Smart Buying

Ordering From Etsy or Amazon? A Guide to Third-Party Sellers

Follow these tips to help make sure your shopping experiences go smoothly.

I’m an avid online shopper, but last year I had an online shopping first: I made several purchases through third-party sellers on Etsy.com and Amazon.com. My experience, however, was rather frustrating. Looking back, I partly blame myself. My issues ultimately were resolved, and I received full refunds, but had I done my homework first I probably could’ve avoided the problems altogether.

See Our Slide Show: Worst Things to Buy on Amazon

Here are five things you should keep in mind before buying from a third-party seller on Amazon or Etsy:

1. Past customers can be your best guide

Do some research on a third-party seller before you commit to a purchase. Start by checking the seller’s customer ratings and reviews via their store page. “Read through the kinds of experiences other people have had interacting with these stores, because the reality is you'll have to deal with them directly, not Amazon or Etsy [if your transaction goes awry],” says Seth Barnes, head of marketing for Savings.com, a coupons and deals Web site.

When using Amazon, for example, customers should look for sellers with detailed product information on their listing pages, as well as clear information on shipping options and costs so there aren’t any surprises, says Erik Farleigh, a spokesman for Amazon. You can tell whether an item is being offered by a third-party seller on Amazon by checking the “sold by” and “fulfilled by” fields on a product page. Products that aren’t fulfilled by Amazon typically only list the “sold by” information on the product page. All items on Etsy are sold by third parties.

2. There’s no such thing as a standard shipping policy

One of the biggest issues I had was dealing with a seller who had listed on its storefront page that its items shipped from New York, when in fact they shipped from China. Needless to say, my order took much longer to arrive than expected. Instead of four to seven days, it took two weeks.

To help avoid this type of inconvenience, contact the seller directly before you buy. Ask upfront where its products ship from. On Etsy, you can narrow down your store options to sellers who are located near you by using the Etsy Local function. This is helpful if you’re in a time crunch and need to boost the odds of a product arriving by a certain date.

3. Amazon Prime membership doesn’t guarantee free shipping

Free two-day shipping on purchases is one of the biggest draws of a $99-a-year Amazon Prime membership. However, what some members may not realize is that only items sold by Amazon (as well as many items fulfilled by Amazon) qualify for that option. Look for the Prime logo. Products sold and fulfilled by third parties do not qualify for Prime shipping and should display this note: “Not eligible for Amazon Prime.”

In addition, according to Amazon policy, comingling purchases isn’t a loophole. If you place an order that contains some items that are eligible for free Prime shipping and some that aren’t, you’ll be charged shipping fees for the ineligible items.

4. Returns are at a seller’s discretion

When dealing with major retailers, there’s comfort in knowing that if you don’t like a purchase, you can always exchange it or get a refund. Sure, some return policies are more generous than others, but these retailers offer some form of recourse for unwanted items.

That’s not always the case when you buy an item online through a third-party seller. On both Amazon and Etsy, third-party sellers set their own return, refund and exchange policies. It’s important to read a seller’s return policy in its entirety before making a purchase.

5. You’ll need to try to settle disputes yourself

Because neither Amazon nor Etsy has direct access to order information for transactions sold and fulfilled by third-party sellers, they encourage customers to work through any issues directly with the seller before they’ll step in. A dispute could be something like requesting a refund from a seller with a no-returns policy for an item that looks drastically different in person than it did online.

This process can be time-consuming, especially if you’re dealing with an international seller. As I mentioned, one of the sellers I bought from was overseas. It took hours to get responses to my inquiries, largely due to the time difference. I’d send a message in the morning and get a reply back at midnight. Be sure to document correspondence with a third-party seller just in case you have to escalate the situation to customer service at Amazon or Etsy.

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