Who benefits? No, who *really* benefits?

Those helpful people at the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) have released a new standard, this one is focusing on the cross-border sale of secondhand goods.

Sounds perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it? If we can standardise the sale or donation (for charity, for example) of secondhand goods we can improve health and safety outcomes, reduce buyer disappointment and regret and bring order to an unregulated market.

To read the detail of the standard, you’ll have to buy a copy, but the summary probably tells us enough to judge whether it will be effective and/or of any use.

The standard reflects that there are going to be existing health and safety standards in individual countries which will still apply but this standard seeks to categorise the secondhand goods by their usability and condition.

An example given would be a car; it is presumably important that the starter motor works, whereas whether or not the GPS software is up to date is very much a secondary concern.

The standard is trying to assist the end buyer in making an informed decision and to set their expectations accordingly about the functionality and quality of the product they are procuring. One method the standard suggests is a categorisation of A through to D of the condition and functionality of the goods.

Will it achieve this and is there a more efficient way of delivering the same outcome?

Well…… the people at ISO may not be aware of this but there’s a website called eBay that currently enables consumers to buy secondhand goods across borders. How does eBay provide information to a consumer in, say, London who is buying a secondhand component for a marine Diesel engine from a vendor in Florida?

The answer is, of course, that eBay uses a condition grading system combined with a free text narrative field to describe the product and an option to ask detailed questions about the product before committing to buy. If the delivered product fails to live up to the description provided, eBay has a dispute process that arbitrates between buyer and seller to attempt to find a fair outcome.

Bill’s Opinion

The International Organisation for Standardisation seems to be about 15 years too late; the market has already found a solution to this.

Any country that adopts the standard and applies it at their ports of import can be certain that the prices paid by the consumer will increase.

It should also be obvious that these increased prices will result in lower volumes of sales of imported secondhand goods and a commensurate likely increase in local sales of the equivalent new items. And perhaps that’s the point of this belated push to regulate standardise the secondhand market; the main beneficiaries will be the industries who supply the new items.

Ah, vested interests seeking government intervention again…..

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