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April 2, 2007 | by  | in Features |
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TradeMe Inconsistencies

While Trademe.co.nz presents itself as a politically neutral internet trading post, recent decisions to remove controversial items highlight potential inconsistencies. In an exploration of the moral standards of Trademe, Chris Gibb asks what role Trademe plays in deciding what is acceptable and what isn’t.

On Trademe.co.nz people can buy and sell goods on the website and, for a small fee, can converse with each other via its electronic message boards. Although it doesn’t advertise, Trademe receives a good deal of publicity when some of its more high profile auctions have appeared in the media. What began as a local E-Bay rehash appears to have invaded the psyche of our country – it’s become so popular that many employers have prohibited access at work. It’s changing the way we do our shopping, and is a great platform for people making money out of useless stuff – such as a $7500 cigarette butt, a Roxy handbag used as a weapon in an All Black bar scuffle, or a streaking ex-stripper’s bikini.

Why anyone would want these things and pay that much money is beyond me, but they do sell. As well as these successful sales, a large number of auctions are removed. These include art fakes, counterfeit DVDs, a diabetic’s amputated leg, Nick Kelly’s hair and even an empty bottle of Johnnie Walker “similar to the one that Dr Don Brash would have emptied on the night of the 21st of November 2006 after he received the news about Nicky Hager’s book ‘The Hollow Men’”.

Are there inconsistencies between the items Trademe pulls off and those auctions that are allowed to run their full course? Considering how Trademe shut down the sale of closed circuit footage of Tana Umaga striking Chris Masoe with a handbag but then let a baton, used to bludgeon apartheid protestors online, to sell for $20,000 raises this issue.

Chainsaws vs. Batons

A prime example includes the case of Maori activist Mike Smith’s auction in January this year. Smith attempted to sell the chainsaw once used to attack the symbolic Monterey Pine on One Tree Hill. In this instance, Mike Smith fronted an auction to raise money for a friend’s conservation project. After receiving complaints Trademe held an online poll to see what the public’s reaction was and found that they voted three to one against the chainsaw (around 80%). So, they took down the auction.

While this might seem reasonable consider a sale of a former MP and ex-policeman Ross Meurant’s aluminium Monodok PR 24 baton in May 2005. Meurant used the baton as a member of the Red Squad, the notorious police team established by the government to deal with anti-springbok tour protesters in 1981. The auction appeared to be a tasteless attempt to garner controversy. The baton was listed “Minto bar” – a reference to staunch anti-tour protester John Minto who was reportedly struck with the baton on numerous occasions – and was placed in the category of “cultural and ethnic antique”. Meurant glorified the baton, stating that it was “as infamous as the men and one woman of Red Squad who wielded the baton in a blaze of blood throughout the tour.” Allowing it to be sold to a private South African collector for $20,000 raises a further issue, especially after Meurant wrote of using it with such relish in his book The Beat to the Beehive.

By allowing that baton to sell, yet denying Smith’s chainsaw, Trademe demonstrated a potential double standard. As the baton was used by Meurant to attack protesters of the 1981 tour one could say that the baton represented our government’s response. At the time the issue divided Kiwis. Surveys showed that a 49% percent majority of the nation was against the tour while 42% were for it. By New Zealand playing South Africa, some felt the country was condoning a regime that allowed the black majority to be oppressed by the white minority.

The 1981 tour is often still referred to as “the tour” – known for its bloody protests and riots. The baton is a significant symbol of this. Smith’s chainsaw, represents the other side of the coin. While Smith’s actions attracted widespread condemnation, less know the history of Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill), or what Smith was protesting against in the first place. The tree Smith attacked was a replacement of the original sacred Totara tree that had been there since the 1600s. Mike Smith was simultaneously challenging the identity of New Zealand and protesting against the government’s policy towards Maori – by attempting to cut down the non-native radiata pine that stood on the hill. The current tree was finally removed in 2000 after being attacked for a second time. The famous former landmark is evidence of the injustices committed against Maori in the past.

At the time, Mike Smith said the auction exposed the racism that lurks beneath the tolerant exterior of mainstream New Zealand. “The backlash that occurs…almost prises off the facade, the mask some New Zealanders like to show to the outside world – [that] they’re being tolerant and all the rest of it – it’s interesting to see what monsters creep out from under the edges of those masks.”

When I asked Trademe about their policies and procedures for taking down auctions, spokesperson Dean Winter said the site is regulated largely by the public, using the site’s community watch tool. “Certainly one of our most active tools is what makes it easier for people to make complaints about auctions. Anybody can press the community watch button and make a complaint. We deliberately make it easy for people… like I say that is one of our best tools because people tend to police the site themselves quite well.”

