Ethical or Not: Selling Gifted Items


In the last few weeks, the ethics of reselling gifted items has come up often. I've talked to bloggers who need to cull their wardrobe and feel conflicted or unethical about their desire to resell lightly worn review items . I've seen other bloggers list items in their blog-connected shop that I know for certain were gifted pieces.

As bloggers, we often receive these items in lieu of financial compensation for coverage on our site–whether it's a simple inclusion in a “What I Wore” post, or we dedicate the whole post to the product.  It's hard, though, to become a self-sustaining blogger when all you're receiving are gifts.  What happens when your closet is overflowing with gifts, but you can't pay your phone bill?   Does it become okay to sell of the products that you seldom wear– receiving that much needed financial compensation instead keeping a dress collecting dust?  And is there a difference between selling at a Buffalo Exchange, eBay, or in a blog-based e-shop?

So we have to ask, is it ethical to sell gifted or promotional items–particularly on your own blog?


The Arguments Against Selling:

Many people on Twitter said it was wrong– a strong gut reaction.  It seemed pretty unanimous that accepting things solely with the intention to sell them was a bad idea, and I totally agree!

The Lingerie Addict and Courtney//Those Graces both make the point that it creates “bad brand relations.” If a brand notices that you're selling items they sent you via your blog, what will they think of sending you products in the future?  Some brands may not care if they viewed the items as payment.  Other smaller brands may have sent you the item as a gift though, and find their feelings hurt.

Courtney// Those Graces also thinks it's a violation of reader's trust to sell items that you received for free.  If you're not disclosing that you're selling gifted items, long-term readers may recognize those products as gifted items and think less of your integrity.  She mentioned how she'd seen several video bloggers resell items and it's totally impacted her trust in them!

Many bloggers seemed to think that while selling them on a eBay shop or a blog shop wasn't ethical, that selling them at a consignment shop or donating them was a better option. Allyson shared a similar thought, saying, “it's not cool unless money is going to charity!

The Arguments in Favor of Selling:

Many bloggers shared that they didn't feel that reselling a gifted or review item was unethical, because it was given in lieu of monetary compensation. The product became payment for coverage.  Brands use products in lieu of financial compensation or as compensation. Adored Austin says, “I see no issue w/ bloggers selling courtesy items. Courtesy items are usually in exchange for promotional content. It's pay.

What if you need to pay your bills? A few bloggers noted how difficult it was to make money blogging, and for those who are doing it full-time may find a struggle between free dresses and paying bills.  Wardrobe Oxygen said, “I put as much time in blogging as I would a job. I think payment is valid, and I can't pay the bills with clothes & shower gel.

What happens when you've received so many gifted products, your closet outgrows itself? If you're a popular “What I Wore” blogger, and your closet starts to resemble a department store, maybe you're inclined to clean it out and discard your lesser worn pieces.  Among them may be a few gifted items– is it wrong to sell them in lieu of financial compensation you may not have originally received?

Have you worn and used the item significantly before selling? There seems to be some agreement that as long as you've had considerable wear of them, that selling them isn't so bad.   Franca//Oranges and Apples says, “I think after a few months of wear and use its ok and just like any used item. To review and immediately sell on is not ok though.

Do you treat the item like you would a personal gift? If your mother gave it to you, would you donate or sell the item at all? I personally have a hard time keeping a gift forever… even if it's from my mother or boyfriend!  Is it okay, after an item has had an active lifespan in your closet to treat it as you would any other possession?  If my closet clean out is divided in to “Sell, donate, throw away” piles should the items go into the piles regardless of how I obtained them?

What if you outgrown the item–physically or stylistically? Say I drop 80 pounds, and none of the beautiful dresses I have fit anymore.  If I know that I have plus-sized women reading my site who love those dresses, is it unfair for me not to give them the opportunity to own them?   What if your wardrobe and style dramatically change because of job changes, climate changes, or lifestyle changes?  Is giving your readers the opportunity to own your pieces a bad thing?

A Fine, Grey Line (That We May See More Of!)

In discussing this with so many amazing people, it really struck out to me (and many of them) what a grey area selling is and how many factors are so personally based. Unless FTC mandates come out, I'm not personally sure that there will be a right or wrong answer about how to tackle the subject.

