Retailers Blame eBay For Driving Good People To Shoplift

from the gotta-feed-the-habit dept

Wow. Earlier this year we wrote about a bill, basically pushed for by big offline retailers, that would regulate online retailers. The big retailers made some bogus claims about an online "crimewave" that necessitated such legislation. Since that first bill was introduced in the house two other related bills have also been introduced, one in the House and one in the Senate. Earlier this week, hearings were held on the three bills, and the big retailers made the astounding claim that online auction sites need to be regulated because their "addictive qualities" lure perfectly innocent people into becoming shoplifters to feed their habit of selling online:
"Thieves often tell the same disturbing story: they begin legitimately selling product on eBay and then become hooked by its addictive qualities, the anonymity it provides and the ease with which they gain exposure to millions of customers. When they run out of legitimate merchandise, they begin to steal intermittently, many times for the first time in their life, so they can continue selling online. The thefts then begin to spiral out of control and before they know it they quit their jobs, are recruiting accomplices and are crossing states lines to steal, all so they can support and perpetuate their online selling habit."
Nevermind that the actual stats show that retail theft has been on the decline, while the majority of retail theft is actually due to insiders. Yes, the problem isn't with online retailers magically luring perfectly innocent individuals into lives of crime, but the big retailers own employees swiping stuff. Yet, when stores were questioned why they don't do more to prevent in-store theft themselves, a representative from Safeway claimed: "our associates are there to sell groceries, not to be police officers." However, even though the problem is with their own employees, who they don't want to turn into police officers, the retailers are asking Congress to, instead, turn all online retailers into police officers for them.

The combination of bills under consideration would give offline retailers the power to demand that online retailers interrogate sellers to find out if the goods they're offering for sale were stolen. They would also include a DMCA-like notice and takedown provision, allowing retailers to force auctions offline with a single letter and little proof. Yet, the notice-and-takedown is even worse than the DMCA's already dreadful system in that there's no provision to deal with any abuse -- meaning retailers could abuse the system sending false takedown notices and burdening online retailers over and over again, and there would be no punishment. On top of that, the bills would put liability on the retailers, directly contradicting the very point of section 230 of the CDA, which was designed to make sure liability went to the actually guilty party.

Basically, these three bills in combination are nothing more than a bogus effort by big traditional retailers to put a ridiculous liability and burden on online retailers to fix a problem that isn't as big as they make it out to be, and which they, themselves, have the most control over -- though they purposely choose not to do much to exercise that control. And, finally, these big retailers make up a totally bogus and unsubstantiated claim that online selling "addiction" is drawing a large group of folks into an unanticipated life of crime. Hopefully Congress sees through this blatant attempt by big traditional retailers to put a bunch of hurdles in front of online sellers.
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Filed Under: competition, e-fencing, online auctions, politics, retail stores, shoplifting
Companies: ebay, safeway, target

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  1. identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), 23 Sep 2008 @ 10:09am

    Too much credit

    Hopefully Congress sees through this blatant attempt by big traditional retailers to put a bunch of hurdles in front of online sellers.

    Hopefully Congress sees through the piles of money given to support their re-election and ... oh wait.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 23 Sep 2008 @ 10:46am

    Laws Against Stealing

    As a non-laywer, I'm not sure about this, but are there already laws in place that prohibit stealing? Are there any that prohibit selling stolen goods? Cuz, like, that sounds like a really good idea.

    If not, then I support these new measures!

    But we should generalize the bills for any kind of re-sale, not just online. Online retailers, with warehouses, surely suffer some theft, too. They also should be able to get injunctions against brick-and-mortar retail stores that might be selling stolen goods. As an individual, I've been robbed. I should be able to get injunctions against all types of sellers that are selling items similar to those that were stolen from me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Jade, 23 Sep 2008 @ 10:48am

    feebay ... no thanks.

    Even with the gross leakage of corporate greed which is ooozing out of feebay, this would be one of the FEW things they could be blamed for. Still with that said... Feebay, thanks but no thanks.

    I now sell on AlsoShop - - along with a host of other alternative auction sites and have not looked back at the feebay beast ever since.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Lucretious, 23 Sep 2008 @ 10:58am

    Thieves often tell the same disturbing story

    what thieves are telling this "story" you fucking idiots.

