The Unsweet Side of the eBay Pokémon Oreo Craze

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


eBay is all over the news recently due to the latest craze in collecting - special edition Pokémon Oreos. Sure, it's fun to collect them, but is this just another example of eBay's sometimes less than transparent marketing techniques?

Cookie monsters: Pokemon Mew Oreos are selling for tens of thousands of dollars on eBay
Sales show there’s still a huge appetite for Pokemon cards, collectibles and video games

"Lucky for you we've got the goods" could certainly lead people to believe eBay themselves are selling these items, which of course they're not.  It's long been a sticking point with sellers how eBay often takes the focus off of the individual seller and instead simply wants buyers to think they "bought it from eBay."

But beyond that, eBay also has a very troubling history of promoting and profiting from listings that violate eBay's own policies.

Per eBay's Food Policy Page:

Certain food products are not allowed on eBay. Listings for food items that are allowed must follow our policy.

We take the health and safety of our members very seriously, so when listing allowed food items, make sure to follow our policy.

What is the policy?
The following and similar food items are not allowed:

  • Unpasteurized dairy products (except cheese that follows government guidelines)
  • Unpasteurized fruit or vegetable juice
  • Wild mushroom (except for morel and shitake mushrooms)
  • Ackee fruit or seeds
  • Expired food
  • Government assistance benefits that can be used for food

When listing food items that are allowed, sellers must:

  • Ensure food items are properly packaged and stored safely
  • Clearly state the expiration date in the item description
  • State how perishable items will be delivered, and ensure they are delivered to the buyer before the expiration date

Activity that doesn't follow eBay policy could result in a range of actions including for example: administratively ending or canceling listings, hiding or demoting all listings from search results, lowering seller rating, buying or selling restrictions, and account suspension. All fees paid or payable in relation to listings or accounts on which we take any action will not be refunded or otherwise credited to your account.

Out of the dozens of listings for Pokémon Oreos I checked, not a single one had an expiration date listed anywhere.

Properly packaged and stored safely? While eBay's policies don't clearly define those terms, I'm not sure this qualifies.

Some people might argue these are "collector items" and not really meant to be eaten - however many of them are listed in the Food & Beverage category. eBay should be ensuring sellers comply with all policies for all listings in that category, regardless of what the buyer ultimately intends to do with the item.

It may seem like I'm nit picking here, but again there is a long history of eBay turning a blind eye to policy violations when it suits them, even going so far as to blatantly promote listings that violate eBay policies.

One of the most glaring examples of this is eBay's constant promotions of presale Funko Pops. I wrote about this in-depth when eBay was running a big marketing campaign across social media and on site for Funkoween in May - 5 months before these items were scheduled to be released, which means none of them could possibly comply with eBay's stated 30 day policies regarding presales.

eBay Promotes Presale Violations
eBay promotes Funko Pop presale event in violation of its own policies and FTC 30 Day Mail rule.

At the time, eBay community staff admitted that Funko was one of eBay's "top brands", while stopping short of saying whether or not the marketing campaign was a direct partnership with the brand.

The Funko Pop pre-sale promotions continue unabated.  Here's just one example of many.

This tweet links directly to only a single listing, which means eBay is giving free advertising to one seller and one seller only.

Funko POP! Demon Slayer: nezuko-muzan-tanjiro-zenitsu - Inosuke set of 5 | eBay
FUNKO POP! Demon Slayer: Nezuko - Muzan - Tanjiro - Zenitsu - Inosuke - SET OF 5 - Limited Edition - PREORDER. • FOR PRE-ORDER PRODUCTS.

You would think if eBay is going to throw the full weight of their advertising power to one listing, that should be reserved for only the best sellers who comply with policies and have a strong history on the platform right?

Apparently not.

First of all, this seller only has 17 feedback with a rating of 87.5% - yikes!

eBay's presale policy states

Presale listings must guarantee that the item will be shipped within 30 days of purchase.

The date the item will be available to ship must be clearly stated in the listing.

Listings must clearly indicate in the title and description that the item is being offered for presale.