Wardrobe Oxygen reminds us that it's still the Wild West in blogging and notes, “there's those who even find ads/sponsorhips/swags wrong for blogs, such variety out there in blog styles,” while Beautifully Invisible takes a diplomatic approach saying, “I think if you aren't abusing the trust of your readers/companies use own judgement to sell/donate.”

Many larger blogs get around the problem by limiting gifted items to blog sponsors only–insuring that they're receiving financial compensation for promotions on their site, while also receiving products.   This may be one of many possible solutions for bloggers as they look to building brand relations while paving a route to making their blog a paid, full-time job.

What are your thoughts on selling gifted, review, and promotional items?  Is selling offline the path to happiness?  Have you sold items before yourself?  Do you feel firmly against it– I'd love to hear more great reasons as to why you feel it may be unethical (or feel it's totally okay!)!

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33 Responses

  1. Courtney

    Great post, Ashe! I was glad to take part in the lively discussion yesterday. I think you’re right–this is a sticky issue with bloggers that needs to be addressed.

  2. Poochie

    I have sold a few items, mostly at consignment shops, or given them away. I rarely request items for review so I don’t see any harm in it.

    Now if you were asking for product just to turn around and sell it, I think that would be an issue. But the brands and even my readers don’t know the items are being sold so it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me at that level.

  3. Rachel

    I thought I would not have a problem with selling items, but it turns out that I don’t really feel comfortable selling things I have been given to review. I might change my mind for some more expensive items I don’t want, but makeup I have to review I have only swatched/ sampled for review and I know I won’t use/ don’t want to keep I give away to friends (usually other bloggers) who I know will get much more use out of the products that would only be sitting discarded at home in a drawer! I have a blogger friend who is big on nail art and I’m meeting her for coffee next week, I’m going to surprise her with some nail polishes I was sent to review and don’t want to keep – only used once!

  4. Corrine/Frock & Roll

    A TERRIFIC article, Ashe. Well done!

    Personally (as I mentioned to you on Twitter!), each to their own, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable in re-selling an item that was gifted, purely out of respect for the company that’s kind enough to send something through.

    I *totally* understand that we all need to make a living (heck, we’ve all got bills to pay!), but I don’t know… I just kind of think that there’s more conscience-friendly, non bridge-burning ways to make a buck!

  5. Kimberlee

    These are all valid points. There is also the option of including them in giveaways which your readers don’t have to pay for either. I’m for selling them if the person discloses why they are selling a gifted item because I know that finances can be a struggle for bloggers. Great post!

  6. lisa

    Very thought-provoking subject, Ashe. I like the thoughtful treatment you’ve given to all viewpoints!

    I’ve never sold an item that I’ve been gifted for review purposes, although I have donated items that I don’t use or given things to friends and family. Sometimes I’ll do a giveaway for something, but only if it’s a product I’d feel good about promoting and standing behind and something that I like.

  7. WendyB

    In the very, very unlikely event that I’d give anyone a piece of jewelry, I will kill a bitch who tries to sell it!

  8. Punky

    If you are woking with a brand and they pay you with clothing. I think you can do what ever you like with your paycheck. If you accept a gift that was thoughtful or handmade from someone, it’s a little different.

  9. Loren

    This is definitely a grey area. I’ve never received any gifts from sponsors, or noticed other people selling theirs. If you accept a gift (especially a big one) blog it once and then sell it, I think is unethical. But if you are genuinely ‘done’ with the item that’s different. I have and do sell/give away presents from my family and friends. But only after I’ve discovered I can’t use them anymore. Once an item is yours though I think you have the right to do what you want with it. Although the other blog readers might not feel the same way.

  10. Gayatri Kumar

    Great post! Though just from the law point of view – any item that is gifted to one for any reason or purpose is your property and one may do what they please with it – even re-sell.

    Lawyer out.


  11. Treacle

    Thanks for the mention! I really like reading other people’s point of view on this very relevant issue.

  12. Rhett

    I think anyone who is gifted something from a company through their blog is incredibly lucky. It shows that the company is thinking highly of you and believes in your blog. I think it’s tasteless to review a product and then sell it off. If you use it and are completely done with it, I think you should state that you received it from the company as a gift and are selling it now. It’s all about honesty. What happens if you start selling things without letting people know the items were free? It makes you look dishonest. I’d never want to loo dishonest in the eyes of my fans.


