The internet is many things, including the world’s largest marketplace. That’s true not just for businesses but for private individuals too. It’s still fun sometimes to organize a garage sale, but selling online is a lot less fuss.
Traditional selling platforms like Craigslist and eBay go back to the early days of the internet, and Craigslist famously clings to its (very) old-school interface. There are plenty of alternatives if you’re looking for something a little more modern, including Mercari. It’s a site where you can buy or sell just about anything that can be shipped, though — as always — there are a few Mercari scams you’ll need to be aware of as well.
The Basics: Introducing Mercari
You can access Mercari with your computer by going to the company’s website, or download the app from Google’s Play Store or Apple’s App Store. However you access the marketplace you’ll see a clean, uncluttered, modern interface where the combination of preset categories, user-selectable filters and keyword search make it easy to find what you’re looking for.
Sellers can list almost anything on Mercari, as long as it can be shipped and isn’t on the list of prohibited items. There’s even a “handmade” category, making Mercari a rival to Etsy as a place to sell your own products. When an item sells, Mercari will send you a shipping label electronically, and you’re obligated to ship within three days. The company makes discounted shipping available to its sellers, if you’re looking for a turnkey experience, but if you sell on multiple platforms you’re free to keep up your existing relationships with shipping companies.
For buyers, the process is simple: Search for things you want, and then either pay the listing price or make an offer. You can also “like” a product without purchasing it, if you want time to think about it. This makes it easy to find the product next time without searching for it, and also alerts the seller about your interest (sometimes they’ll offer a discount). If the product is defective, incomplete, not as described or otherwise doesn’t meet your expectations, you’ll have three days to request a refund.
Common Mercari Scams
You’ll find the same handful of scams on Mercari that are common on other online sales platforms. Here are a few of the ones you’re likeliest to encounter:
- The fly-by-night seller: If you’re a buyer, the biggest issue is dishonest sellers. Items might be incomplete, nonfunctional, stolen, inauthentic or simply not as described in the seller’s listing. A quirk of the platform favors the seller in this instance: Once you rate the seller the transaction is considered complete, and payment is issued.
- The “let’s take this off-site” buyer: One common ploy is to suggest moving communications off-site, where they can press you to accept payments in a form Mercari doesn’t support (which, of course, will fail to materialize).
- The “received damaged” scam: Buyers may claim that the product was damaged when it was received and demand a refund. The returned item, of course, never materializes.
- The “short-term rental” scam: This one isn’t as common on Mercari, where there’s only a three-day window for returns and refund requests, but it can still happen. Buyers make a purchase with the intent of using it for a specific purpose, and then find an excuse to return it for a refund within their allotted three days.
- The straightforwardly fraudulent purchase: With high-value items, criminals using fraudulently obtained credit cards might order a number of expensive items and then resell them or abscond with them. Because the payment method is bogus, you’ll lose your product and your money.
Protecting Yourself From Mercari Scams
Mercari is a bit different from other selling sites because all items are shipped. That rules out the most common recommendation for protecting yourself against Craigslist scams or Facebook Marketplace scams, which is to deal with local buyers and meet in person. That’s not all bad, because it means you won’t have to worry about being robbed or otherwise assaulted by your supposed buyer, but it means you’ll have to be diligent about screening the people you do business with.
If you’re a buyer, make sure you check the seller’s ratings and sales history. Research the product carefully so you know if the price is too high or suspiciously “too good to be true.” Mercari offers an authentication service for high-value designer items, so you might opt to only purchase items that have been authenticated. Be aware that this service costs sellers money, so for items of $499 or less your seller might choose not to use authentication. You can negotiate to cover the cost, but if a seller adamantly refuses authentication you can think of that as a red flag.
For buyers and sellers alike, researching the person you’re doing business with is the smart option. Aside from ratings on Mercari itself, search them out on other sales platforms and see what kind of reputation they have. You can also use Spokeo’s people search tools to verify the name and address you’ve been given and potentially find other clues such as social media accounts that can reassure you you’re dealing with a real person and not an identity-theft fraudster.
The Bottom Line: Is Mercari Safe?
If you spend a few minutes searching Mercari online it’s easy to turn up as many hostile reviews as you have the patience to read. That’s not necessarily a concern: No business makes everyone happy, and simple math says that the larger a platform grows, the more complaints it will generate.
In Mercari’s case its listings in the Play Store and App Store probably tell a more complete story. After millions of downloads, the Android app maintains an aggregate rating of 4.6 out of 5, and the iOS app checks in at 4.8 out of 5. That puts the overall ratio of satisfied to unsatisfied users into perspective. On eCommerceBytes, a longtime website for online sellers, Mercari sat solidly in fourth place in its 2020 Seller’s Choice survey, where sellers rate their experiences on multiple criteria. That put Mercari behind first-place eBay but ahead of heavy hitters such as Etsy, Poshmark, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. That’s not bad at all.
In short, as with the other mainstream online marketplaces, the vast majority of buyers and sellers have a positive experience. Using a little caution and common sense will help you improve your odds of being among that number.