Trade Me shopping about to get better

Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014
Garage sale
BEN CURRAN/Fairfax NZ

SHOP TIL YOU DROP: Trade Me is basically New Zealand’s largest garage sale – but the rules about shopping there are changing.

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The thrill of nabbing a secondhand bargain never gets old.

That's great, because it's an essential life skill for anyone seriously interested in financial success.

Let some other sucker pay the retail price. As soon as an item leaves the store, it loses as much as half of its value.

Now hunting for pre-loved bargains has become even sexier, thanks to a bunch of new consumer laws which are coming into force next week.

Trade Me is New Zealand's biggest secondhand store, with close to 2.5 million items listed for sale at the time of writing.

It's the ultimate garage sale, but most people who use the auction website regularly will have had at least one sour experience with dodgy goods.

Until next week, your rights as a consumer have been patchy at best.

Normally when you buy something, it has to match its advertised description, and be durable enough to last a reasonable amount of time.

But a quirk of our laws means items sold by auction, and in some places on the worldwide web, don't have that protection.

Here's how weird the situation is: If you win a Trade Me auction you're not covered, whereas if you click the "Buy Now" or accepted a fixed price offer on the exact same item you are.

Now the Consumer Guarantees Act and Fair Trading Act, the two most important laws, will apply across the board.

It's a change that Trade Me itself has been gunning for for eight years.

Its code of conduct has always "encouraged" traders to comply with the two laws, but that's not quite as motivating as a fine of up to $200,000.

The laws only apply to people who are "in trade", which excludes your casual sellers looking to offload some unwanted clutter.

However, the definition is very broad. If you've bought something for the purposes of selling it on for profit, even as a one-off, you're considered to be in trade.

Soon traders will have a special little button next to their name which will tell you if they're in trade or not.

Keep an eye out for it, as it gives you an added layer of protection.

There are a couple of other great changes on the way. Firstly, if you buy something online and the goods don't arrive in a reasonable time or are damaged, the seller faces tougher penalties.

Finally, there are better rules around "shill bidding". In a couple of high-profile cases, traders have used up to 20 different accounts to place fake bids on their own auctions, pushing the price up.

It's always been illegal, but is very difficult to actually enforce. Now the rules are much clearer, so any fraudsters can be dealt to.

The end result of all these changes is better protection and peace of mind for us, whether we're buying on Trade Me, Amazon or through a smartphone app.

But there's a catch. For the most part, no-one's actually going to stand up for you and enforce these particular laws.

It's up to you to know what your rights are, and take action if necessary. Otherwise you can expect to be led up the garden path, again and again.

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