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Late Saturday night, minutes before eBay’s new policy restricting the sale of manufacturer’s coupons was set to take effect, a search for “coupons” resulted in more than 50,000 items for sale. Early Sunday morning, after the new policy took effect, someone flipped a switch and coupons disappeared from the site, right?

Wrong. Two days into the new policy, there are still more than 50,000 listings for coupons, and no sign that they’re going anywhere.

So what kind of policy is this, anyway?

The online auction site took buyers and sellers by surprise in July, when it announced major changes in the types and numbers of coupons that sellers could offer (read: “eBay Cracks Down on Coupon Sales”). The sale of coupons promising free products, including buy-one-get-one-free coupons, is now prohibited as of yesterday, September 1st. And users can now sell only 25 coupons, not exceeding a combined value of $100, per month.

So it’s not an outright ban – but for sellers who’ve been earning a halfway decent living by auctioning off thousands of coupons a month, it might as well be. Many have spent the last couple of months moving their coupon listings to other online auction sites, or setting up their own coupon-selling websites.

But it appears that many others haven’t gone anywhere at all, judging by the tens of thousands of coupon listings still on the site. Sure, existing listings may have been grandfathered in, but many of the current coupon offerings were posted after the new policy took effect. So are these sellers setting themselves up for a showdown with eBay – or betting that the new policy is just another set of rules that eBay won’t really go out of its way to enforce?

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eBay can’t police every item offered for sale on its site. So it often relies on users, and sometimes companies, to bring violations to its attention. That being the case, its sort-of ban on selling coupons could end up being about as toothless as having no ban at all. If the sale of coupons had been banned outright, violations would be much easier to spot, and report. But is the average observer going to notice, and alert eBay, when a particular user sells more than 25 coupons or more than $100 worth in a month?

The truth is, many sellers have been ignoring eBay’s rules for years – so why start following them now? The site’s old coupon policy stated that “sellers can’t claim that the price of the coupon is based on the value of the labor involved in clipping the coupons instead of the coupons themselves.” But countless users have been doing just that.

And under its Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) program, eBay allows companies and copyright holders to lay claim to their intellectual property and report violations. Companies like Frito-Lay alert eBay sellers that the coupons the company issues are copyrighted material, and that “Frito-Lay coupons are void if copied, transferred or sold.” But do a search for Frito-Lay product coupons on eBay, and you’ll still find plenty of them for sale.

So some rules, it seems, are meant to be broken. That said, the policy did take effect over a holiday weekend, so perhaps enforcement won’t start right away. And eBay can, and does, suspend users’ accounts for violating its policies. So those who ignore the new rules do run that risk. And when asked, or sometimes subpoenaed, eBay has not hesitated to give up users’ names and addresses to companies concerned that their copyrights are being violated (read: “Dozens of eBay Sellers Targeted, as Counterfeit Coupon Case Goes Cold”). Selling counterfeit coupons is a crime, but even selling legitimate coupons could be considered a copyright violation, which could also get you in legal trouble. It just depends if a company is willing to put in the effort to go after you – or if eBay is going to put in the effort to enforce its own policies.

Industry groups like the Coupon Information Corporation have been advocating for an end to the buying and selling of coupons for years. And some have complied, as publicity, and pressure from the industry, has prompted other online auction sites to ban the sale of coupons (read: “Another Online Shopping Site Bans Coupon Sales”). The CIC points out that “virtually every coupon issued in the United States features a ‘nontranferability clause’ that prohibits the sale or other unauthorized transfer of the coupon and voids the coupon in the event of such a transfer.” Left unsaid is the fact that companies just don’t like it. Selling and shipping coupons to places where they weren’t issued, can interfere with companies’ carefully crafted marketing plans for specific geographic areas. And selling identical coupons, 20 at a time, reduces the likelihood that a company can entice 20 different consumers to try its product – instead, the company will be funding a discount for one consumer to amass 20 of its products, and then never buy another one again.

In the end, argues the Coupon Information Corporation, “billions of coupons are given away free of charge every year. Why pay for something given away for free? The unauthorized sale of coupons increases consumer costs, provides outlets for stolen and counterfeit coupons, and creates opportunities for organized criminal enterprises.”

Whether eBay sellers – and eBay itself – follow that advice, remains to be seen. So far, there are more than 50,000 indications that they won’t.

