Do eBay Sellers Need Legal Advice To Cancel German Orders?

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


eBay seller HK Resale had a strange interaction with support, raising the question do all sellers need to seek legal advice before canceling orders to Germany?

The trouble started when they accepted an offer from a buyer in Germany who did not immediately pay for the item.

We have a customer who sent an offer for an item on Jun 16th, 2023. We accepted the offer. The customer did not pay for the item, so we messaged them to see if they wanted us to cancel it. The customer responded that they would pay for the item the next day.

That evening we get an email from the customer (through our business Gmail account). Asking us to send them an invoice through PayPal.

We did not respond to the email. We sent them a strongly worded message through eBay indicating that we can only conduct business through eBay.

We also contacted eBay customer service via eBay for business. They told us to not contact the customer outside of eBay. And if the buyer does not pay we should cancel the order.

We send an additional follow-up message through eBay that asking if they would like us to cancel the order. They never respond, so we cancel the order and select "Buyer Hasn't Paid".

This then leads to the customer being angry, so we send them a link to the new listing. They want to purchase outside of eBay again! So we block them.

This morning we get a crazy message from eBay customer service indicating that we should seek legal counsel!!!!!

The message from support in Germany appears to have been run through a translator, but a call to the regular support line confirmed it is a legitimate message from eBay.

We are writing to you because you recently informed your buyer about the cancellation of purchase.....but he still wants to complete the purchase. We know from experience that this matter can be a trigger for conflicts between transaction partners.

For this reason, we would like to draw your attention once again to the following:

When using the "Cancel Purchase" function, we would like to point out that the purchase contract with your buyer is usually not cancelled by using this function.

If the purchase contract is to be cancelled, the consent of both parties is usually required.

In order to obtain a legally binding statement for your specific case, you have the option of contacting a legal advice center, for example a lawyer or consumer center.

In this context, we would be pleased if you could come to an amicable agreement with your buyer on the handling of the purchase. We wish you that the open points can be clarified quickly and without complications and have a pleasant day.

What's Going On Here?

Most likely this is a boilerplate message eBay sends in order to cover their ass(ets) after a recent court ruling in Germany determined a UK seller was on the hook for almost £12,000 after an auction was ended early and cancelled.

German court orders British pensioner to pay £12k after he cancels eBay auction
Mike Godden was forced to shell out after he cancelled his eBay auction for a 1970s vintage tape recorder after he noticed the item was faulty despite this being allowed by the online bidding site

A German court ordered a British pensioner to pay almost £12,000 to an eBay bidder angry that he had pulled an item from sale.

Mike Godden, 72, advertised a vintage 1970s tape recorder on the auction site and invited bids starting at 99p.

Offers rose to more than £1,000 but the retired music studio manager said he noticed the device was damaged and decided to cancel the sale.

A German man, who was the winning bidder when the listing was pulled, then insisted he had become the unit’s owner – and demanded it be shipped to him.

Mike said he initially ignored the disgruntled man’s messages because he believed ending the auction was allowed under eBay’s rules...

...Bids hit £1,380 before Mike said he realised the device was faulty and ended the auction with eight days left to run.

Under eBay’s rules, sellers can cancel auctions more than 12 hours before the sale closes if the item is damaged.

But the German bidder messaged Mike to say he had won the item and demand he pay out to cover the cost of him buying an equivalent tape recorder.

He told Mike they would “meet at the courthouse in Frankfurt” – and the case went before the German Regional Court.

Mike joined the hearing online but lost when the court ruled the Rome I Regulation, a contract law adopted by the EU in 1980 and retained by the UK after Brexit, made an eBay bid binding.

The court said this law superseded eBay’s policy, adding: “Both parties had made binding declarations of intention at the time the auction was aborted.”

The judgement left Godden in debt that he believed eBay should be obligated to pay - while it's not clear if any agreement was ever reached in this matter, it certainly would make sense out of why eBay legal would now mandate sending the above boilerplate CYA message in any situation which might have a similar outcome.

Many sellers were already growing wary of selling to Germany and other European countries due to increasingly onerous regulatory requirements like the German Packaging Act.

Sellers Block Germany Over Packaging Regulations
German packaging regulations effective July 1st cause some sellers to block shipments to the country.

If possible legal consequences and financial judgements may be incurred even when following eBay policies allowing for the cancellation of orders, it's a good bet even more sellers may decide selling to those countries is no longer worth the risk.

Have you ever received a warning from eBay about seeking legal advice before cancelling an order? Let us know in the comments below!


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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!

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