Buying second-hand on the Internet: what to watch out for?

Whether for economic or ecological reasons, more and more consumers are turning to second-hand products. Books, clothes, shoes, cars, toys, almost everything can be bought second-hand on the Internet private sales from non-professional sellers. Your rights in case of problem will not be the same. Explanations in this article and advice before buying second-hand products online.

On which websites to buy second hand?

Online platforms dedicated to buying second hand, classified ads, auction sites, marketplaces of big brands... There is multitude of possibilities to buy second hand online.

Some platforms are even specialised on a category of products (branded clothes, car parts, books or cultural products...). Find out more!

If you are looking for a used car on the Internet, read our advice to avoid the pitfalls.

    Is buying a reconditioned product buying a second-hand product?

    On many websites or online platforms, you can find reconditioned products. It is also a solution to buy second hand. 30% of refurbished smartphones sold in France would be refurbished today. But what are the differences with second-hand products?

    There is still no European definition of a refurbished product. In some countries, a reconditioned product is considered as a new product (e.g.: re-sale of a device never used, only the package was damaged), in others, it is a second-hand product (repaired with spare parts).

    In France, a refurbished product is a product whose functions have been tested or repaired if necessary and the data of the previous user has been erased. A label intended to bring "readability and confidence to the consumer with regard to refurbished products" should soon see the light of day in France.

      Good to know: second-hand or refurbished products bought from a professional seller are covered in Europe by the legal guarantee of conformity. However, there are some differences with the guarantee for new products. More information in our article on guarantees.

      Advice before buying second hand on the Internet

      • Compare used products on different websites or online platforms, both French and European (especially if you are looking for cultural products such as used books in the original language for example).
      • Read the comments and opinions of other user of these sites and platforms.
      • Read the general terms and conditions of sale (GTC) Even if this step is tedious, it is necessary to understand the platform's role. The GTC also explain your rights and obligations, present the possible buyer protection program...
      • Favour direct contact with the seller (in person).
      • Check the description of theproposed usedproduct. Do not hesitate to contact the seller to find out more about the exact dimensionsthe precise condition of the product, So be careful! Some branded or luxury products cannot be sold second-hand outside of the platforms authorised by the brand in order to fight against counterfeiting. Some online platforms also list the products they prohibit from being sold.
      • Look at the pictures, don't hesitate to ask the seller again. Compare them with other photos used on the Internet. Some search engines allow you to select an image and see on which other sites it may have been published. Also compare them with photos of the same item when new.
      • Check the selling price: fixed or auctioned? Compare the prices on different platforms and sales sites for the same product category. If it is a valuable product, ask the seller for a professional expertise. Beware of taxes and customs for purchases outside the EU (More information in our articles Purchases and VAT and Brexit.
      •  Check the service charges or commission. They are often mentioned with the price in the ad and in the GTC of the online platform.
      • Secure your online payment: avoid checks, money transfer by money order ... Pay with your credit card on a secure website (https + closed padlock symbol), use secure payment services or use the protected systems that are now set up by some classified ad sites.
      • Ask the seller if a tracked delivery is possible as well as the subscription of an insurance, especially if you buy a valuable product.

      What is the role of platforms selling second-hand products?

      Not all online platforms that sell second-hand products play the same role. Read their terms and conditions before making your choice.

      • Some platforms only put buyers and sellers in touch with each other, they are simply intermediaries between two individuals. They will not be responsible in case of a problem with the purchase.
      • Some platforms propose to check the condition of the product or the lot, its conformity or even its authenticity, and can even set the price. Before you are tempted, check their rating and certification system. Don't hesitate to ask them questions to find out more.
      • Some platforms organise the transport of the product, offer guarantees (payment blocked until delivery or confirmation of the good condition of the product), offer insurance, assistance or protection that can be useful in case of dispute between the buyer and the seller

      Be careful! If you benefit from a "buyer protection" or another assistance service proposed by the platform, read the general conditions of sale to know the procedure, the deadlines and the conditions to respect to implement it!

      Examples: send back the non-conforming product at your expense to obtain a refund; prove by an expertise that the product received is a counterfeit...

