There are many reasons why people might choose to buy products from unauthorized sellers online. For example, there is the ease of purchasing the product over the internet, especially if the product is only sold through a select number of distributors; the ability to purchase products under the cloak of anonymity; and, of course, the fact that the products are often cheaper than buying through an authorized seller.
There are also, however, significant risks that businesses should consider:
The product’s warranty or guarantee may not apply
Many companies do not honor warranties or guarantees. This might include a 30-day money-back guarantee for products purchased from unauthorized sellers. This is because unauthorized sellers often do not comply with companies’ quality controls. Quality controls can include product handling guidelines, packaging requirements, or client satisfaction priorities.
Companies simply cannot assume liability for these unknowns.
Accordingly, companies are including specific language in their warranties, guarantees and return policies explaining that products purchased outside of authorized distribution channels are not eligible for the warranty/guarantee protections that they are offering. Additionally, failure to provide receipts or other documentation to show that the products were purchased from authorized sellers will prevent consumers from getting a refund if they are dissatisfied with the product they purchased.
The product may be fake or watered down
Another common risk is that products purchased might be fake, watered down or tampered with in some other way.
Unauthorized sellers will often substitute the quality of a product by diluting the product, choosing to sell less of the product or substituting the order with a fake product. By doing this, unauthorized resellers are able to stretch out the product so that they can sell to more people with less expense.
You will often see comments in an online seller’s feedback suggesting that they are using these types of tactics or complaining about the product’s quality in general. Quite simply, a buyer can never be too certain about what he or she will actually receive when purchasing from an unauthorized seller.
The product may have expired
The expiration date of a product can also be very important. This is, especially true when the product is consumable or is applied to the skin. In either of these situations, using a product past its expiration date can have severely negative consequences.
While a product’s description might include the expiration date, this is not always the case. Even if the seller discloses that the product is expired, it might be hidden such that the average buyer would not notice it.
Sometimes, unauthorized sellers will attempt to resell a product that had previously been tossed out or given away by authorized sellers because the product is near to or past its expiration date. Selling such a product would be against the authorized seller’s policies.
However, this does not deter an unauthorized seller. Simply put, selling the product is an easy way to make a quick buck. Besides, the eventual buyer will have little to no recourse once he or she discovers the product is expired.
The product is not what was expected
Another risk is that a product received might not be what the buyer was expecting to receive.
When buying from an unauthorized seller, consumers must be aware that the product they ultimately receive may not be the product they had intended to purchase.
A bait-and-switch might be intentional on the part of the seller. However, it could also come from a lack of understanding of the products they are selling. Or it could come from the lack of quality controls put in place by the unauthorized seller.
Again, because these sellers are not authorized to sell their products, there is often little buyer can do to recoup their losses or to receive the correct product.
Paying special attention to the unauthorized seller’s customer feedback and the seller’s return policies are the best ways to gauge the chances of this happening. But when buying outside of authorized distribution channels, there is just no guarantee.
Purchasers are often drawn to unauthorized sellers because they think they are saving some money. But there are many reasons (risks), such as those outlined above, why buyers should be weary of unauthorized sellers.
For more information, contact Vorys’ Illegal Online Seller Enforcement team or call us at (513) 723-4823.