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Non-essential sales continue on Facebook Marketplace

Although New Zealand-based e-commerce companies like TradeMe are toeing the line on non-essential sales, Facebook Marketplace remains a wild west where buying and selling hasn't stopped, Marc Daalder reports

Want a pair of high-heeled Converse shoes to wear during lockdown? How about a cashmere scarf or new jigsaw puzzle?

You're in luck - while Kiwi-owned businesses and e-commerce platforms are shut down, Facebook Marketplace is still up and running.

The social media giant's integrated ecommerce feature has implemented few barriers to continued trade during New Zealand's level four lockdown, which is supposed to prevent all non-essential travel, postage, or outdoors activity.

While some listings on the site specify that they are meant for after the lockdown, others indicate the possibility of meeting up to exchange items and payment or leaving items in the mailbox. Travelling to pick up a purchased, non-essential item would violate the rules of the lockdown.

In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: "Our teams are monitoring the coronavirus (Covid-19) situation closely and making necessary updates to help people stay informed."

"Overall we suggest following the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for how to stay healthy and help prevent the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) while buying and selling. It’s important for people to follow local laws and directives that may be in place for their area."

"We’ve updated our Marketplace help center with more guidance on how to buy & sell during this COVID-19 time. And we’ve also adding a banner to the top of Marketplace mobile to ask people to follow local guidelines on physical distancing and staying home," the spokesperson said.

However, the warnings aren't country-specific and merely instruct individuals to follow "the guidance from your local health authorities and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for how to stay healthy and help prevent the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) while buying and selling items".

While Facebook emphasised it has banned the use of the platform by businesses selling face masks, hand sanitiser, disinfecting wipes, Covid-19 testing kits and any health or medical claims regarding Covid-19, this doesn't address the issue of sales of non-essential items that incentivise non-essential travel or gatherings.

Meanwhile, New Zealand-based companies like TradeMe have followed the Government's rules more strictly, even as they might be losing out on revenue that Facebook happily absorbs.

"As a Kiwi company we abide by New Zealand law and we think it’s important to work to the Government’s advice during this time," TradeMe's head of marketplace Lisa Stewart said.

"We want to make sure our members are able to get the things they may need during isolation quickly and safely. This means that anyone can buy and sell items in our approved essential categories, as listed by the Government. Trading in all our other non-essential categories cannot be completed until after the level 4 alert is changed."

Facebook did not answer a question from Newsroom about whether it was considering closing Marketplace for the remainder of the lockdown, instead saying: "We have a dedicated channel for local governments to share listings they believe violate local laws. We have been ramping up this enforcement over time."

This is the same statement the company sent to the New Zealand Herald on March 30. It is not clear how enforcement has been ramped up in the intervening 10 days.

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