This listing fails on all 3 criteria - no indication of presale in title, no available shipping date clearly stated in listing, and no guarantee the item will ship within 30 days of purchase.

Just to make sure I wasn't missing something, I ran the part of the description written in Italian through Google Translate. It just says the same thing as the English version below it.

And let's talk about that description - No refund/no returns and once the order has been placed it cannot be canceled even in case of delay or postponement which could take up to 3 months?!

It's ok though because eBay says you can "Shop With Confidence With eBay's Money Back Guarantee" right?

Once again, apparently not - or at least not always.  eBay's Money Back Guarantee covers buyers up to "30 calendar days after the estimated date has passed."  If the presale timeline is 4 or 5 months (like it was with the Funkoween promotion), that automatically puts those items outside of the timeframe for eBay MBG protection.

Ironically, one reply to the Tweet promoting this listing was asking eBay for assistance with exactly that scenario.

Once you pass the MBG timeline, eBay will often tell you you're out of luck, nothing they can do to help.  Pro tip: I know from experience if you push hard enough, they can and will issue "courtesy credits" even after the MBG timeline has passed - don't let them tell you otherwise. 😉

Here's another example of eBay promoting these types of presale violations.

This one leads to a landing page with an eBay created banner telling buyers to "get the pre-release now."

Of course what it doesn't tell them is these aren't due to be released until December, so again not going to make that shipped within 30 days requirement.

Notice the estimated delivery by October 12th. That would mean if I won this bid, I'd only have until November 11th to file a claim under the Money Back Guarantee.

In this category, eBay's final value fee would be 12.35% calculated on the total including shipping and sales tax.  It still has 2 days left, but assuming it sells for the current high bid, that would be ~ $60 in fees for eBay.

That may sound like a drop in the bucket to a company that makes billions, but these types of presales happen on a massive scale on the platform - just check the news any time a hot new game console is announced.

More eBay Presale Violations
Why does eBay remove presales for Steam Deck but not Nintendo Switch OLED, Funko Pop and others?

These are just a few of the many, many examples I could give. Why does eBay continue to promote and offer free advertising for items that clearly violate policies and in some cases FTC regulations too?

When confronted with the fact that eBay is complicit in these violations, eBay's response is simply "please report the listings so we can take appropriate action."

First of all, that rarely gets any results. I reported the Funkoween listings relentlessly for 6 weeks and eBay did not "take appropriate action."  But more importantly - why should unpaid users have to report these listings to eBay in the first place?

eBay likes to use the excuse that it's impossible to proactively police over a billion listings, so they need users to help them by flagging violations.  That's a cop out and eBay knows it, especially in these examples.

These are not just random listings for random items that eBay couldn't possibly be expected to find in a sea of billions - they are brands and items that someone at eBay chose for promotion.

Are we really to believe there is zero knowledge on the part of anyone at eBay which listing that Funko Pop Demon Slayer tweet was directing to? Or that back in May, when the social media team was happily tagging the official Funko brand page and directing people to an official eBay landing page specifically for the Funkoween event, that no one at eBay had any clue those items weren't going to be released for 4-5 months?

Are we also to believe that someone at eBay doesn't know many of the Pokémon Oreo listings violate policies for selling food items or that every time a hot new game console is announced there will be a wave of insanely overpriced presale policy violating listings on the site within minutes?

But eBay gets their fees and gets some free media coverage out of the deal - so it's all good, right?

CEO Jamie Iannone has said one of his strategies for the long term growth of the marketplace is to build trust in the platform and turn buyers into "lifelong enthusiasts." I hate to tell you this Jamie, but in case this wasn't included in any of your feedback loops, some buyers are not particularly enthused or delighted by the experience.

Iannone has also said "doing business with integrity drives our success." If that is true, he and CMO Andrea Stairs must commit to integrity and transparency in eBay's marketing efforts. Instructing the marketing department not to feature listings that blatantly violate eBay policies and/or FTC rules might be a good place to start.

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Liz Morton is a seasoned ecommerce pro with 17 years of online marketplace sales experience, providing commentary, analysis & news about eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Shopify & more at Value Added Resource!