    Holy shit I should've become a suit but I simply don't have the balls to try and sell this horseshit to rational people.

    Man oh man, you can't make this shit up....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    lavi d (profile), 23 Sep 2008 @ 11:02am


    Is it possible many of these EBay "addicts" are actually shoplifting retail employees?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2008 @ 11:09am

    The quote made my day. I've been a little depressed lately but the idea of some "small town values" white middle aged fellow that goes to church twice a week getting addicted addicted to Ebay selling and eventually becomes some small time crime boss dropping his day job so he can get people to help him steal from stores across state lines to feed a need... a need to sell products online... I need to write a mini series about this...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    David, 23 Sep 2008 @ 11:10am

    Re: feebay ... no thanks.

    Your site, alsoshop, would be subject to the same laws, so you might want to curb the eBay bashing, and read the article...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    hegemon13, 23 Sep 2008 @ 11:10am

    Trusting Criminals

    "Thieves often tell the same disturbing story..."

    Does anyone but me have a problem with the fact that their argument relies on stories told by thieves? What's more, is the story surprising at all? Of course the thieves are going to blame the online retailer. This is the age of abdication of personal responsibility. Does anyone actually expect the thieves to say "I stole stuff and sold it because I'm a selfish jerk that cares more about making a few bucks than about the people I hurt in the process"? Of course they'll blame the auction site. It's just the same old "It's not my fault, I just can't help myself" argument that we've been hearing from criminals for years. This is the first time, however, that I have seen a serious argument for legislation based on those sob-stories.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Vincent Clement, 23 Sep 2008 @ 11:11am

    Re: Unless...

    Probably. But this has nothing to do with shoplifting.

    It has everything to do with increasing the cost of being an online retailer.

    And that can only mean one thing: increasing the cost to the end consumer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Erv Server, 23 Sep 2008 @ 11:12am

    these ridiculous bills may pass if the retailers pad the pockets of congress people enough

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    John, 23 Sep 2008 @ 11:19am

    that's just stupid thinking. it's America's "it's always someone else's fault" mentality today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2008 @ 11:33am


    Which falls right into line with stealing music.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Buzz, 23 Sep 2008 @ 11:37am


    Amen, John, and it even goes beyond that. The world is all about anti-competition instead of superior competition. 50 years ago, businesses asked, "How can we offer superior service to win over customers from our opponents?" Today, businesses ask, "How can we remove our opponents?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Urban, 23 Sep 2008 @ 11:41am

    Re: Laws Against Stealing

    Did you miss the $700,000,000,000.00 pile of cash stolen from the US tax payer by their government?

    What rules/laws are you talking about?
    America is going down the shitter in a pool of no consequence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    jesse33911, 23 Sep 2008 @ 11:47am

    can't believe tax money is being paid for people to argue this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Overcast, 23 Sep 2008 @ 12:02pm

    Did you miss the $700,000,000,000.00 pile of cash stolen from the US tax payer by their government?

    Seriously... well said.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Enid of Enoughborough, 23 Sep 2008 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Re:

    That hit the nail on the head. This isn't about shoplifting, it's about competition, and some brick-and-mortar retailers finding it difficult to compete against online retailers. So, rather than figuring out how to compete, they fabricate a completely ludicrous sob story, and feed it to the morons in Congress. Chances are good that Congress will bite, because Congress will only look at the side of the weepy retailers.

    As Derek pointed out above, there are already laws against shoplifting and organized theft. Back before online retailers, did retailers demand that GM dealers quiz their customers to make sure they weren't going to buy a car, fill the trunk with stolen merchandise, and then sell it on a street corner? Why does everyone with a bad business plan think "online" makes everything different?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2008 @ 12:44pm

    Let's spell it out

    So when research like what Mike has provided (Good Job, BTW) goes against the logic of the bill, one has to question the outcome of the bill.

    First, a mindset change is needed- Move away from calling Customers "Consumers". Calling them Consumers marginalizes their value. We don't just Consume products like cows chewing cud. Work to woo us!

