Time for quite a serious post as this problem seems to be increasing in tendency, with a number of my blog readers sending me emails about competitors on eBay who have sent them all kinds of threatening messages.
And while some of those may have legitimate reasons to be sending such messages, the vast majority of them are nothing more than cheap scare tactics, designed to try and get rid of the competition.
In either case, it’s a very unpleasant and scary experience, especially if you’re new to eBay and can’t tell if what they’re saying is right or wrong and if you really are breaking the rules…
Judging from how some of my blog readers have reacted, I’m very confident that these scare tactics do actually work and a lot of newcomers are pushed out of eBay by established sellers in this way.
But not for any longer! Today I want to bring this out to the open so you know what to expect and most importantly, how to deal with it.
Now of course these are still rare cases – it’s not as if this will happen to people on a regular basis and in fact, it’s more likely that you never receive one of these emails – even if you sell on eBay for a number of years.
But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a real problem and I can’t leave it unaddressed.
Here is the email that I received from Mohi, which prompted today’s post:
Can you please help me to fix a problem, which looks very embarrassing for me? As someone new to selling on eBay, I try to follow your guides in everything I do, however English isn’t my first language and I’m worried I’ve misread something and made a mistake.
As today I received a very odd message from a veteran eBay seller. It was simply sent to me via eBay message, and I’ve attached it for you to see.
What am I supposed to do or say to this?
I think the best way for me to approach this is to go over the different types of messages that it’s common to receive from a competitor on eBay and then suggest what you should do, as obviously the appropriate response depends on what the original message to you says.
The go f**k yourself type of message
A competitor simply sends you a message calling you every rude word they can think of.
Sadly this is probably the most common message and usually comes if you’re selling the same product at a lower price or doing something else they deem “unfair”.
DO NOT respond or engage them at all! Simply report it to eBay straight away.
I’m often asked if you can take this further and report them to the police and I guess you could, if they threatened you in some way or said something about knowing where you live etc., but unless you genuinely fear for your safety, I would simply let eBay deal with it.
Patent related messages/letters
In this case you’ll get a message or even a physical letter sent to your business address informing you that the product you’re selling infringes on a patent and you therefore have no right to sell that product.
This is most common when you buy an item from China, which is an unbranded “copy” of a well-known product, which obviously has patents in place to protect such things.
And actually this is quite hard to deal with, because it is very conceivable that a patent has been infringed on, but at the same time that makes this is a very effective scare tactic for unscrupulous competitors.
Overall I would say you have to judge each situation individually.
If you receive a poorly written message directly via eBay, then I’d be inclined to believe it’s fake.
If however you receive a physical letter from a lawyer’s office, then it’s much more likely to be genuine and the next step would be to call them for more details.
And by more details I mean, get the patent number, look up the company online etc. to verify that they’re real (as yes, I have seen letters from a “lawyer’s office” that have turned out to be completely made up!).
After that I would talk to my supplier/manufacturer and ask them for their input as well.
At this point if it looks real and your supplier doesn’t have any definite advice, I would say simply stop selling the product, if you don’t have a huge amount of stock leftover – that’s really the smartest thing to do.
BUT if it’s your main business, an integral product in your business, then it may be worthwhile speaking to a patent lawyer who can help you assess and deal with the situation properly. Be warned though that this can be quite costly!
Copyright related messages
This is fairly similar to the patent related message, but in this case you’ll be told that your product description or product pictures are copied.
Thankfully though these are a LOT easier to deal with, purely because you don’t have to rely on complicated judgements to do with patents etc… I mean you know whether or not you wrote your own description and took your own product pictures (which is 100% what you should be doing!).
If you have then simply answer them and politely explain that you only use your own original content.
On the other hand, if you copied your description from somewhere else (it doesn’t matter if that somewhere else wasn’t eBay, it’s still copied) then write your own and change it to that.
If you simply used images that you found online (again, doesn’t matter where) then take your own and change them.
The only scenario that’s a bit tricky is if you’ve used images from your supplier. Now in most cases that should be fine, however it is possible that your supplier simply stole those product images in the first place and presented them as their own.
