eBay Sets Up Shop Using TCGPlayer To Hide Conflict Of Interest While Competing With Sellers On The Platform

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


UPDATE 5-28-24

The Responsible Online Commerce Coalition, has filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission calling for an investigation into eBay's TCGplayer acquisition for alleged violations of the FTC Act and federal antitrust law including illegal monopoly maintenance, anticompetitive rollups, overcharging through “junk fees” and competing with 3rd party sellers on its own site under the TCGPlayer name without adequate disclosure that TCGPlayer is owned by eBay.

FTC Urged To Investigate eBay TCGPlayer Deceptive & Anti-Competitive Conduct In ROCC Petition
Responsible Online Commerce Coalition petitions FTC to investigate eBay TCGplayer acquisition, alleging deceptive practices & antitrust violations.

For most of eBay's almost three decade existence, the platform has prided itself on its assertion that it does not compete with 3rd party sellers - but that is no longer true as eBay has quietly set up shop on its own platform under subsidiary TCGPlayer brand.

eBay acquired TCGPlayer in October 2022 in a ~$295 Million deal that has resulted in ongoing labor battles with the first unionized workforce in eBay history increased scrutiny of eBay's Mergers and Acquisitions due diligence and disclosure practices, and the departure of eBay Chief Accounting Officer Brian Doerger last year.

Sellers on the TCGPlayer marketplace have also recently banded together to air concerns about eBay's acquisition of the company, treatment of unionized workers, alleged retaliation against their selling accounts, and anti-competitive practices in a letter sent to eBay CEO Jamie Iannone, TCGPlayer CEO Robert Bigler and eBay's Board of Directors.

Sellers Accuse eBay TCGPlayer Of Anti-Competitive Behavior & Retaliation Following Acquisition
eBay TCGPlayer sellers air concerns about acquisition, union busting, alleged retaliation, & anti-competitive practices in letter to CEO & Board.

In keeping with eBay's questionable track record on disclosure and transparency, they set up a TCGPlayer branded shop on the site in August 2023 and have been making sales at least as far back as January 2024 - but only decided it was necessary to announce this development on April 8, 2024.

Suspiciously, nothing on the main profile page or the listings discloses to buyers that they are purchasing directly from an eBay-owned subsidiary - though it does assure potential buyers that TCGPlayer (eBay) is "one of eBay's most reputable sellers."

While the account doesn't currently have any items listed for sale, they have sold over 1,000 items so far this year, with a sold item search showing sales at least as far back as January 21, 2024.

eBay has graciously granted themselves the "Direct From Brand" badging even though TCGPlayer is not the manufacturer of these cards and arguably has no "brand" rights to Magic The Gathering, Metazoo or any other products they are selling.

This listing also shows the Authenticity Guaranteed badge. That presumably should mean the card would be sent to CGC for authentication, but why should the buyer have to wait for that when TCGPlayer theortically authenticates in house?

And again - no disclosure or transparency anywhere on this listing that TCGPlayer is eBay.

*Editor's note - TCGPlayer (eBay) launched a new active listing on April 9, the day after this article was originally published, that not only competes directly with sellers on the platform but beats them on price too!

TCGPlayer belatedly posted an FAQ about their eBay selling "plans" on April 8, 2024 the TCGPlayer website (but not on eBay), saying they are selling "serialized cards starting on Thursday, February 29th, 2024. And began listing Booster Boxes on April 9, 2024" - but as shown above, the account's selling history clearly proves that's not true.

FAQ: TCGplayer Selling Sealed and Serialized Cards on eBay
We believe that transparency is key to building trust between TCGplayer and our sellers. As a part of our committed to being open and honest with our sellers, we’ve compiled a list of FAQs explaining why TCGplayer is planning to periodically sell its own sealed and serialized cards on eBay. ​

The announcement says:

We believe that transparency is key to building trust between TCGplayer and our sellers. As a part of our committed to being open and honest with our sellers, we've compiled a list of FAQs explaining why TCGplayer is planning to periodically sell its own serialized cards on eBay.