    It's well known that having a physical storefront and staff to maintain the presence has higher costs to the online variation. I imagine that large, complex organizations such as Safeway have heavy reliance on multiple SCM strategies due to mergers and acquisitions. Over the years, they failed to determine and execute upon a single back office strategy to modernize their supply chain and fulfillment business processes like WalMart. However, a new entrant, such as eBay or Amazon has the luxury of pretty much building their business from scratch. In the process, decisions are made to leverages systems like APIs into their marketplace. This strategy of openness has worked, and having gained critical mass, the move is seeing huge rewards in the area of business operations.

    So can a brick-and-mortar store economically compete with online shopping sites? Well, from a 5,000-foot view, the Brick-and-Mortar experience is different. You get the product immediately, you get the product as seen, and by proxy, you also get a physical person that can be leveraged after the sale. But these pluses also mean that the margin can be lower than its online counterpart. (To cover built-in costs around store personnel, management, and real estate.)

    In the online world, the pluses can be overcome with clever and effective use of technology and lower cost and also executing on a centralized business operation strategy. Online reviews, fast dependable shipping (an output of a solid Supply Chain Strategy), lack of physical storefronts also lead to lower costs to the consumer. Economics favors online shopping.

    When a customer can procure a product that costs less, and you can get candid reviews, people see it as having many people help them to buy something. These benefits have the ability to start the shift towards online shopping, because there's less built-in value in conducting a transaction within a physical storefront. So what's the value proposition, NRF? I don't see it.

    But as more and more Boomers get online, this presents a threat to the traditional brick-and-mortar stores, and taking a backwards approach to understanding the legislation is what I believe this legislation is about.

    It isn't about theft or eFencing, as most theft is internal. It seems about regulating a business model that, quite frankly, at its current pace, presents a long term economic challenge and can't compete on a level field.

    Maybe retailers should start by hiring knowledgeable people that could assist in showing value in buying from the store.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Ajax 4Hire, 23 Sep 2008 @ 12:45pm

    No way, is this story for real...

    I know it is not April 1st.
    Hard to believe someone wrote that and kept a straight face. I know I could not stop from laughing.

    eBay the new drug.
    the new methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin.
    Innocent, average everyday Suburban America driven out of control looking for their next fix on eBay.

    I'm sorry, I just can't write this without smirking.

    Seriously, someone thinks that ebay is a drug and users are willing to shoplift to support their habit, oh please, get real.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Nismoto, 23 Sep 2008 @ 2:00pm

    Flip tha script

    It's not just the sellers committing crimes.

    For me it's the opposite. I have lost every single eBay auction that I have bid on. I have now resorted to shoplifting since I can't get it on eBay.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Brett, 23 Sep 2008 @ 2:26pm

    Re: Laws Against Stealing

    "Are there any that prohibit selling stolen goods?"

    Here in Australia it is illegal to both buy and sell stolen goods and I'm willing to bet it is the same in every western country. I can't see how a legal system could operate with stolen goods being legally bought and sold, or how you could think it's possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Sep 2008 @ 5:18pm

    "Thieves often tell the same disturbing story"

    The thieves in this case would be the ones paying errrr I mean complaining to the PAC.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Dohn Joe, 23 Sep 2008 @ 5:20pm

    Red Herring

    I know the whole stealing excuse is a red herring, but that really highlights the fact that online sales may be BOOSTING retailer's sales as online merchants are then likely getting their wares (legitimately) from big box retailers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 25 Sep 2008 @ 3:17pm

    RE #22

    Brett asks: "how you could think it's possible" that there are no laws against fencing.

    Well, it starts with the fact that I'm not a retard, and ends with the fact that I was being VERY sarcastic (in comment #2).

    You know what the 'tell' was? It was the fact that almost all people that can type are aware of laws against theft.

    You know what the implication was? It was: Since we have existing laws, do we really need new ones.

    Given the difficulty understanding my first sentences, let's just forget about my second paragraph.

    Please keep up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Emily, 25 Nov 2008 @ 7:10pm

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    It puts together so many features for a non-techie. Automatically secured shopping cart, for FREE. Automatic submissions to Google Shopping, for Free. In fact, it is entirely free for the first fifty products.

    Great templates (free) full back office management for customizing shipping, payment and more. By simply signing up and signing in, you automatically generate a professional webstore, and back end tools to run it.

    And when your business grows, it is only $30 a month for two thousand products and no contract. You don't have to sign up and spend money to get your business going.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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