Every now and then, a story crosses my desk that looks like it’s going to be really simple to investigate and cover in this column… until I start digging in to the details…

Over the last few days I’ve been contacted by a number of readers about purchases they’ve made from Vinted, the hugely popular online marketplace that allows users to buy and sell ‘pre-owned’ clothing and accessories. On purchasing items through the site, buyers have reported opening parcels to find totally different itmes to the ones they ordered.

I thought it would take an hour or two to get to the bottom of the problem. In the end, it took me a long and very frustrating day of research.

The case of the mixed-up parcels involved a relatively new method of posting items using drop-off lockers, a business that sells items but might not really sell them and mislabelling of parcels. Probably.

The good news for shoppers is Vinted’s buyer protection policies means people affected should get refunds if the missing items don’t turn up. But the situation has shone a spotlight on online marketplaces, second-hand goods sellers and courier companies.

I’m going to take a look at the problems that can arise with these sectors – and your rights if things go wrong.

Vinted and vintage goods

Pre-owned. Second-hand. Vintage. Pre-loved. There are endless terms for the goods that we used to drop off at the charity shop. The rise of online shopping websites and apps that allow you to sell the contents of your loft or wardrobe has allowed millions of people to become virtual market stallholders. And it’s big business too.

Vinted alone has reportedly made €371 million in revenue in 2022. That’s up €126 million from 2021. The app was downloaded a whopping 29.1 million times in 2022 and 65 million people are registered users [source] That’s an awful lot of last season’s frocks and bags.

Vinted is an ‘online marketplace’ the catch-all term for digital businesses that serve like giant virtual shopping malls or markets. Think of them as the venue – only they don’t provide the goods or services that are on sale there.

This is great in principle, because online marketplaces strip out much of the complexity of buying and selling goods online. They also provide a bit of protection for buyers and sellers if things go wrong too. But because they aren’t the actual retailer, there’s an annoyingly grey area around how much the laws that give us our shopping rights apply to them.

Unlike other online marketplaces, Vinted charges a small fee to provide buyer protection. This is £0.3 to £0.8 for items (or bundles) under £500 and a variable sum of between 3% and 8% of the purchase price agreed. For orders over £500, you’ll pay 3% of the items price. The amount you’ll be charged should appear at the checkout.

This is admittedly a relatively small sum. But it’s worth pointing out that if you buy direct from a traditional retailer, you should not have to pay a fee of this kind if something goes wrong. That’s because your consumer rights are enshrined in law and are free. [source]

So is Vinted allowed to charge a fee for buyer protection? This is one of the questions that has been giving me a headache. I’ve been pouring over the legislation, which covers your rights to a refund if goods or services are misrepresented, not as advertised or don’t turn up. An online marketplace can’t charge a fee for services that are enshrined in law. But they can charge fees for services they offer. So because Vinted is charging everyone the fee, not only people who are seeking a refund, it isn’t breaking the law.

Your rights when buying second-hand clothes

So what are your legal rights when you buy vintage goods? You can check out my full guide on Times Money Mentor here.

When buying from sites like Vinted, things get a bit complicated. This is because most of the people on the website are private sellers, rather than businesses, which dilutes the rules a little bit.

When you buy from a private seller the law says the goods must be ‘as they were described’. Sellers can’t misrepresent the goods (like claiming a scarf is Hermes, when it’s a knock-off), but they don’t have to exhaustively highlight every fault either (like missing slightly unpicked stitching in the lining of a jacket armpit). So a ‘dress with some marks’ should be just that. The seller can’t claim the item is new though, as that clearly isn’t true.

The obvious way for sellers to avoid any disputes over quality of goods is to fully photograph the item from all angles and list out any damage of faults. If the items are high value but lacking authentication then you’ll need to be very clear about how you describe it. So you can’t sell that signed copy of Like a Prayer you found at the car boot sale for £200 unless you can prove it was Madonna that signed it.

How can you tell the difference between a private seller and a business?

