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How equipment misuse is shifting from bricks to clicks by Paul Empson, General Manager, Bakers Basco

Not for sale: How equipment misuse is shifting from bricks to clicks

By Paul Empson, General Manager, Bakers Basco

Online marketplaces are big business; the top online marketplaces in the world sold $2.67 trillion in 2020 but online reselling in the UK through second-hand sites also saw a substantial boost in sales and traffic last year. The fact that anyone can sell anything online these days opens up opportunities to give unused items a second lease of life by passing it on to someone else – and making a bit of extra cash in doing so. But when you open up your eBay app and the search box says you can ‘search for anything’, what do you search for?

Maybe a second-hand piece of furniture, some sporting or electronic goods? How about some bread baskets? Yes, you heard me right. Described as everything from ‘crates with wheels’; ‘bread trays’; ‘stacking food crates’; ‘bakery baskets’; and even ‘plant crates’ – these online listings can range from a couple of baskets to ‘over 100’ in one case, with one crafty seller attempting to sell them for in excess of hundreds of pounds.

As providers and controllers of returnable transit packaging (RTP) equipment that is used across the bakery industry to transport bread up and down the country each day, you can imagine our shock when we saw something that we own appearing in an online marketplace. What’s more, each piece of equipment is stamped with our name, address and contact details – so there’s no question over who it really belongs to. It’s all well and good to try and sell something you own, that has been gathering dust in the attic for many years, but taking somebody else’s property and trying to make a quick buck is just plain wrong.

Want to know the worst part of it all? When we confront them about it and try to claim them back, they point blank refuse – one seller even told us we’d have to buy them off him and pay him what he paid for them if we wanted them back! But again, we’re talking about equipment that has our name clearly marked as the owner with details of what to do if our equipment is found.

We’re used to dealing with this sort of thing in the offline world; our bakery equipment is constantly being nicked by other bakers who think it’s okay to use it for themselves or recycled by unscrupulous recycling companies, shredded for sale back to the plastics manufacturing industry. We’ve even seen cases where our Omega baskets were found being used as lobster pots on a boat, a garden path, security door, sheep feeders… even a monkey bridge at a zoo!

Some might call it ‘creative’, others might call it ‘ingenious’; I call it a blooming nuisance. Not only because it’s an issue that is costing the baking industry millions every year – when this essential bakery equipment is taken out of the supply chain it limits the supply of our daily bread – but because in each of these cases the bread baskets are the property of a baker, making each one an example of unauthorised use that is illegal, disruptive and costly.

These actions might seem harmless but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Managing this in the offline world is by no means a walk in the park when it comes to recovering equipment – despite deploying a national investigations team and the recent advancements in GPS tracking technology. But now, with the massive rise of online marketplaces like eBay and Facebook Marketplace, this takes it to a whole new level, leaving our industry – and many others like us – faced with a whole new problem.

Anyone who says it’s a ‘victimless crime’ couldn’t be more wrong – the bakeries that pay to license our equipment, the retailers that sell their products and the shoppers who rely on them for their daily bread all end up paying extra for the actions of a small number of thoughtless, selfish, greedy people.

Since 2006, we’ve had a dedicated team that tracks down missing baskets and reclaims them – or takes people to court if they won’t give them back or they’ve destroyed them. We don’t take everyone to court: most people are happy to return the items when asked politely. Sometimes, it takes a legal letter; and in cases of persistent abuse, we go to court.

We’ve successfully pursued hundreds of cases. Hearings can result in a County Court Judgment (CCJ) against the defendant, comprising significant sums in costs, damages and interest, eventually restraining injunctions and ultimately culminating in court fines, and even a suspended jail sentence. This kind of thing sticks, and will show up on credit checks and affect lots of things like tenancy agreements, equipment hire, supplier credit and more.

Just because these unethical online sellers think they are somehow anonymous because they are hiding behind a screen, they shouldn’t be fooled that will stop us. Our team is already on the case to crack down on these unlawful online activities – and with new eBay rules announced this week, allowing third parties to take down listings that could be considered a safety risk or in breach of consumer rights – our work won’t stop there.

Please remember: if it’s not your property, you have no right to take it, never mind try to sell it on to someone else. These baskets are not for sale.

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