I loved a trip to the second-hand shops in my youth and still can’t resist a rummage in a charity shop.

In fact, my critics are quick to point out that my television outfits look like I grabbed them at random off a vintage clothes rack. The cheek!

Leaving aside my sartorial style, there really has been an explosion in the popularity of second-hand clothes shops lately, as the market stalls move online and any one of us can become a seller or purchaser.

Of course, it’s not just clothes that are driving the ‘previously loved’ market. You can buy anything from retro gadgets to collectable items through specialist shops. But it’s ‘online marketplaces’ that have proved particularly popular with people, especially the under 30’s. I believe that these sites have become more popular as a way to make a quick buck during the cost-of-living crisis. But many shoppers tell me that a backlash against ‘fast fashion and concerns about our impact on the environment are also behind the demand.

However, these apps and sites work in a similar way to other online marketplaces, which means there are complications to watch out for. Here’s my guide for both shoppers and sellers.

What does the law say?

Let’s take a quick look at the existing laws – the Consumer Rights Act and the Consumer Contract Regulations

Goods or services that you purchase must be:

  • Of satisfactory quality: This can be a bit subjective, but in general terms, the retailer must not misrepresent how well the goods have been made, should provide the full scope of the service they are offering or ensure that the goods do what they said they would do effectively.
  • As described: The item or service should be as the retailer said it would be. So if you buy a brown leather sofa, it should match the colour, fabric and description given by the retailer.
  • Fit for purpose: You should be able to use the goods or services for the purpose they were supplied for. So if you’ve bought a hard drive that’s designed to work with Apple laptops, then it should do precisely that.

The law also says that they must last ‘a reasonable amount of time’

The law still applies to second hand goods, though the fact that the items have been used, might have light damage or flaws or other problems is factored in.

Is this a retailer or an individual seller?

It’s not always easy to tell if you’re buying from an individual or business in the wild west that is the internet. As a general rule, if you’re buying from a stand-alone online shop, that’s a business. But if you’re buying through an online marketplace – like eBay, for example – you’ll have a mixture of individuals and businesses selling their stuff.

This is an important distinction because retailers in the UK are covered by the two laws I mentioned that govern your shopping rights when it comes to returns and disputes. If you’re buying direct from a retailer, you have more protections than buying from an individual selling their clothes for a bit of extra cash.

The good news is websites and apps where both individuals and businesses trade should have their own dispute resolution schemes. However, don’t assume that these schemes always exist – and bear in mind some are of questionable quality. In fact, disputes with online marketplaces are one of the fastest growing areas of complaint I see.

Retailer sales

From classic cars to vintage bras, if you buy second-hand goods through a retailer here’s how the law protects you.

The Consumer Contract Regulations cover online sales and give you 14 days to change your mind about most purchases. There are a few exceptions though, like made to order or personalised items.

The Consumer Rights Act gives you the right to return faulty or misrepresented goods. Any seasoned vintage clothes shopper will tell you that second-hand items will inevitably have wear and tear. However, the retailer must simply tell you about any faults or problems with the goods. Buyers should have realistic expectations and understand that the item will have been ‘pre-loved’.

For anyone thinking about selling goods, retailer or individual, I would check the item from every angle and photograph it, so the flaws or damage are clear and upfront. This will save you much time and money in resolving disputes or returning items. You might even want to draw attention to the pics when confirming a sale – just in case.

Individual or private sellers

According to the Consumer Rights Act, when you buy from a private seller the goods must be ‘as they were described’. Sellers can’t ‘misrepresent’ the goods, but they don’t have to list every fault either. So a ‘dress with some marks’ should be just that. The seller can’t claim the jacket is new though as that clearly isn’t true.

Most private sellers are policed by online reviews. For many of the semi-professional individual sellers, their rating on the website or app is everything. So do take time to have a look at the ratings before you buy and be nice but honest if you review. Don’t forget that you can message the seller with questions before purchasing.

Deliveries

Regardless of whether you are buying or selling new or vintage items, one of the most contentious areas of the sale is the delivery. Leaving aside the nightmare of terrible couriers, how you package an item can have a direct impact on disputes with buyers or returns.

It’s vital to follow the website or app guide on packaging the goods to the letter. This includes the way to package up the item (including materials) down to the ways to monitor the delivery. I’d be minded to photo or even film the item as it goes in to the box (sales and returns) just to prove when it left your hands it was working.

If you are using a courier, bear in mind that their insurance policies are usually not actually insurance. Instead, they are ‘service contracts’ an agreement with you and the business. And the exclusions… Well, I once saw one policy that had almost 200 items that were not covered by the policy. Speak to the courier company if you are unsure but you might want to scrutinise their damage and loss policies.

Sorting out complaints with private sellers

Sorting out complaints with private sellers can be a bit of a nightmare, because you are often at the mercy of the dispute resolution services offered through the online marketplace. Many of the sellers I speak to argue that their customers don’t always have realistic expectations, or have damaged the goods on receipt to get a refund. Whereas buyers often argue that the item was wilfully misrepresented.

The website’s dispute resolution scheme will usually weed out any scammers. So that just leaves problems over the quality of goods. I find it pays to be pragmatic. If you just want a refund and the seller just wants their goods back, then agree a return, documenting the process with photos. Keep those emails or communications though. If you paid by card and a refund isn’t forthcoming, your bank might be able to charge back your cash.

Featured in Times Money Mentor – Martyn James

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