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Updated: 24 May 2022

How to buy second hand online

Our expert advice to ensure you make the most of what’s on offer, as well as staying safe, on sites such as Amazon, Depop, eBay and Gumtree.
Olivia Howes
Man making purchase using credit card and smartphone

Second hand online buying and selling has seen a boom since the beginning of the pandemic. And it still shows no signs of slowing down. It's a great way to reduce the environmental aspect of buying new, and an opportunity to make some serious savings. 

There are a multitude of different marketplaces you can choose from, however, and some are more suited to some types of purchasing than others. Here are some of things to consider before hitting ‘buy’.

To find out more about how marketplaces such as Amazon, Preloved, Shpock and Vinted, as well as more locally-focused sites such as Facebook Marketplace, the Freecycle Network and Nextdoor compared in our customer survey, visit the best and worst places to shop second hand online.

Items being prepared for packaging, packing tape, scissors, box

What do second hand shoppers think?

In January 2022, we asked 4,000 people about their experiences of using second hand marketplaces. Overall they painted a very positive picture. Two thirds of the 4,000 we asked had used a second-hand marketplace to buy or acquire something for free online.

81% of those buyers were largely happy with their experience and would recommend the platform they used to others.

The most popular items bought using second hand marketplaces were books (33%), clothes, accessories or shoes (27%) and games and toys (19%).

Respondents commented on the environmental benefits, saying: ‘it saves having to clog up our planet with items that can be reused’ and ‘helps people and the environment’. Other positive benefits included the choice and quality of the items available and the ease of using the sites.

However, 10% of people did have to raise an issue concerning their purchase with the platform they used. Of those people, 15% were unhappy with the outcome.

So while there are plenty of positives to online bargain hunting, it’s wise to arm yourself with some information to ensure your quest for treasure doesn’t leave you with fool’s gold.

Before you start second hand shopping

  • The old adage that if it seems too good to be true it probably is applies here. Be wary of expensive items on sale too cheaply – they could be counterfeit, stolen or part of a scam. For more on counterfeit goods, read our guide to avoiding fake and dangerous products
  • Has the product has been subject to any recalls? You’ll find product recalls on the manufacturer’s website. Electrical product recalls may also be found on the Electrical Safety First website.
  • Check out the seller. You can see how long ago they set up their profile, how many sales they’ve had and check their feedback. For Facebook Marketplace you can check  their profile for local friends, tags in photos and their history to determine if they are real.
  • Check images in the listings – the seller may have used stock images which you can look for using a ‘reverse image search’ on your browser. Stock images (usually not allowed as they will be copyrighted) should not be trusted on their own and should always be combined with images of the actual product the seller is listing.
  • Be aware that most sellers/marketplaces won't have a returns policy. The exception is Amazon Marketplace where sellers must have one.
  • If the item is local to you, try to view it before committing to buy, but make sure any viewings are arranged with personal safety in mind.
  • Take a screenshot of the listing as it was prior to purchase in case you need to raise a dispute – the seller could take down or change their post.
  • Check who is responsible if something goes wrong – does the site offer any kind of buyer protection or dispute resolution, or are you going to be on your own? 
  • If there is buyer protection, what does it offer? Check if there’s a time limit on making a claim and what types of purchases are eligible.

Making a second hand purchase

  • Think carefully about how you pay. Debit cards, credit cards and PayPal all offer different consumer protections, though not all of these willl apply to items bought from private sellers.
  • Don’t pay using online transfer or agree to any payments outside of the marketplace unless you are happy to pay cash after having viewed an item and are sure you won't want to return it.
  • Throughout the process communicate only through the platform if this is possible. There have been instance of buyer protection offered by PayPal or the marketplaces being invalidated if you’ve had any communication outside the platform i.e. Whatsapp messages or email. Stick to communicating through the app or website’s official messaging channel.
Woman unpacking item of clothing from box

If there’s a problem

  • Even if you have buyer protection, you may have to try to resolve the problem with your seller first through contacting them via’s the app’s channel. If this fails the marketplace will then step in.
  • You may have to pay for the return of the item to the buyer.
  • If you open a dispute with the marketplace or PayPal, you can’t concurrently apply for chargeback or a refund using Section 75 – this could invalidate your claim. 
  • If you pay for an item through PayPal using your card, a dispute will have to be opened through PayPal first. 
  • Even without buyer protection in place, the Consumer Rights Act says the goods you get must be as they were described to you by the seller, even if they are a private individual and not a retailer. For example, a used item should not be described as new. If a seller takes your money but does not send your item, this is also a clear breach of contract. However, resolving things can be tricky – if you can’t reach an agreement between yourselves you’ll have to try alternative dispute resolution or the small claims court.

What is buyer protection?

Buyer protection will normally cover you if:

  • An item isn’t received
  • It’s not as described/doesn’t match the listing/is counterfeit
  • It arrives broken, damaged or with parts missing (unless this was clear in the listing).

But the terms and conditions that different marketplaces offer can vary significantly. For example, PayPal Buyer Protection gives you up to 180 days to raise a dispute, eBay gives you 30 and Vinted only 2 days from delivery.

Which marketplaces offer buyer protection?

Amazon Marketplace, Depop, Ebay and Vinted offer buyer protection as standard (with some exceptions).

Facebook has recently introduced Facebook Pay for some products you can buy on Facebook Marketplace – a 2% fee is charged to the seller and gives the buyer purchase protection. But this only applies to items shipped using Facebook’s delivery services.

Shpock offers the option of buyer protection if you press the ‘buy now’ button. You can arrange to collect yourself or arrange your own payment and then it won’t apply.

Preloved doesn’t have buyer protection as such but does offer an independent transaction platform called Trustap which is available for some product categories, but only if the buyer and seller both agree to use it.

It holds the payment by the buyer for an item securely until the package is delivered, and then the buyer has 24 hours to raise a complaint, before the money is released.

Freecycle (where everything must be free – there’s no buying), Gumtree and Nextdoor don’t offer any buyer protection.

If you pay with PayPal using any of these marketplaces, you may also be covered by its own buyer protection.

Items you shouldn’t buy second hand

While most products can be bought second hand, there are some it’s best to steer clear of for safety reasons.

We advise that you buy a new cot mattress for your baby if you can, and always buy new car seats for your babies and children.

The Lullaby Trust, the charity that raises awareness of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), advises that it’s safest to use a new mattress for each baby that you have. There is some evidence that using a second hand mattress might increase the risk of SIDS very slightly.

We always recommend you buy a new child car seat over pre-owned. It’s impossible to know its full history and while outwardly it might look completely fine, there could be hairline cracks or fractures that could weaken its structural integrity meaning it doesn’t protect your child in a crash.

To find out more about buying a child car seat, read our guide on the best car seats.

Similar advice applies for second hand bike or motorbike helmets.

You should also be wary of expensive tech and appliances that aren’t officially refurbished. Genuinely refurbished tech will usually come with a year’s retailer warranty. If you buy second-hand tech from a private seller you may be lucky and get a great deal but you should also be aware your consumer rights if the product is faulty are going to be very limited. 

Freecycle logo

Free sites

There are plenty of great options for getting hold of items without any money changing hands. The Freecycle Network and Freegle are two of the bigger examples. Some other marketplaces have free sections on their sites.

If you want something on offer try to make sure the person giving it away has earmarked specifically for you before you go to pick it up, sometimes people can offer goods on a first come, first served basis although the platforms tend to discourage this.