Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Public Service Announcement: Do Not Use The eBay Global Shipping Program

Posted by Trixter on July 31, 2018


If you sell rare, unique, or otherwise irreplaceable items on ebay, do not use eBay’s Global Shipping Program.  Doing so grants eBay’s partners the right to effectively take your item and resell it without your knowledge.  What follows is an explanation of what the Global Shipping Program is, why it exists, and why you shouldn’t use it for items that are difficult or impossible to replace.

Shipping internationally is a hassle in the USA: It requires multiple forms, a declaration of value, and for anything over a certain size, interaction with a shipping service employee.  However, if you’re selling rare items with global interest, such as vintage computers or software, dealing with international shipping is a necessary evil.  You could always not ship internationally, but that cuts out a large section of your audience and potential profits.

To try to ease the pain of international shipping for USA sellers, ebay introduced the Global Shipping Program (“GSP”).  The GSP allows a USA seller to market to international buyers, but then ship to a central USA domestic address.  Once received, ebay then handles delivery of the item to the international buyer.  The benefit to both parties is straightforward: The buyer gets access to more sellers that will ship to their country, and the seller only has to pay for a domestic delivery and avoid international shipping hassle.

The central USA address facility is subcontracted out to Pitney Bowes  (“PB”).  PB is a business, and they need to make money too, so they collect many packages to a single destination country and then ship them all off at once in a single freight shipment.  (This is usually facilitated by repacking items into smaller boxes so that PB can fit more items per shipping container.)  Large freight shipments are much cheaper than shipping packages individually, so the difference between what the international buyer paid, and what the eventual shipping cost is, becomes PB’s profit.

What most people don’t realize is that eBay’s agreement with PB allows PB to steal your items and resell them.  Worse, they get caught doing it all the time.

The Global Shipping FAQ contains this language:

What happens to lost, damaged, or undeliverable items?

GSP items purchased by your buyer may be covered by an eBay Money Back Guarantee or PayPal Purchase Protection program. eBay and Pitney Bowes shall have no liability and shall have, in their discretion and in any manner that they prefer, the right to dispose of or liquidate parcels (and their contents) that eBay or Pitney Bowes conclude are undeliverable.

At first glance, this seems like protection for PB such that they won’t get in trouble for shipping things that are dangerous or prohibited by a certain country.  In those cases, the parcels are likely disposed of.  But this wording gives PB the right to “conclude” that any item is “undeliverable”.  Remember, PB is a business, and they need to make money, so what happens when they have only a few huge boxes (for example, vintage computers) to ship to an international destination, and/or the contents of those boxes are fragile and cannot be repacked and made smaller to fit into a shipping container?  PB would lose money passing them on to the buyer, and they’d also lose money returning them back to the seller.  So, rather than lose money in either case, they classify the item as “undeliverable” and it goes nowhere.  Their agreement with eBay (wording above) grants them the right to do this.

The reason this doesn’t turn into instant outrage on an hourly basis is that eBay compensates both the seller and buyer when this happens.  The seller gets to keep the money they received for the item, and since the item can’t be delivered, the buyer gets a refund for what they paid.  If the item is something common, then the buyer can just start their shopping again from a different seller or store.

But what happens to the original item if PB doesn’t want to deliver it?  The wording in the agreement grants PB the right to “liquidate” parcels.  While most people think liquidated means destroyed, it doesn’t:  In this context, it means apportioned, which is another way of saying reallocated and redistributed:

What happens to items that can’t be delivered to my buyer?

If eBay and/or Pitney Bowes determines that a GSP item is undeliverable eBay and/or Pitney Bowes may elect to dispose of, destroy or liquidate the undeliverable parcel, at which time title to the GSP item shall transfer automatically from you to eBay and/or any third party designated by either eBay or Pitney Bowes

In other words, the original item is given to a third party who can do whatever they want with it.  And what the third party does is resell it… back on eBay… using your original listing!

Need proof?  Here’s a listing from someone who sold an IBM PC to an international buyer:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/-/273283847165?nordt=true&orig_cvip=true&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l10137

They then were informed by eBay that their package was undeliverable, and both parties were compensated.  Then, a few weeks later, this listing showed up on ebay:

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Working-IBM-Personal-Computer-Model-5150-PC-No-Monitor-/163169047795?epid=1900490613&hash=item25fda214f3%3Ag%3AVRAAAOSwgVlbWhO1&_nkw=ibm+5150&_sacat=0&_from=R40&LH_Complete=1&rt=nc&nma=true&si=xcoEA3o5aXAEajzy2eboTpHSO70%253D&orig_cvip=true&nordt=true&_trksid=p2047675.l2557

Not only is the original item for sale (with “No international shipping” predictably part of the shipping conditions), but the pictures were lifted wholesale from the original listing.

This is surely cause for outrage.  However, by merely using the GSP, you transfer all of your rights and have no recourse.  eBay’s official wording makes it clear that once the item is received by PB, not only do you lose all title to the item, you also lose any intellectual property rights your listing may have had:

Will content from my original listing be used if the item is liquidated?

Yes.In the event eBay or Pitney Bowes elects to dispose of or liquidate a GSP item, you grant to eBay, Pitney Bowes and/or any third party designated by either eBay or Pitney Bowes (as eBay and Pitney Bowes may elect) a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, transferable license to any intellectual property rights in the text or images presented in the original listing related to the GSP item, which exists or ever existed, including, but not limited to, the right to reproduce, prepare derivative works base on or display, any copyrightable elements, for the limited purpose of disposal or liquidation of the GSP item. You acknowledge that eBay or Pitney Bowes’s election to dispose of or liquidate the GSP item and allow you to retain your buyer’s payment for the GSP item is sufficient consideration for the transfer of title to eBay and/or any third party designated by either eBay or Pitney Bowes (as eBay or Pitney Bowes may elect in their sole discretion) and the grant of the license.

Always read the fine print.

Bottom Line

If you are selling something irreplaceable, such as a vintage computer or highly rare vintage software, do not, under any circumstances, use the GSP to sell internationally.  Doing so grants eBay the right to effectively destroy your item on a whim instead of delivering it.

Losing a vintage item is much more painful than simply being out the money you paid (or received) for it — the true cost is the loss of something that cannot be replaced.  Any seller of such items cannot, in good conscience, allow rare items to be put in this position.

I’d like to thank my colleagues at the VCF Forum for investigating and bringing this to light.

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