    Whether or not the intentions are good, I don’t think bloggers should sell gifted items using their blog. It looks shady, even if it’s not meant to be! It’s safer to just avoid it… there are other ways to sell.

  14. Jenny

    Well, its really an issue for me to resell the gifted items because it will somehow hurts the feeling of the one who gave it. You really made me think here. Thanks for the post.

  15. Allie

    Well obviously from my comments above, I don’t think it’s shady to sell what I get free from companies. However, I don’t accept that which I wouldn’t like in the first place. It’s easy to get a mailbox full of crazy stuff, and at first it could be fun, but it’s unethical to do a false review for your readers, or to take swag just for the sake of getting something free.

    I do get things like beauty products and clothes. When I get them, I do an honest review. And usually they become part of my wardrobe or beauty routine. But sometimes they no longer fit my body or my personal style and I think it’s silly to feel some obligation to keep or donate such an item. If I went to a store that offered a free tee shirt with purchase, I wouldn’t feel guilty selling that free tee shirt.

    I think sometimes we forget that the reason we get the free merchandise is because we are advertising for this brand. They are getting something in return. I think it would be tacky to do a review and then go around and sell the stuff without even using, but I think we’re forgetting that we are business people as bloggers. Whether we have 50 readers or 500,000, we are businesses and we are offering a service to these companies who pay us in swag.

  16. MJ

    I honestly wouldn’t sell items I received as gifts for review. I normally pass on products that I don’t use often to family and friends. I personally wouldn’t feel right selling something that I didn’t pay for in the first place.

  17. Chelsea

    As of now, I try to give away clothing I own before I sell it. Then, if it doesn’t get given away to a friend and I can’t sell it for whatever reason, I donate it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. I have never been given clothing to review, so I am not 100% sure what I would do in that situation. I did once receive a book (An Education by Lynn Barber, the memoir that inspired the 2009 film) to review, and I still own it.

    I do agree with Adored Austin’s point, though: Time is money, and it takes time to create content.

  18. Steff

    Hmm, I’ve been thinking about this issue myself lately. And not just in regards to gifted items, but also items that I paid for at a discounted rate and/or were made especially for me because the designer hoped/knew that I would blog about them. I think as long as you hold onto the items for a while and don’t abuse the whole reviewing system, it’s okay to resell them if you’re no longer wearing/using them. But I would offer the items at a very low price so that your readers/buyers benefit from the reviewing. That way you’re not really making money off of it and everyone wins.

  19. Pearl Westwood

    Great topic! I think it is fine to sell them, but only if it is done discreetly. I have seen bloggers sell gifted items on their own blogs and I find that it comes across a bit crass and disrespectful. But selling them privately on ebay (i.e not linking it to your blog in any way) or at consignment is perfectly OK. I think is is insulting to the brands/ designers to sell them publicly, it is a bit like telling someone you didn’t like the Christmas gift they gave you. I really don’t see the difference between selling a gift that you have or haven’t worn as some commenters have mentioned. Or that that it is more moral to give it away to charity or friends over selling.

  20. Katherine

    I personally don’t sell gifted items. If I don’t use something, I rather try to offer it to my friends. I can understand why bloggers would need to sell things to make room or money though. You can’t really blame them.

    I do, however, have a huge problem with bloggers who get whatever they can for free just to sell them!

    Sometimes PR reps contact me and offer me something for review, I review it and think: This is good but way too expensive, so I am going to see if I can buy it cheaper online. And suddenly ~ tons of the very same obscure items are being sold on Ebay. Irks me to no end!

  21. Debby Burk Optical

    Samples and gifted items are great for charitable donation — or keeping as a special reminder of your work with that brand!

    xx Debby readersaaa.blogspot.com

  22. Best Of Palm Beach

    I agree with most of the comments made, I think selling an item on your blog or ebay store completely tarnishes your partnership with a brand or your readers. They both may feel like they are being hustled. Even if it was received in form of payment for services rendered, it’s just tacky.

    However, I am not against selling the item in a more discreet manner such as a consignment shop or even donating it to goodwill for a tax deduction. That at the end of the year it may help you off-set some of the costs of blogging (ie. hosting fees).

    As far as beauty products are concerned, I agree with MJ, I would give those away to friends and family.