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18 Comments

  1. people have been selling and trading coupons for years before the net its not illegal just like when they dump millions of pounds of plastic covered paper in the mail and give it to potential customer. Sure if someone sells illegal coupons fake copies sure they need to be delt with but. should everyone pay for the crooks just cause someone ran someone over should we all loose our license cause anyone could do it. just stop giving genuine honest law bidding citizens trouble. troubles they claimed the coupon through there own work and now are selling them . its work we all do it.
    if i saw illegal counterfeit coupons id tell on them just as if i saw a illegal counterfeit monies but should money be taken from everyone cause some people are criminals. just think a bought what you do to a honest hard working person not even breaking a law in the first place before you go tattle
    tail on them . did not they teach you in school that’s not nice.
    and since its not illegal ebay will probably continue letting them sell cause its a big fuss to try to say your illegal when your really legal.
    trying to tell people they are wrong when they are not honest people have a big issues with this to the point of those are fighting words where i come from. IF you rat out a honest person what does that make you.
    does this site let you print coupons if they do and you use them your a crook 2 i guess. BY the logic ive seen in the comments. I mean please are we all that stupid we want to tell on law abiding citizens. cause the simple sale of a coupon is not illegal or they would no allow it at all.

    • what wrong with just catching the counterfeiters and making the coupon seller aware of the scam id bet if you told a legit coupon dealer on eBay to help stop counterfeits he poor over listing trying to find counterfeits and report them to ebay at once to remove the competition in a decent fair way they are selling counterfeits after all
      id bet if there were a nice little reward youd probably end counterfeits on ebay for ever whoever catches the most counterfeits get 100 dollars in each month then it be all over for counterfeiters for the most part.

  2. The policy is NOT being enforced as far as I can see. People who SO NOT subscribe to EBAY’s “BillMeLater – New customers get $10 back on 1st purchase
    Subject to credit approval.” get carte blanche for posting as MANY coupons as they want – even more than the alloted numbers in ONE ad (25,50) and go IGNORED. This mmust be a big money-maker for PAYPAL so these sellers are actually the “Pushers” for this PAYPAL program while posting their illegal coupon ads. It reminds me of the narcotic sellers sending young kids out on the street with the merchandise so that they don’t get caught. PAYPAL and EBAY should be ASHAMED of themselves and I HOPE they are punished for this true crime!!!

  3. A search for “coupons” on eBay now pulls ~37,000 listings, which is nearly 20,000 fewer than there were on September 1st/2nd. One has to believe that the policy is beginning to be enforced.

    As a former coupon seller, I fervently hope that eBay follows through and actually upholds this policy. I moved out of this “business” months before the policy changes, and while I have no issue with the ethics of clipping services, I do have a problem with eBay making baseless threats and policy changes that seemingly never go into effect. So if coupon sales were a serious enough problem to warrant such a sweeping limitation, there had better be consequences for those who flout the policy. Otherwise, it makes eBay look the fool.

    • They have enforced it. I had 31 coupons sell this month, but it won’t allow me to post another coupon.

      • It’s being enforced I believe based on people reporting. I still see BOGO’s 40,60,80,100 ct lots, printables and clearly fake free item coupons. Only way to make sure it is enforced is to report it when you see it. What’ good for one is good for all.

  4. Yup, I agree with all of the above. I plan on calling them 9/4/13 if nothing changes. People are still running wild with the “Free” coupons and the “Bogos.” I’ve reported a ton since 9/1/13 and have seen no action. Give it a week and them may as well rejoin the inmates running the asylum.
    I posted the truth about the eBay coupon policy change here and who’s to blame and it is not eBay:
    http://realityretailandcouponing.blogspot.com/2013/08/ebay-coupon-policy-change-for-sellers.html
    I’d advise sellers to play it by ear and report any gross violations (like the person selling all of those “Free” $7.99 off any Pepsi product coupons) and see how it pans out. Also finally, there’s no law or statute on the books indicating selling a coupon is a crime. This is common misinformation that is all over the internet. The companies can sue you for copyright infringement, not the sale of a coupon. The CIC is acting on behalf of the companies and has never cited an actual statute where a law has been broken. Intellectual property yes. But not an actual criminal law. Huge difference.
    Also note on the new P&G coupons expiring 9/30/13:
    Says “void if auctioned.” Well, as I stated in my post, it couldn’t be more clear who was behind this new eBay coupon policy change regarding coupons.

    • Wow, John! Let me see if I understand what you are saying here: Manufacturers provide coupons to promote their products and how dare they try to set the rules on how they are to be used. You think it’s okay to do anything that doesn’t technically break a law. Have you ever heard of a pesky little thing called ethics?

      Manufacturers do not owe us coupons and if we abuse them, and it is no longer a profitable promotional gimmick, they will stop offering them.

      • They can set rules fine, like the whole “4 per customer” thing. But everyone is on this “illegal” kick.
        There’s no law. Ethics go down the drain when people try to make a dollar or feed their family.
        What exactly does ethics have to do with reality and the truth?

