By Dean Dunham – 9 January 2022
Online shopping has overtaken shopping on the high street in recent times, fuelled by the convenience and, more recently, the pandemic. This has given rise to a number of large shopping ‘platforms’ like Amazon, eBay and Etsy, which provide the online infrastructure and marketing for traders (big and small) to market and sell their goods to consumers.
I am not concerned with how good these platforms are in terms of their ‘operation’ or with the goods sold on their sites, but I am interested in how good they are in relation to ‘consumers’ rights’. Over the next few weeks I am therefore investigating the main platforms and finding out about consumers’ shopping experiences with each of them. This week, I present my findings in relation to Etsy, an American based e-commerce company that describes itself as a global marketplace for unique and creative goods.
Let me start by saying that I personally have shopped on Etsy on numerous occasions and I am a fan of the site. It is a great concept and is a platform where you can find unusual and interesting goods. It is also great to be able to support small independent traders. However, from a consumer rights perspective, my view is that there are serious failings on the platform which need to be addressed. Here is what you need to know:
Limited consumer rights
When you buy goods on Etsy you are, on many occasions, purchasing from a private individual, as opposed to a company. There is no problem with this so long as you make your purchase with the knowledge and understanding that your consumer rights are greatly reduced. This is because the Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that when you buy from a private individual, you only have the right for the goods to be ‘as described’, meaning the goods do not have to be ‘of satisfactory quality’ and do not need to be ‘fit for purpose’; Nowhere is this explained on the Etsy site.
Lack of transparency
If you are unable to resolve a dispute with a seller on Etsy and do not like the proposed resolution (if any) offered via Etsy’s mediation service, your next step will typically be to take the matter to the Small Claims Court. However, to issue a claim you will need the seller’s full name and address and this is another major flaw with the site as consumers tell me that obtaining such information is like ‘getting blood out of a stone’. My view is that this is a breach of the Consumer Contracts Regulations, which states that such information should be provided at the point of purchase. It could be argued that providing a channel of communication via Etsy is good enough, although this is not an argument I would subscribe to.
A number of sellers on the Etsy platform make the following statement on their adverts “Returns and exchanges not accepted”. My view is that the reasonable consumer (who is neither legally qualified nor savvy when it comes to their consumer rights) would take this as meaning they could not return goods in any circumstances. However, this is seriously misleading as consumers have the legal right under The Consumer Contracts Regulations, to notify the trader of their wish to return goods within 14 days of delivery (save for bespoke and perishable goods).
Inadequate mediation service
If you fall into dispute with a seller, Etsy provides a mediation procedure. Its website says “After you open a case, an Etsy Support agent will review the case and come to a decision.” I was therefore interested to find out about what qualifications and experience the ‘agents’ had and whether they were UK or US based. My question in this regard was ignored, but from complaints I have heard and read about the Etsy mediation service, my guess is that the agents are based in the US and not skilled in UK consumer laws, although of course I may be wrong.
I asked Etsy about all of these matters, but rather than responding to each of my questions so that I could enlighten consumers, it chose to provide the following statement: