) is provided in a clear and comprehensible manner appropriate to the means of distance communication used,

“Prior to conclusion of the contract… in a clear and comprehensible manner…” Not “on the same webpage as the goods are advertised”. Not “forcing the customer to read your address before they click buy it now”. Just “in a clear and comprehensible manner”. So putting your details on your About ME page, or in an email after purchase, or even on an invoice in with the package should be perfectly adequate. So I thought, and so did many other sellers: I spoke to Trading Standards about this when the DSR first came out, and they agreed with me.

We’ve seen before that the Office of Fair Trading may be taking more of an interest in online auctions. In their PDF guide to online selling they explain in more detail exactly how they interpret the legislation, and what sellers need to do:

3.1 You must give your consumers certain information before they agree to buy from you. We refer to this as pre-contractual information which includes the following.
(i) Your identity including sufficient detail for the consumer to be
able to identify the business they are dealing with.

(vi) If payment is required in advance, you must supply your full geographic address [This applies before goods or services are received by the consumer.]

3.3 The pre-contractual information can be given by any method appropriate to the form of distance communication you are using to agree the contract, providing it is clear and comprehensible. For example, this information can:
be provided on a website if you sell goods or services over the internet.

3.10 If you provide pre-contractual information in a form that does not allow it to be stored or reproduced by the consumer, such as during a phone call or on a website, then you must confirm in writing, or in another durable medium available and accessible to the consumer,
the information given at paragraph 3.1(i) to (viii).

They have already defined “durable medium” in paragraph 1.6: websites are not durable media; printable emails, a letter, a fax or a brochure *are*.

I see nothing here that says that an address on an “about me” page is unacceptable. On the contrary, it seems pretty clear: address on your website (i.e. linked from where the customer’s buying), and provided by email or in a written format afterwards is the information flow the OFT are expecting.

But eBay at first insisted that addresses on listings was a done deal and would not be changed. But under absolutely relentless pressure from unhappy sellers, there is now a small hint that they may look again at this policy: eBay UK’s new MD, Mark Lewis has posted on the Q&A forum:

Sellers operating as businesses have a legal obligation to clearly display a geographical address to prospective buyers before they bid/BIN (which is the point of entry into a contract). eBay is working to help sellers clearly meet their legal obligations, by providing functionality to display addresses to buyers on the View Item page, and policies to enforce this.

However, we have heard and we do understand the genuine security concerns of sellers who trade from their private residence. We are exploring ways to address these concerns without exposing our seller base to legal risk. We still plan to enforce appropriate address display by May, but we feel confident we can find a display solution that will be acceptable to the majority of sellers.

What’s your opinion? Are you happy for your address to be on your listings, or will that be the tipping point that sends you off-eBay?

7 Responses

  1. I am going to start listing my address on all my listings. (I hope ebay are reading this. 😎 ) I’ll be pursuing my 100% discount on FVF by selling direct. ebay will become just a marketing channel.

    The security arguments are weak. Yes, think about it. A diamond seller working from home worried about scamsters coming round with a crow bar? Give me a break.. buyers have all his details already! Worried about your wife and kids? Then *dont* give your address to 100’s and 1000’s of COMPLETE strangers ( otherwise known as buyers ). There are many ways to remove your home address from the loop 😉

  2. totally in agreement, (see my forum posting – before I saw this I hasten to add….).

    However, I am sure that someone less-than-senior at eBay HQ has simply misread the regulations when reporting to their higher-ups, and it will now be adjusted to ensure that sellers DO add their address info to their ME or MyWorld pages – which will be a change for a lot of sellers.

    I would expect that at present a great many don’t even do that. In particular the PS’ers who are going to have to admit now that they are really traders, not private sellers…

  3. I certainly don’t want my address on listings. Anyone who actually buys from me automatically gets that info. Anyone else doesn’t need it. Ebay are as usual using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

  4. Sorry Kate, although I understand your point of view, the law takes a different view.

    We ARE obliged to let anyone considering buying (not only a confirmed buyer) know our geographical address, and then this must be confirmed in durable form after the contract (i.e. a bid or BIN) is agreed.

    The question is not “if” it is only “where”…



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