Inside the Pack: eBay Rolling Out Authenticity Guarantee to Trading Cards

Last week, eBay rolled out its Authenticity Guarantee to high-end trading cards. The guarantee already existed for sneakers, watches, and designer handbags.

The program applies to single sports cards, non-sports cards, and collectible card games that are ungraded and sell for over $750. If an item is eligible for authentication, it becomes automatically enrolled in the program. The seller will be required to ship the card directly to a third-party authenticator (more on that shortly), who will inspect the card for legitimacy, apply an authentication sticker and QR code, and send the newly-authenticated card to the buyer.

The program announcement was met with mixed reviews from both buyers and sellers, and I myself see some pros and cons to the program.

First, the most obvious positive of this program is hopefully stopping the rampant sales of fake cards on eBay. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of fake cards I see each month, usually with a note in the description that says something to the effect of stating that the card is not authenticated, so the seller is listing as a reprint per eBay rules (in reality, the site has no such rule). Although breaking the $750 barrier for these cards is rare, I do often see them go for a few hundred bucks. As part of the announcement, eBay stated that they will lower the price eligibility at some point in the future, so hopefully many of these will get cleared off the site.

Another positive is taking away the “doesn’t seem authentic” excuse buyers have for returning a card, even if the seller doesn’t accept returns. I do accept returns, but from time to time if a buyer has regrets about a purchase, they use this excuse because it’s an automatic refund on eBay’s platform. If an impartial third party has reviewed it for authenticity, that excuse goes away.

About that impartial third party: eBay is contracting with CGC Trading Cards and CSG Sports Cards to do the authentication. Part of the Certified Collectibles Group, which has been one of the industry leaders for comic books, stamps, and coins for years, CSG entered the card market last year and has amassed its own group of dedicated fans. They are certainly the most reputable of the “new” grading companies and are seen as relatively on-par with PSA, SGC, and Beckett. However, they are not grading the cards – they are simply authenticating them. This raises questions for me: If you, as the buyer, want the card graded while it’s in their possession, can you pay extra? Would there be a credit if you got the card graded at a later date as long as it retained the CSG authentication sticker? Would another third-party grader have an impetus to reject some big cards authenticated by CSG in order to cast doubt on the upstart grading company’s ability to authenticate?

The other cons are time and money. As of now, eBay is covering the costs associated with the authentication process. But they make it clear that is for a limited time only. However, they don’t say when that will end, or how much it will be once it does. Time is also a concern; it is stated that the authentication process will happen within 1-2 days of receipt, and the item will ship to the buyer with 4-day or less delivery. All told, the process could add a week or more to the usual delivery date a buyer might receive. A buyer intent on purchasing a card for a quick gift, or to sell at an upcoming show, or to get graded quickly, will have a longer wait – and eBay will not allow a buyer to decide not to authenticate the card.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the process plays out as the Authenticity Guarantee is implemented. With the price threshold expected to be lowered in the future, and the possibility of rolling out the guarantee to autographs, relic cards, boxes, and lots, there could be a significant shift in the way high-end business is done on eBay.