  23. Sharon

    I have not sold anything I was given as a gift. Actually, I plan on keeping the high heels forever but, that is more about me being a shoe hoarder than a question of ethics. I have received some gifts that I know I will never use and never review but, I will/have/do pass them on to family who will.
    I think that a person should treat it just as they would gifts from family or friends. Eventually, you have to clean out the closets (as I do every spring)and make a decision whether to sell, donate, or keep.
    Now, if a blogger is requesting products with the intention of immediately putting the item up for sell then, it really is wrong.

  24. Joey

    Interesting article.

    For me, I think people should be allowed to do whatever they want without other people judging their actions.

    Personally, my blog is no where near big enough to receive expensive promotional items to sell, but I do know of bloggers who do it and I actually don’t care at all. It’s their business, really.
    For example, in Singapore, there’s a flea market on some weekends and many famous and top Singapore bloggers go there to sell off stuff they don’t want anymore. The clothes could have been worn just for a promotional blog post or some not worn at all. It’s a known fact and nobody thinks its unethical or otherwise.

  25. Ami

    A lot of times I give the items as gifts to friends or just giveaway stuff I don’t want. I’ve never actually sold anything online. However, I have taken pieces to clothing re-sale places such as Wasteland or Crossroads.

  26. Tea For Two

    Logically, it SHOULD be acceptable. When I’m buying a garment from someone’s blog shop or ebay site, how the seller originally procured the item is not of concern to me. It could well have been a gift from a relative of theirs – so what? But where it becomes sticky is in having to realise that as a blogger with an audience and brand relationships happening, other people are involved. Your followers might question your integrity based on their values, regardless of what yours are, and if the brand discovers you’re selling on a gifted product, that could go down badly. Basically, if you really want to sell on gifted items you either need steel balls and no real regard for the opinions of others, or you need to openly disclose immediately (to the brand and potential buyers) that you’re selling an item that was gifted to you and let people make up their own minds once you’ve justified your position.

  27. Jen O

    If a blogger wants to convert gifted items into cash, it would seem to me that her accountant ought to be involved in making that decision.

    I can see bloggers having to pay taxes on their gifts if the Academy Awards and other Hollywood events swag issue is any indication. George Clooney auctioned off his for charity, so maybe that is one politically correct way to go with this stuff.

  28. Jessica @ Beautify My Life

    This is a really interesting topic! I’ve only tried a “blog sale” once, and it’s not something I plan to repeat. However, I have no issue consigning clothes/accessories that were sent to me — I treat them like the rest of my things, in terms of keep, donate, toss piles.

    I agree that bloggers should not be accepting swag with the intention of reselling, but it’s obviously a line that everyone has to draw individually. I also agree with Allie in that I only accept items that I believe will be interesting/useful to me. This minimizes the amount of stuff I will eventually look to get rid of.

    As for beauty products, those I give away to friends and family.

  29. May @ May's Heels

    I say yes to selling unwanted gifts but totally not ethical to do it on your own blog! Sell it on ebay or etsy or give it to a friend or family, exchange it for something else you love (like Rachel on FRIENDS). Even better, donate them to charity like Salvation Army, Soles4Souls etc. Anything but waste the effort and money of the person who gave it to you.

  30. Lucinda

    I agree with the comments that it entirely depends on the spirit with which the gift was made.

    Personally, I think it’s unethical to receive something you know you won’t use unless you’ve been “cold mailed” by a PR team. I’ve politely declined emails offering to send me items which I know don’t suit my aesthetic and/or wouldn’t be interesting to my readers.

  31. Kelsey

    Reading this article instantly reminded me of the blogger Olivia Lopez. I check her blog’s shop frequently and it seems like she sells almost everything that is sent to her after she posts it up on her blog, she’s even selling a dress that someone from a company made specifically for her! I don’t know how I could not feel guilty doing that. I’ve I that’s not unethical then you must be heartless.

  32. Sujin Shin

    While it does have to do with the circumstances under which you were gifted the item, I personally don’t think it’s right to sell gifted items. If there was a case where I had to pay my bills or such, I would begin my relationship with the brand by asking them to compensate me for the post, not receive the gifts then sell them. I always pass on items I know I won’t like and if I receive something that doesn’t suit me, I pass it on to a friend or donate it.

  33. Mack

    I have never sold any gifted piece as i would feel ashamed in selling something someone took their time to pick and gift. If i was in a situation of need and something bad was going to happen and that was the only item i had, i would consider selling or exchanging it. It is all a matter of situation.