That process is simple. When an auction is published online by a Trademe member, anyone who has an objection can simply press the community watch button, and Trademe can take appropriate action – usually by shutting the auction down. In some cases, like the amputated leg, Trademe quickly changes its rules afterward – in this case, banning the trafficking of human body parts.

Winter said that, in regard to the inconsistency between the two auctions, Trademe have a policy of “not making moral judgements”. They will only look at taking down an auction if somebody has complained about it. They claimed that in the case of the baton no one found it offensive so they didn’t take it down. However, comments posted say otherwise.

Trademe also mentioned that there was a difference between the two cases – Mike Smith was convicted for his attack on the tree and the chainsaw was used in a court case, while Meurant never broke the law.

However, since Smith’s sale was not itself illegal, this distinction is an empty one. Trademe clearly specifies: “You may not sell weapons where they are purely intended for attack purposes.” Surely, this applies more to a baton used to attack human beings, than to a chainsaw used only to attack vegetation (however historic that vegetation may be).

Swastika Coins

In line with European countries, Trademe does not allow the sale of Nazi memorabilia either. Nevertheless, they allow the sale of German stamps and coins from the 1930s and ‘40s, many of which feature offensive images of swastikas and pictures of Hitler. When Salient asked Winter how they had made a distinction between the two, he gave two different answers. Initially he denied the distinction: “Well if anybody brings [the stamps and coins] to our attention then they certainly aren’t different, and we wouldn’t treat them differently and we would take them down.” When I advised him that they were indeed on sale, he said: “If there was a real reaction, and there were people that were offended, and we got quite a substantial number of complaints, then we would listen and we would take it down. We are very much reactive towards what people think, we don’t like to make that moral judgment… so we listen to what the people, or the members tell us.”

When asked about a 1939/1940 jigsaw puzzle featuring swastika-shaped pieces, which was also on sale, Trademe said: “I can’t recall that jigsaw puzzle came through, I can’t record any complaints brought to our attention and if it was, then we would look to the reaction of the people, and decide whether it fell under our terms and conditions. And if it did then we would have pulled it.”

Mike Reagan of The Jewish Chronicle agrees with the reasoning of Trademe, stating that there is a distinction between memorabilia and coins featuring swastikas and images of Hitler. “Personally, I think that the Nazi memorabilia is something that white supremacists use as part of their rituals. And as part of their reason for gathering for meeting and for all of the antics they might get up to… as something to focus their energy on. They would also use them for display, they become almost symbols of deities, and I think for me that is probably where people are sensitive to it, not only Jewish people but others as well… I don’t think the coins or the stamps have that same magnetism.”

Perhaps the baton is similar to the Nazi memorabilia? Someone valued it enough to pay $20,000 for it, and that person just happened to be a South African who may have wanted something related to apartheid. The baton was sold to increase Ross Meurant’s wealth whereas the chainsaw was on sale to raise money for a conservation campaign. The chainsaw was used to make a protest, the baton was used to attack protesters. Perhaps people only made a fuss because the mark that Mike Smith made was visual? Aucklanders are reminded of his attack when they look towards One Tree Hill and don’t see a tree. However, it may be a lot easier to forget about the people who fought apartheid – some who were hurt, injured, in jail or killed in South Africa. The response to the attempted auction of the chainsaw was banning, but there was little response to the baton.

While it’s unclear whether these examples represent double standards, Trademe will no doubt continue to attract attention over just what it sells and what it removes well into the future.


Ever fancied owning your very own polycarbonate side handle baton? http://www.copquest.com/25-2000.htm

The auction address of Ross Meurant’s original “Minto-basher”: http://www.trademe.co.nz/Antiques-collectables/Cultural-ethnic/auction-26727239.htm

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Comments (22)

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  1. Tanya says:

    Your editor might want to know that on the website it’s not spelled Trademe as per your article – it’s spelled TradeMe.

    Before you whinge about a site at least take the time to use the correct spelling of their name. :)

  2. Philly says:

    You raise a valid point I give you that but there are a couple of things that you are obviously not getting. First it is illegal to sell closed circuit secuirty footage and therefore Trade Me had to pull it. Also I follow Trade Me and all the auctions that get alot of exposure so whenever something relatively odd is sold on the site I know about it. But here’s the thing, I remember the chainsaw auction clearly and how much it was tlaked about on the message board, the questions that was left on the auction and from that the huge response that it was getting from Trade Me members. It was blatantly obvious that the community thought that it was innappropriate, as shown by the poll. But the funny thing is I have absolutley no recollection of this baton auction that you refer to. I would also like to know how it was sold to a South African collector as all members have to be in New Zealand and Australia.

    So, yes you raise a valid point but as they said, the site it mostly policed by its members and if it is the members policing do you not think that maybe they have a double standard?