Headache number two: when does a private seller become a business? Well, there isn’t a definitive answer when it comes to individuals selling exclusively second-hand goods. Many regular private sellers were treated to a panic attack on 03 January 2024, when HMRC suddenly announced that tax might be payable on these goods – with less than a month before tax returns had to be filed. However, HMRC also stated:

If you buy goods for resale, or make goods with the intention of selling them for a profit, then you are likely to be trading and will have to pay tax on your profits However, if your total income from trading or providing services online was less than £1,000 (before deducting expenses) in any tax year, you would not be required to inform HMRC nor pay any tax on the profits (this is due to the Trading and Miscellaneous Income Allowance).

You can read the full guidance here.

This distinction matters because if you meet the definition of trading, you’d probably count as a business, which means you have to follow the law on returns and consumer rights, as spelt out in my column.

Online marketplaces and your rights

So if online marketplaces like Vinted don’t provide the goods or services, can they ignore complaints or refuse refunds? Welcome to headache number three.

There are all kinds of online marketplaces. From early pioneers like Amazon and eBay, to online travel agencies, voucher companies and (arguably) comparison sites, online marketplaces have come to dominate online shopping. A few years ago, many of these businesses took a rather gung-ho view of the law and liked to tell me that it didn’t apply to them as they were a ‘third party’ and ‘not the retailer’.

This is an obvious gap in the law, which the Government didn’t anticipate when drafting the two bills that give us our shopping rights. The EU recently recognised this and proposed tightening up the dispute resolution rules for online marketplaces. Bad luck UK shoppers though, as this proposal came in after Brexit.

Back in the UK, warnings, clarifications and threats of legal action from organisations like the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have made it clear that these business should provide the consumer protections currently set out in law.

This has resulted in online marketplaces introducting buyer/seller dispute resolution schemes that millions of people will have used when complaining about problems with things they’ve purchased. These policies are usually written by the online marketplace and set out the requirements on the buyer and seller, approved methods of payment, how goods must be packaged and sent, returns and dealing with disputes, fraud and scammers and other common problems.

However, these policies vary considerably, which is why they are the number one cause of complaints about online marketplaces. Both buyers and sellers contact me every week to complain about arbitrary decisions, a lack of telephone numbers, automation and excessive investigation timescales.

This ambiguity in the law clearly needs to be addressed urgently. We can’t let businesses effectively police themselves. Especially without a specific retailer regulator or recourse to a free ombudsman or dispute resolution scheme.

Couriers and missing goods

The law states that the retailer is responsible for missing parcels. That means items left in recycling bins, chucked against walls, left with that neighbour you hate or simply MIA are not your problem. If the retailer can’t prove the item was handed to you or left where you told them to leave it, they should refund you.

However, online marketplaces are not – headache number four – the retailer. Well in theory. In practice, they are still expected to deal with missing items or courier disputes just like any other retailer.

If you encounter a problem with a courier, head to the help centre of the online marketplace and ‘control and f’ to search for ‘complaints or ‘shipping’ to find out how to tackle the problem. In fact, you might find it easier to type the name of the business and ‘contact’ in to a search drive to save a bit of time. As I often say in this column, far too many business (including Vinted) don’t have telephone numbers. So prepare yourself for a ‘’live’ chat or an online form.

Vinted and the case of the incorrect parcels

So how do you end up with items that are blatantly not the goods that you ordered?

Well, we can eliminate the scammers, as people did receive goods, just not the things they ordered.

When your order items from Vinted, there are a number of different ways to send the goods. If you pick the main option – ‘Prepaid Vinted-generated shipping label (integrated shipping)’ – the buyer choses the courier and a digital shipping label or code is sent to the seller along with instructions. They can print the label or drop off the parcel. It’s the drop off where problems seem to have arrived as items are left in lockers to be collected by couriers who affix the label on collection.

Does that seem rather complicated? I thought so too. So be it incorrect labels or good old human error, this seems to be where the mix-ups are occurring.

As I mentioned, Vinted are refunding if the wrong item turns up or vanishes. But for many, that’s not the point. If you order a coat from a high-street retailer, you can easily get a replacement. But vintage items are not so easily replaced.

Featured in Times Money Mentor – Martyn James

Please share me around

Share useful info with your friends