      • If you had signed up for coupons like the tabaco company does and only mainly sends to 1 person who signed a paper then yes the company has the right. but i submit to you the tons of trees that are being destroyed for unwanted coupons that are tossed if no one wants them then who ever has them can use sale traid or wipe there a@# with them. the company gives millions away why cant they be the recipients to use how they will They state non transferable some times but transferable from who i ask they are given to you via direct mail probably sent in care of john doe. if you want to sell them then hey its not ethics its recycling. ethics is the distruction of trees for millions of pounds of unwanted coupons adds and such. they could give them to you at the door of the place of use.
        they didnt make you sighn anything for them didnt ask you if you wanted them so who the hell are they to say you cant own them and they dont even know who you are and they gave it to you i can prove it they come in my mail all the time i did not request for them to be sent.

    • How right you are. Ebay was scared when the Jacks’s jerky caught up to them.. Now looking at all MFR’s looking to sue or a cease & Desist….

      This whole thing is a bunch of bull!!! Ebay is losing big time money!!!

      The P.O. just increased the stamp to .49.. 3 cents… Maybe not the loss of envelopes from ebay.. But expect another increase in a few months.. When the P.O. realizes all of it’s losses. no envelopes!!! mailed from ebay… This is going to have a big impact on the economy!!!!

    • ebay wont stop selling coupons many have and many will still. ebays new policies does not stop coupons sales on there sit it reduces the amount 1 person can sell but many sell on ebay and you may have a 600 dollars of coupons listed of many types so
      ebay still has a large selection to choose from but its really up to jack link or whoever to catch the criminals maybe put a hologram on there coupons to prove authenticity. or a individual code on each coupons so it can be scanned to a database to prove authenticity if they want to stop it make an iphone app that can scan and prove authenticity they only have to use there brain to fix this leave the guy working on coupon sales alone .just cause one car dealer sells lemon must we ban all car lots. Maybe jack links should put a educational page up that list all there coupons so one can look to see if the coupons even really real first off.
      i mean does jack links have a 13 dollar coupons why not tell the world what all they do offer so no one gets scammed email all coupon dealers say they can use this page to verify if the coupons ar even offered that goe a long way.

  5. Thank God there are tons of coupon sites to obtain additional coupons!!

    • I’ve moved to webstore.com under “Mykrazybargains”
      There are no fees and great deals to be had – from me and other former ebay sellers that are actually complying with the policy -before the user count gets higher.

      • Be careful with webstore.com. I signed up on there and paid $10.00 to verify my address. The very next day they suspended my account, stating “suspicious activity” even though I didn’t have any listings. I submitted a ticket and after 3 days of waiting, finally got a response saying my account had been restored. Great right?! Wrong. Got my verification code in the mail, did what I needed to do on the site, Posted items on the site and two days later, my account was suspended again, stating the same “suspicious activity”. I submitted yet another ticket, requesting to know why I was suspended again, and was told that my postings were a violation…it was coupons, with pictures, followed their policy to a T. When I pointed out these facts, I went back a few hours later to see if I had gotten a response and my account had been deactivated. So within a week and a half, I got horrible customer service, no explanations, lost a few sales from people that bought from me but since my account was suspended and deactivated, I was unable to contact, and lost my $10.00 for verification! AND, webstore.com does not give you any notification of anything, they just remove all your postings and suspend your account. Then they send you a message. Also note, they do not have a customer service number or physical address posted anywhere on the site and if you request it, they will not give it to you. The only way to contact them is by submitting a ticket. I have already forwarded all the communications I had with webstore.com (I screen shot just about everything) to my attorney and he is looking in to it. Just be cautious when trying to use this site.

        • Very strange. I’ve generated more sales there over the weekend than I have there since July. It’s picking up there. They’ve gone from about 400 coupon auctions to pushing 2,000 in the past three days while eBay’s have gone down to about 36k – with most still violating the new policy.

          • Why would you say what this woman’s experience with that site is “strange”?
            You mean she is lying?
            If not, then it is HER experience, so it’s nothing “strange”. It’s, as you say yourself, the Truth.
            So unless you believe she is lying, it does sound like if one has a problem with this site, your only contact means is a ticket. And to me, that’s not good business. If I can’t call up and talk to a human being when I have a problem, especially with a webstore I have on their site, then there is no way I will do business with them.
            I thank Brandy for the heads up.
            Nothing “strange” about it at all.

          • Strange meaning I have had absolutely no problems there and sales increasing by the day is all I meant Brian. By the way, couponfleamarket – don’t do it.
            The don’t return calls, and don’t approve sellers. Just a bunch of people it seems based on the ebay forum posts looking to monopolize coupon sales. I have an update to the ebay seller policy post as well as proof P&G is behind it here:
            http://realityretailandcouponing.blogspot.com/

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