  3. James says:

    “In some cases, like the amputated leg, Trademe quickly changes its rules afterward – in this case, banning the trafficking of human body parts.”

    This has always been banned. From the beginning.

    Once again a great peice of writing from salient

  4. Annoyed TM trader says:

    I have been with tm since they had less than 50,000 members.
    I feel their rules change without warning and they are as hard on people as pot holes on wheels.

    I have complained about personal messages on Trade Me’s message boards a number of times, just as much as I have complained about people selling expired items but what do they do about it?

    Well that’s just it, nothing.

    I am close to stopping my Trade Me membership and using Ebay or buying new and not used items.

    Good one Trade Me, you look after your customers well.
    NOT.

  5. JG says:

    “Surveys showed that a 49% percent majority of the nation was against the tour while 42% were for it.”

    Since when is 49% a majority? 51% were either for it or indifferent.

  6. LH says:

    TradeMe has very-very poor customer services. They don’t look after their customers and don’t care about them. I know quite few people (including myself) who had bad experience on TradeMe and with TradeMe representatives.

    If you want to be unfairly treated, go on TradeMe!

  7. TradeMe says:

    My experience with TradeMe is worst of you all.

    I don’t even bother writing them down here. Their customer support is GROSS. Unfairly treating their customers. I mean it’s about time we change to some other big auction sites that is growing. TradeMe needs lesson.

  8. Shelvin Datt says:

    What concerns me and worries me mostly is the practice of fixed price offers.

    After one of my items on auction had expired, I got a Trade Me Offer Request. The Request showed me a Trade Me user wanting me to make a fixed price offer for the item on auction. I made a fixed price offer to the user. After the Trade Me user accepting the offer, my TradeMe account was charged a percentage based on the fixed price offer, by Trade Me Limited. The charged amount was quickly taken out of money I had deposited, when opening a account with TradeMe.

    The problem I have is that, the person accepting the fixed price offer never maded a deposit into my bank account, to complete the transaction, so that I could send him the item. Yet because they had accepted the fixed price offer by me, I got charged by TradeMe, and the amount deducted from my TradeMe Account deposit.

    As for me I would be less worried about what, or what can not be sold on TradeMe, but TradeMe charging a percentage on fixed priced offer and then not making sure that the transaction gets completed or not, and billing you for it regardless of a sucessful sale or not.

    Now that is a concern, not whether what you can and can not sell on TradeMe. Of course there are now some better sites for sellers, such as http://www.sellmefree.co.nz/

    It seems Sam Morgan is just concerned in getting his extra bonus of 50 million next year if he mets his target and has forgotten about the people who made his site a success. I would encourge all of you, that are disappoint in TradeMe’s customer service to go to other sites such as SellMeFree.

  9. Jack says:

    Agree with everybody,,,

    My auctions were closed with no explanation given, I have paid the combo fees when selling, somehow my auction appears somewhere in the end-ass… Crpa performance…very disapointed….Customer service…well…CRAP… go figure…

    I hope the shut down one day,,,,im really annoyed with they shocking behavior…who the hell on earth would want to call and pay $2+ per minute??? Idiots….well may be…

    Dont trade there…thi web site is going down..popolarity is already declining.,…

    Bye trademe,,,

  10. Mike says:

    Acurate account

  11. Alex says:

    TradeMe customer service gets a big 1/10 from me. They terminated my membership on June 18th after they were notified that I had used the message boards “innappropriately”. I don’t know how they can justify innappropriate use when I was doing so with the intention to help out a member who was ripped off by a seller who was selling fake GHD hair straighteners. This same person appeared on Nailed, Sorted, Exposed a few weeks back after ripping off sixteen buyers by selling counterfeit products.

    The message board post contained a URL to the ScamBusters homepage which contains a fraud kid which was designed by one of their administrators, who set up the site a few years ago after a growing number of overseas scams started to hit TradeMe. TradeMe has always had a unknown stigma attached to ScamBusters, but one thing I do know is that millions more would be ripped off if it wasn’t for the volunteers who use ScamBusters (who are all TradeMe members too).

    In the past six months, there have been closed to 1000 accounts hacked by Romanian based scammers who have been administering cellphone and laptop scams for years now. The accounts are shut down eventually, causing a lot of headaches for the account holders who find that the scammers have used their credit card details to set up bogus auctions with every kind of promotional tool available.

    The simplest way to prevent scams would obviously be to lock out overseas IP’s. TradeMe ‘claim’ to block overseas sellers, but anyone who has ever logged on while on an overseas holiday knows how 100% false that statement is. And still they have not given anybody a good reason as to why they simply refuse to take this approach.

