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Many buyers and sellers use online marketplaces, which allow products or services to be offered by multiple third parties and usually provide a means for payment to be processed directly on that website. There are the big name marketplaces, such as eBay or Amazon, but many smaller niche companies, such as Etsy, also offer goods online. Here are a few things consumers should consider when deciding where to buy or sell merchandise online.

Selling as an individual or a professional: Some websites have a specific number of items you can list for free per month to be an individual or independent seller. If you sell many items, you may be considered by the marketplace as a professional seller. Depending on where you fall, you may want to consider joining the site as a professional seller. Some online marketplaces offer certain benefits for professional sellers, including the use of spreadsheets, web feed subscriptions, and other tools to load inventory. You would also have access to order reports, earn top placement on product detail pages, and have customized shipping rates.

Merchant Support: Does the online marketplace offer any protection for the buyer or seller to resolve a dispute? Some of the larger sites have protection programs for both the buyer and seller to better deal with a dispute, while some smaller sites have no protection at all. The marketplace may also step in as a mediator to help deal with and resolve a dispute. Be aware of the different types of options available to you.

What is the rating of the buyer or seller?: Many e-commerce sites have a rating system for sellers and buyers. Be sure to take a look at a buyer or seller’s purchase or sale history and ranking—this can help you determine whether a buyer or seller is trustworthy. If the buyer or seller has 1 out of 5 stars, a lot of negative feedback, or no history as a buyer or seller, consider shopping or selling elsewhere.

Shipping: What are the shipping costs and who is paying for them? Check to see where the seller is located when factoring in the cost of shipping. It could be important to know this for potential shipping charges for a possible return of an item. If the seller is in another country, the cost to ship could be significantly higher and you may also have to pay import/export fees.

Warranty: Does the product you are buying or selling have or need a manufacturer’s warranty? If so, what entity is providing it? To be a savvy consumer, read all of the disclaimers for a product and pay attention to the details about a product, including any related warranties.

Fakes & Scams: Is the product you are purchasing the real deal, or are you being scammed? Some sites, like eBay, do not allow for the sale of knock off products. That means if a company’s brand is on the item, it has to really be a legitimate brand and not be a counterfeit or copy. If you think a product is a fake, do your research about ways to determine whether a specific brand is legitimate and ask the seller questions. For sellers, make sure to check with the marketplace’s guidelines to see what you can and cannot sell.

Return Policy: You should carefully read return policies before buying. Also, make sure you understand any related return fees, such as restocking fees. Some independent sellers do not offer returns, but even in that case, the hosting site may offer to relist a product for free, give you a gift card to use on the site, or exchange the item for something else. Or buyers may be able to relist the product themselves without any listing fees. Look below for the links to some major online marketplace websites. Note that this Office has surveyed the return policies of the below sites as well as Craigslist, but because Craigslist offers only a platform for sellers to sell merchandise, it does not offer any general return policy on a marketplace-wide basis.

Amazon.com
eBay.com
Ruby Lane
Bonanza.com
Etsy.com

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