Fact Check: Incorrectly Displayed or Misrepresented Items

Buyer complaints about purchases that were incorrectly described in an item listing, and in some cases, entirely misrepresented, continue to haunt the customer support personnel of many online antique and collectible shopping malls. When this type of buyer complaint arises, often mall shop owners are not even surprised when they are contacted by customer support, and all to frequently admit, in a rather offhand fashion that, yes, the item was misrepresented. And generally, it is not the result of the shop owner adding an incorrect pertinent fact about an object, but about the omission of a pertinent fact. Like the fact that it was a new item, not an antique or vintage piece, or that it was in fact a reproduction, and not authentic. These types of 'oversights' in a listing can sometimes result in a buyer wanting to return a purchase, since the item they received is not what was represented to them.

What is truly unfortunate is that sometimes a complaint must be registered with the e-commerce mall site before the shop owner who sold the item is willing to deal in any meaningful way with their customer's very real and expressed dissatisfaction. Here is an example of a shop owners response to a recent buyer's complaint that the shop sold them a new reproduction of a print in an older frame, rather than an authentic 1917 print: "I really feel like I sold what I described. The buyer has a responsibility to ask questions before purchasing. This lady thought she was getting an original for 69.00 instead of 500.00. I felt I had the right to tell her she had a responsibility in this also. She should have asked. I never said the print in the frame was old."

It might be useful to note, for those folks with the mistaken idea they can dispense with supplying important information about an item, the FTC disagrees and expects the exact opposite. They state, "Disclosures must be effectively communicated to consumers before they make a purchase or incur a financial obligation."

For more information visit “FTC Dot.Com Disclosures – Facts for Eusinesses” at the following link:


Expecting a buyer to "ask all questions" before making a purchase rather than offering answers to those questions before hand is not a valid expectation and could be considered unlawful, because the FTC requires a seller to make “complete and honest disclosure” about items advertised for sale. If a consumer files a complaint with the FTC because they feel a seller has not been totally honest about an item, and as a result, the seller is found to be guilty of engaging in an “unfair and deceptive act”, the seller may be subject to fines or other negative action taken against them by the FTC.

If the above doesn't give sufficient reason for offering complete and accurate item descriptions, consider this: descriptions that lack essential information will increase your costs to do business because of customer returns. When someone receives a purchased item that doesn't fully meet their expectations in regards to authenticity or condition, expecting them to be happy and to keep the item is unrealistic. If you were the buyer, would you keep something you didn’t want in the first place? And, clearly, if something is described incorrectly or incompletely, the fault is with the seller, and the buyer shouldn't be expected to pay for shipping charges. It is the seller’s responsibility to take care of all shipping related charges for these types of returns, which includes the ship to charges, as well as, the return shipping charges. And, even if the misrepresentation was not intentional, the fault rests squarely with the seller, and the seller should take immediate, appropriate action to correct the error.

Another factor to consider is the effect a return will have on repeat business. Descriptions that lack essential information can be a major contributing factor to slow sales or no repeat customer sales. Since a buyer cannot hold an item and examine it carefully prior to purchase, they must rely on a seller to scrutinize important features, research it properly, and report pertinent information accurately in the items description. And, if an item is described as made in 1960, made of bronze, or completely free of damage, then it should be exactly as described. Misrepresenting an item or failing to provide important information that might have a direct effect on a buyer's decision to make a purchase can undermine buyer confidence in you, the seller. It can also damage the buyer's confidence for making future purchases from shops located at the same Internet mall site, or other e-commerce businesses. Taking proactive steps to prevent item returns from occurring can help to make everyone's Internet shopping experience more enjoyable and satisfying. Dealing with an angry buyer who feels they have been deceived is not fun for anyone involved. Buyer complaints like the ones mentioned can be a time consuming exercise for you or for the customer support staff of the e-commerce mall site where your shop is located and may even jeopardize your standings within the mall community resulting in a loss of shop ownership privileges.

What can sellers do to help prevent buyer dissatisfaction?

Know What You’re Selling
If you are unsure of what you are selling, don't guess. Hopeful or wishful thinking on the part of a seller is no substitute for thorough and accurate research when identifying an item. Guesses and supposition have no place in an item description. If you can’t make an accurate identification of when an item was made don’t offer any date at all. Double check your 'facts' and don't blindly accept what the person who sold it to you may have insinuated. Check and verify. Ideally you did this before making a purchase, but if not, you should certainly do so prior to listing the item in your own Internet shop.

Photographs and Plenty of Them
Offering good, clear photos of an item, from different angles and illustrating special attributes, such as areas of damage, can assist a buyer in making a correct purchase decision. Further, maintaining a listing in your shop complete with photos until after the item is delivered and deemed acceptable by the buyer is a good idea. Likewise, if a return is requested, it is to your advantage to continue to maintain the listing with photos until you are in receipt of the item. This will allow you to make a quick and accurate comparison to verify the item returned is actually the item sent.

Describe All Damage, No Matter How Small
Are there skips in the glaze, surface scratches, tears, any crazing, missing pieces, stains, chips or cracks? Collectors have a mantra and it is, "Condition, condition, condition." If you think a small chip or scratch doesn't amount to much and isn't worth mentioning, there are item returns in your future. Don't just show a picture of an area of damage, mention it in the text of the description. Consider measuring it and offering those measurements. Not noting obvious damage can be viewed as misrepresentation, especially if it is apparent the damage should have been obvious to the seller, and yet was not mentioned.

It is nearly impossible to guess the actual dimensions of an item by only viewing an image of it on a computer screen. Maybe to the buyer your 4-inch plate looked like a 10-inch plate. If you don't give the item's dimensions in your description, or illustrate the size by offering a photo, which includes a familiar object, such as a dime or quarter placed next to the item for comparison purposes, the end result may be a request to return the item.

Your best defense against a return is to make every effort to fully and accurately inform a buyer about an item, in advance. Don’t let a return for misrepresentation end up costing you money, time and a customer.

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