      Buying from a private or professional seller: what are the differences?

      Some online platforms are reserved for private individuals. On others, professionals can also offer used goods. Be careful, their responsibility is not the same.

      • No right of withdrawal

      When buying from a distance, if you are not satisfied with the order you receive, you can in principle change your mind within 14 days: this is called the right of withdrawal. When buying from a private seller, you do not have the right of withdrawal, you cannot return your order to the seller and ask for a refund within 14 days after delivery.

      • Legal guarantee of conformity: check the deadline

      In case of a defect on a product, there is a legal guarantee of conformity on all products in all EU countries. This guarantee lasts a minimum of 2 years for new goods and 1 year for second-hand goods. In some EU countries, this guarantee follows the product, regardless of the successive buyers. This is for example the case in France (since January 1st 2022), Portugal, Malta or Greece. Thus, if the product you buy second-hand from a private seller is still within the warranty period, you can contact the professional seller in case of a defect or malfunction, just like the initial buyer.

      Advice: ask your seller for a copy of the purchase invoice to know if you still benefit from the legal guarantee of conformity and to be able to prove to the initial professional seller that you are the new owner of the product.

      If the product is no longer under any warranty (legal or commercial), you will usually have no recourse against the private seller in case of defect, breakdown or malfunction. Check then the possibilities to have it repaired, notably by ordering spare parts. More information in the article "repair, recycling of products".

      • Warranty of hidden defects: not without proof

      In France, Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg, Italy and Romania, in addition to the guarantee of conformity, you benefit from a guarantee against hidden defects. Hidden defects are defects that could not be detected by a simple examination and that prevent you from using the product and reduce its use. This guarantee can be implemented during a period of 2 years as from the discovery of the defect, against a professional salesperson or a private individual. But unlike the legal guarantee of conformity, you must in all cases prove the hidden defect, by an expertise for example.

      Private or professional seller: how to know?

      Buying from a private or professional seller can have consequences, as the consumer law does not apply between two private individuals. But how to know if the seller is a private individual, especially if he/she publishes several ads on an online platform? When would he/she be considered as a professional seller?

      According to European regulations (Directive 2005/29/EC of May 11, 2005), a professional seller "is acting for purposes relating to his trade, business, craft or profession and anyone acting in the name of or on behalf of a trader”.

      The Court of Justice of the EU has clarified that a person who sells on a website several products is not automatically considered as a professional. It is also necessary to look at other criteria such as (non-limitative list):

      • If the seller regularly buys new or used goods to resell them;
      • If he/she offers products of the same type or value,
      • If he/she acts in an organized way on the online platform;
      • If he/she makes a profit from the sale;
      • If he/she is well informed and technically competent in relation to the products he offers;
      • If the price includes the payment of VAT.


      But if your seller fulfils one or more of these criteria, it does not automatically mean that he/she is a professional. Each case must be studied individually.

      Good to know: if you buy second-hand products on a collaborative platform that puts individuals in contact with each other, you need to know whether the product is being sold by a professional or an individual (depending on the status declared by the latter). The platform must also inform the person who publishes the ad that if he/she presents himself as a consumer when he/she is a professional, he/she risks 2 years of imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 € (or up to 10% of his average annual turnover or 50% of the expenses incurred for the realisation of the advertisement or the misleading commercial practice constituting this offence).

      Be careful with the profile types of sellers given by the platforms which can lead to confusion!

      Example: "expert seller".

      What to do in case of problems?

      • If the product arrives broken or damaged, report it quickly to the seller and the carrier. The latter must be informed of any damage within 3 days after delivery, according to French law. If the seller is a professional, the deadline is 10 days if the carrier did not give you the opportunity to check the condition of the package (e.g.: your package was left in front of your door without your agreement). Be careful, on some auction sites linked to auction rooms, it is up to the buyer to organise the transport. Check before you buy!
      • Check the conditions of implementation of the possible buyer protection or assistance service proposed by the platform on which you bought your product.
      • If you have a cross-border dispute with a professional seller based in another EU Member state, Iceland, Norway or the United Kingdom, which cannot be resolved, you can call on our services. Contact the ECC of your residence country.

      Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.