Whoops...guess we're not getting off to a great start here with that transparency thing.

It goes on to explain TCGPlayer (eBay) is doing this as a function of operating the Direct by TCGplayer program, which can cause TCGplayer to end up with many 1 of 1 serialized, unique cards that cannot be matched as Direct eligible inventory or Booster Boxes that are not eligible to be sold through the Direct program.

eBay/TCGPlayer would likely argue the unique 1 of 1 nature of some of these cards means they aren't competing, since other sellers wouldn't have the same cards, but either way, some of the sealed booster boxes they are also selling most certainly would represent direct competition.

If it was OK for TCGPlayer (and eBay since the acquisition) to have a direct program on the TCGPlayer site, why shouldn't it be OK for them to sell directly on eBay too?

First, the TCGPlayer Direct program is basically a fulfillment program. While TCGPlayer handles many parts of the process and TCGPlayer Direct items may receive higher visibility on the site, sellers who use the program are still in control of pricing and other important aspects of the transaction.

Second, it all comes back to that word - transparency.

eBay loves to tout how one of their big differentiators against competitors like Amazon is that they do not compete against the third party sellers on their site.

VP Seller Experience Xiaodi Zhang told Retail Touchpoints last year:

One of the reasons that I was so excited about the role, and about eBay at this particular moment in time, is that even though there are so many options out there, Ebay is still unique in the fact that we never compete with our sellers. We’re so customer-focused, and we’re a very tech- and product-driven company.

Sellers have questioned whether eBay can really claim that's still true as the last few years the line continued to be blurred with eBay pursuing partnerships and strategies that significantly favored some sellers or categories over others.

For example they partnered with collectible card game Metazoo to create an exclusive eBay-branded booster pack - that was then sold as a 60 day presale in violation of eBay's stated presale policies and the FTC 30 Day Mailing rule.

eBay Partners With Metazoo On Wilderness Booster Presale
eBay’s partnership with Metazoo shows no qualms in bending rules & violating presale polices for fun & profit.

And predictably when these hot presale items sold out, eBay was flooded with listings trying to resell them at insane 4-5x+ prices, which also violated eBay's price gouging policies but they looked the other way because they also made commission on all those sales too.

And more recently, eyebrows have been raised by eBay choosing a single seller to benefit from major marketing and other perks as the sole provider of eBay Consignment.

In fact, just last week, CEO Jamie Iannone interviewed that seller, Linda Lightman for his ongoing LinkedIn series.

When Linda praised eBay for taking feedback from sellers, Jamie said "I always like to say we don't compete with our sellers at eBay. We're only successful if our sellers are successful."

Speaking of eBay being successful, perhaps Jamie needs to be reminded of what he said at an all hands meeting to address company ethics in the wake of the 2019 cyberstalking scandal - "openness, honesty, respect and doing business with integrity drives our success."

Also, in the ongoing EPA case against eBay for the sales of prohibited pesticides, restricted chemicals, and illegal emissions-control cheat devices on the platform, eBay has been attempting to argue that it is "never itself a seller" and is instead "a pure third-party, peer-to-peer online marketplace" - both of which are demonstrably false in light of TCGPlayer's sales on the platform.

If eBay loses that case, they could be subject to fines up to an estimated ~$2 Billion, not to mention potential shareholder lawsuits, making this TCGPlayer development a particularly risky course of action.

Given Jamie's previous comments saying he wants to be the "seller partner of choice", I also have to wonder what most sellers would think of this situation in regard to this section of eBay's Code of Business Conduct and Ethics.

So, what happened to transparency and trust? eBay keeps using those words, but I do not think they mean what eBay thinks they mean.

One has to wonder what Lina Khan's FTC would do if Amazon were to sell items to consumers without disclosing they were sold by an Amazon-owned company, while beating third party competitors who are paying commission, payment processing and ad fees on price - and why this situation would be any different.


Liz Morton Twitter Facebook LinkedIn

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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