    They also said recently on a radio show that they are a 24/7 company. That is false too, their moderators only operate during office hours, therefore scams can be running for up to 14 hours depending on the time and day their were listed. Only just recently they have hired nightwatchmen, something they should have done three years ago!

    Their customer service is dreadful, if you want any help from them you either need to ring up an 0900 number at your own expense otherwise contact them via email. They will usually get back to you between 2-7 days later and say they’ve “taken the appropriate action”. Their emails are always in a canned form and less than 50% of the time you will actually get a positive outcome.

    The only thing TradeMe’s management cares about is making as much money as possible for their stakeholders, by raising listing fees and allowing dodgy sellers to continue to rip people off, including allowing fake and copyright goods to continue to be sold on their site. If someone informs them of a problem, TradeMe take the general approach to cover it up and shoot the messenger, provided the complainant is not a major contributor to their profits through success fee revenue.

    For those of you on Bebo I have recently created a group which you may join. Feel free to share your horror stories about TradeMe’s appalling customer service.
    http://www.bebo.com/tm-bad-service

  12. Nick Archer says:

    Yes Scambusters is really good, I wrote a review of the site in Salient Issue Two (http://www.salient.org.nz/arts/new-media/barackobamacom/) wrote it because I was tired of all the Nigerian enquiries I was getting on TradeMe and Trade & Exchange website…

  13. Samantha says:

    “”TradeMe take the general approach to cover it up and shoot the messenger, provided the complainant is not a major contributor to their profits through success fee revenue””
    THIS IS THE MOST ACCURATE DESCRIPTION I HAVE EVER COME ACCROSS FOR TRADEme. Cheers for opening my eyes to this and letting me know I was not the ONLY one to be “taken out” when I brought to their attention some of the fakes being sold on there.
    As for the first comment on here – who really gives a fat rats arse about the spelling… Trademe TadeMe or any other way. You must be one of the blind leading the blind that keep this bizarre addiction to Online Auctions afloat.
    I will be addressing Online Auction Addiction in a blog later tis year… this I feel is part of the overall issue and obviously the top draw card for TrAdEmE.

  14. Rodney says:

    Tanya’s a slag

  15. Tanya says:

    you’re a slag, slag

  16. Brendon Reish says:

    Use Lixtor (.co.nz)

  17. Peter says:

    Trademe community watch is make believe.
    Complaints are often ignored.
    So I have created this web site…
    http://vhf.bencom.co.nz/trademe

  18. si says:

    hahahahah plonk. tanya. i dont what to say baby. im really at a loss. you poor kid.

    good article.

  19. jone tidbolt says:

    trademe have threaten to take me to court for opening more then one trademe account is this really a crime I cant believe it. i am shocked not only at there threats made by what sounded lke a 18 year old pimple faced snot headed trademe staff member they were so rude to me on the phone. bunch of toss nuts I wouldnt use there website again even if they said i could i think they got upset when i said id change my name and my bank accounts and ip and address and then open a account lolol of course i only said this out of anger I would not really go to such an extent to trade on some silly website.
    i just think they have got to big and think they can screw the little guys
    toss nuts

  20. Peter Manglethwaite says:

    If you look on the user agreements that you tick when you open up a trademe account you are agreeing to not open up other accounts. This is a legally binding contract. So you are in the wrong Jone Tidbolt. I also suggest you learn to use spellcheck and puncutation. I’m afraid it it you who is the toss nut.

  21. Wee Hamish says:

    ahahaha jone tibbolt, you nub.

  22. GoodGuy says:

    Pulled my rifle ad saying it was inappropriate…it was standard A category and this model has been in NZ 40 years. When I complained they pulled my wifes membership and deleted $80 of PAID FOR ads, my sister in laws membership ads and also took her $, saying they were mine as they use my credit card for payments?? Nice, if someone does something, take others $ and it is legal and morally correct to TM???? Anyway, re the rifle..when pointed out to TM that they have other listings of same rifle..which they will not pull and about 50-60 items that should not be in rifle category or are MSSA style with questionable compliance for A class, they totally ignore comments after pointing this out and allow these other ads to continue. When also pointed out that all the memberships they disenabled and will not reinstate which were 100% Feedback members as opposed to members that refuse to ban which have never ending bad feedbacks, etc. It does not matter to them. They shoot themselves in the foot with the ignorant staff and time for David to come forth and slay Goliath. Security with purchases – None – E Bay Yes, Yes, Yes. E Bay fees…with security..less!!! Time to change direction! Disgusted and surprised TM survived this far as all I speak to have similar experiences. When asked to have management call and discuss…answer NO..just ignored…when asked to give name and details of TM or Fairfax management to file against in Disputes Tribunal..refuse to do so.

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