Most Chinese suppliers are fairly forthcoming about this kind of thing, so you can just ask them. You could also use Google images to see where else this image is used and hopefully find the original source.
However the easiest solution is to do what I always suggest and take your own product pictures and write your own product descriptions – then you can be the one sending the messages, rather than receiving them!
Distribution rights messages
You get a message from a competitor telling you that they’re the authorised distributor/seller for this product in the UK.
Now this one can be very hard to judge and it’s a little more nuanced because even if they are, what are the ramifications for you if you purchased the products through the correct channels anyway?
Thankfully there’s a number of different things you can do to verify this:
- Contact your supplier and ask them.
If you bought directly from the factory/brand owner then there shouldn’t be a problem – as they sold the item to you in the first place.
However complications can arise if you bought through a trading company or wholesaler, as there’s a possibility that they didn’t have the right to sell to you in the UK as there’s territory exclusivity. But this isn’t your fault, as it’s really the brand owner’s responsibility to control distribution, and you bought the goods without knowledge of that fact.
- Ask for proper documentation as proof.
You should always ask for proof to corroborate any such claims and if someone is the exclusive seller within a certain territory then they will definitely have some form of document stating that.
- Check the number of sellers.
If there are hundreds of sellers on eBay for that product, then it’s obviously extremely unlikely that one seller has exclusivity. However if it’s just you and that seller, then there could be some truth to what they’re saying.
But as I said a bit earlier, there is still the question of whether or not this means anything… after all there are no real laws to prevent you from selling goods that you bought in a legitimate way (even if it’s against an agreement between two other companies).
Grey (also known as parallel) imports happen on a massive scale all around the world and it’s really up to the manufacturer to control their distribution channels.
With that being said, I personally wouldn’t want to build a business for the long term on a product like this, but that’s a personal choice you’ll have to make yourself.
Intentional negative feedback
This is when a competitor simply buys a product from you and leaves negative feedback for no reason at all.
Thankfully this is much less common nowadays, as feedback really isn’t that important anymore, because it used to be a real problem on eBay!
But it does still happen and there’s nothing more annoying than losing your terrific feedback score because of a disgruntled competitor. I’ve had a number of distraught EAB customers email me about losing their 100% positive feedback in very obvious cases.
In fact for experienced eBay sellers it’s usually quite easy to tell when this happens as the feedback is out of context and generally just doesn’t make sense.
Sometimes it’s incredibly obvious due purely to the stupidity of the competitor, who might:
- Order from you using the same account that they sell from (yep, as hard as it is to believe, I’ve seen this a number of times!)
- Use the same shipping address as their business address (a quick Google search can reveal this)
- Leave feedback instantly after buying, without even waiting 10 minutes
I don’t get to say this often, but eBay are actually very helpful in such cases and will remove fraudulent feedback quickly and easily. They also have the capability to check IP addresses so even if you don’t have solid proof but suspect something is amiss, then speak to them anyway.
And there you have it – the 5 types of competitor threats you’ll receive on eBay.
Most of them are complete rubbish and can simply be ignored, after reporting it to eBay of course. In Mohi’s case, that’s obviously what I’d suggest as his message falls firmly into the 1st category – slightly mad eBay competitor!
Please, DON’T ENGAGE WITH THEM at all. Just don’t reply to these messages, especially the abusive/angry ones as you gain absolutely nothing by doing so.
The two more genuine types are the copyright content and patent related messages. Copyright is easy to deal with, and you won’t have any problems at all if you follow my advice and write your own product descriptions and take your own product pictures.
Patent claims are by far the trickiest to deal with, but you can still filter out the complete fakes with a little bit of detective work. Beyond that and it can get costly, so you really have to assess whether it’s worth pursuing further by involving lawyers etc.
And that brings us to the end of today’s post – hopefully it will save at least a few unsuspecting newbie sellers from being pushed away by some of these scared eBay veterans!
Safe trading everyone 😉
All the best,