Recently, one of the Gordian Project properties, OutdoorPros.com, faced a frustrating and probably unnecessary conundrum with PayPal. Launched in 2008, OutdoorPros.com is a pure play online retailer offering a tremendous assortment of outdoor products. In June of 2008, after months of negotiation, OutdoorPros.com launched PayPal as a payment option. At no time during our initial exchange with PayPal did they ever mention that a portion of our offering may be in violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy.
Then, on August 6, 2008, we received an email from firstname.lastname@example.org with a subject that read “Notification of Limited Account Access”. In the body of the email:
“Under the Acceptable Use Policy, PayPal may not be used to send or receive payments for firearms, firearm parts or accessories, ammunition, weapons or knives.”
According to the email, the rug had been pulled from our account and we were prevented from accepting PayPal as a payment option because we sell items that are in violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy. I will quote Adam Sandler, “Information that would have been helpful YESTERDAY!” The email continues:
“To appeal the limitation on your account, you will need to:
1. Remove those items from your website that violate PayPal's Acceptable Use Policy. For example, <All Batons, & All Training Batons> http://www.outdoorpros.com; and
2. Submit the online Acceptable Use Policy affidavit.
This is not intended to be an all-inclusive review or list of your Internet sites in violation. Furthermore, the violations of the Policy described above are not intended to be an all-inclusive list. It is the responsibility of the user to ensure that all transactions comply with the Acceptable Use Policy.
For more information about the status of your account and for instructions on how to restore full use of your account, please login to your PayPal account. We encourage you to log in and restore full access as soon as possible. Should access to your account remain limited for an extended period of time, it may result in permanent limitation.”
We sell tens of thousands of products. Now the data team here has to filter out products that violate the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy by removing any firearms, firearm parts or accessories, ammunition, weapons or knives. Oy! We have an entire top level category dedicated to cutlery! Did we need to take down all of our knives and swords?
We emailed our PayPal rep and asked this very question. He contacted the PayPal Acceptable Use team and discovered that we needed to remove all guns, batons and butterfly knives. That’s simple. Except that we don’t sell guns or butterfly knives! We do, however sell training products (red plastic weapons for duty training purposes) and balisong training knives (like butterfly knives, but they have blunt edges and are only used to learn to use the knife properly). So we asked PayPal again and found out that our training products did not need to be removed.
To PayPal’s credit, they did give us a much more detailed response the second time we asked. They let us know that we needed to remove all batons and automatic knives (switchblades) that do not visibly contain a ‘thumb screw’ or ‘thumb hole’ on the blade. Also, our United Cutlery UC702 Eight Piece Ninja Warrior Sword would need to be removed as it includes throwing stars in the package. They also included the following (not a fun read, but at least someone is publishing the information):
What types of weapons and knives does PayPal prohibit?
PayPal prohibits transactions for certain hand weapons or knives that may be illegal or restricted in some jurisdictions.
"Weapons – PayPal generally prohibits transactions for these types of weapons:
• Brass or other metal knuckles
• Leaded canes, staffs, crutches, or sticks
• Zip guns, shurikens or throwing stars
• Hand grenades or metal replica hand grenades
• Billyclubs or batons, sandclubs, sandbags, or slungshots (also known as saps or blackjacks)
For other hand weapons, sellers must ensure the weapon is lawful in both the buyer's and seller's jurisdiction before completing the sale.
Knives – PayPal generally prohibits transactions for switchblade knives and disguised knives. A switchblade is any knife resembling a pocketknife with a blade that can be released automatically or by use of a trigger. Other names for switchblades include spring-blade knives, snap-blade knives, gravity knives, and butterfly knives.
A disguised knife is a knife designed to look like a harmless item. Examples of disguised knives include belt buckle knives, cane swords, shobi-zue, lipstick case knives, air gauge knives, and writing pen knives.
Other Related Items – PayPal prohibits transactions for destructive devices and the sale of military equipment or supplies that violate laws or regulations in the buyer's or seller's jurisdiction."
Well, that is much clearer, but would have been beneficial to know during negotiations. However, the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy is much more broad in its scope of unacceptable products, citing “…PayPal may not be used to send or receive payments for firearms, firearm parts or accessories, ammunition, weapons or knives.” If we followed PayPal’s very broad policy, we would be forced to take down a large portion of our offering. If we don’t take the products down, and someone buys a violating item, our PayPal account may be permanently disabled. If we don’t follow the broad policy, but rather use discretion with regard to the items offered (based on their further recommendations) we risk listing an item that PayPal may decide violates their policy. We have taken a relatively conservative approach based mostly on the more detailed information we received via email. But we still needed to decide whether or not we should completely take down products that could be identified as violators.
To solve this dilemma, we proposed that we continue to offer the products that are in violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, but not offer PayPal as a payment option for those products. We suggested that we programmatically identify products that are flagged by PayPal as violators of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy and remove PayPal as a payment option from the payment flow entirely where those products are concerned. Surprisingly, PayPal responded with the following:
"In regards to disabling PayPal as a method of payment for the violating items, this is acceptable however; you must also remove any PayPal logos from these items and place a disclaimer stating that PayPal cannot be used for this product. Also, if a potential buyer wishes to send you a payment for any violating item via PayPal, you must ensure that this is not done as any payment received into the account for a violating item will result in further action being taken on the account."
With PayPal’s acceptance of our solution, we set out to update the website appropriately. Below are screenshots of our solution with a comparison between a Pay-Palalbe and a non-PayPal-able product:
With PayPal Logo
Without PayPal Logo
With PayPal as a Payment Option
Without PayPal as a Payment Option
This solution allows us to continue to sell all of the products in our offering and helps us to continue to conform to PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy. There is still some worry that new products may violate PayPal’s Policy. However, our data team has added a “PayPal Acceptable Use Filter” to our data entry process. This will mean that new products that are questionable will have to be submitted to PayPal’s Acceptable Use team for preapproval. We would have preferred that PayPal contact us proactively (before taking our account down) when an item was found to be a violation, but they advised us that they would not be able to do this, which is understandable, since they want us to be proactive in preventing the sale of disapproved items.
In the end, I was surprised that PayPal was flexible enough to allow us to build a mutually beneficial solution. Thanks PayPal.
About the time I finished writing this blog post we received an email from the Google Checkout team. Lo and behold! Google Checkout has a content policy similar to PayPal’s. The portion that we’ve focused on is:
"Weapons Firearms, ammunition, and other items including but not limited to firearms, disguised, undetectable or switchblade knives, martial arts weapons, scopes, silencers, ammunition, ammunition magazines, BB guns, tear gas or stun guns."
Google Checkout’s terms are less ambiguous than PayPal’s and Google Checkout contact us proactively to request that we remove violating items. They didn’t yank our account and prevent customers from using Google Checkout. They let us know. They have formed a payment partnership with OutdoorPros.com and we’re, consequently, more inclined to be happy to oblige their requests (Thanks John).