How Product Recalls Can Affect eBay Selling

product recall eBay
Make sure items aren't recall prior to listing on eBay. Getty Images

eBay is the world's largest marketplace where millions of sellers can offer almost any kind of item. But what happens when you have an item listed that has been recalled? Will eBay pull the listing? Will you be penalized or your account suspended? Learn about how product recalls can affect eBay selling and most of all, what can happen to your account if a recall is issued on a product you are selling.

 

What Is a Product Recall?

First of all, you must understand what a product recall is. A product recall is a request by a manufacturer for consumers to return an item for a refund or a replacement, because of the discovery of safety issues or defects that could injure or endanger the consumer or put the seller (such as a retail store or eBay) at risk of legal action. 

It would be nice to think that the manufacturer cares about the consumer using the defective item, but a recall is more about protecting the manufacturer against legal action if the consumer is harmed using the item. For example, Livly issued a recall for children's sleepwear because it is flammable. The company did not follow the standards for flame-retardant fabric and the sleepwear poses a risk to children should there be a fire. Recalls are very important to the eBay seller as we are selling merchandise that we did not manufacture, and we do not know if all safety standards have been met.

 

How Are Recalls Issued?

A product recall follows a specific protocol, basically in this order:

  1. Manufacturer contacts the governing body in their industry with their intention to recall a specific product. 
  2. Consumer hotlines or a website is set up so that consumers can register their product for a refund or replacement.
  1. Media campaign is launched (TV ads or other advertising). The Chicago Tylenol Scare of 1982 was ground-breaking and changed the way medicine and OTC drugs are packaged. The Ford Motor company also had a famous recall in 1978 for the exploding Pinto. 1.5 million Ford Pintos were recalled for explosions in low speed collisions. 
  2. Product recall warnings and announcements are posted on government agencies websites.
  3. As consumers discover the news and have the recalled product, they call the hotline or register their information.
  4. Consumer is advised to return the product, and the manufacturer offers a refund or a replacement. 

Most Common Product Recall Categories

We often hear about automobile part recalls, but the majority of eBay sellers don't have to worry about that one as we are not in the used car business. Other categories where product recalls are frequently issued include:

  • Appliances
  • Clothing
  • Electronics / electrical items
  • Furniture
  • Household
  • Children's products
  • Outdoor
  • Fitness and exercise

Many of these items are sold every day on eBay so we as eBay sellers, may in fact, be selling an item that has been recalled. This can be scary if you are (unknowingly) selling things that are unsafe and could potentially harm a buyer.

eBay Recalled Items Policy

eBay's official policy is as follows:

We strongly support the governmental agencies, including the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in their efforts to protect consumers against potentially hazardous products. Sellers aren't allowed to list items that are prohibited from being sold because of a recall. If an item can be legally sold but is subject to a recall, sellers must include appropriate information about the recall within the listing. All items sold to US buyers must follow all applicable state and federal laws, including the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Sellers should make sure that their listings follow these guidelines when listing or selling any items:

  1. Allowed products include anything that is not currently under a recall by the CPSC or the manufacturer. 
  1. Restricted items include: Consumer products that are subject to a recall — but the listing must contain the recall information. According to eBay, "Cribs must meet federal safety standards issued by the CPSC in 2011. You must state in your listing the crib was manufactured in 2011 or later and meets federal safety standards."
  2. Not allowed: Items currently under recall and drop side cribs.

If you have an item listed that is recalled, eBay will remove the listing and notify you. Not to worry — you won't be penalized in any way. Recalls happen all the time in our world, and that is part of selling consumer goods. They are going to happen. What is important is responding to eBay's notification in the right way. eBay has this policy because it is illegal to sell recalled items, and their job is to monitor the site and remove any listings for items under current or past recalls. 

Preventative Measures

One way to prevent selling recalled items is to avoid listing in any of the frequently recalled categories. But that is unrealistic. Here are some steps to take when listing an item to make sure it isn't currently under recall:

  • Visit the manufacturer's website and check for recalls.
  • Visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission site and check for recalls. 
  • Sign up to receive email notices from the Consumer Product Safety Commission so you can stay informed of recalls as they are announced.

While you don't want to avoid selling anything that may come under recall, because that is impossible to predict, it is wise as a business person to avoid obvious items that might not be safe in used condition including:

  • Vintage life jackets and flotation devices: Guidelines for manufacturing life jackets and water floatation devices have changed over the years. If selling an older life jacket or flotation device, state in your listing that it is for decorative or collectible use only, not to be worn in the water. Obviously you can't control what a buyer does with it, but you want buyers to know that it does not meet today's safety standards. Restaurants and hotels on the water or people with lake or beach houses may by vintage life jackets, ski belts, buoys, or life saver rings as decorative or conversation pieces. Nothing wrong with selling these items, just state they are not for safety use. 
  • Helmets: This includes bicycle, motorcycle, football or sports helmets. State in your listing that you don't know the history of the item. Some helmets are worn for costumes, such as football helmets as part of a Halloween costume. 
  • Older electric blankets: Electric blankets are made differently now. In fact, now they are called warming blankets. In past decades, 1960s - 1980s, electric blankets got very hot. I remember using one as a teenager in the 1980s and it got so hot I would sweat under the covers! Older ones could actually burn someone as they sleep, or if used by an invalid or paralyzed person, they would be trapped under it. Also, the electric components may be old and unsafe, and cause fires. 
  • Chid car seats: You can't prove it has never been in an accident. Buyer could question this and if it has been in an accident, or is an older seat, you don't want harm to come to a baby or child strapped into it. 
  • Vintage children's sleepwear: In 1953 the Flammable Fabrics Act was passed. It required among other things, children's pajamas to be made from flame-resistant fabric. Again, if you sell vintage children's sleepwear, odds are no child will be wearing it. The buyer is purchasing it for its collectible or historical value. Just mention in the listing that it may not meet today's sleepwear safety standards and shouldn't be worn.

The bottom line: Think ahead about what you are selling and do your due diligence first. It is better to discard an unsafe item or recalled item than to risk hurting or injuring someone who may use it. The removal of a listing is secondary to your buyer's safety.