Since March 2020, small businesses have suffered more losses than they have in nearly a century. The pandemic has led to an incalculable loss of lives and livelihoods, forcing thousands of businesses to close and devastating our economy. As the delta variant spreads across our country, millions of workers and business owners are wondering when they’ll finally catch a break.
I believe that a break will come as the American workforce and economy persevere in the face of adversity. Businesses are continuing to reopen and Americans have had a taste of a return to normalcy. Although the delta variant poses a threat to this return to normal, I am confident that we will get there.
However, the delta variant is not the only threat to small businesses right now. A bill proposed in the Pennsylvania General Assembly represents a move by our state government to tip the scales for big-box retailers. Though positioned as a measure to prevent organized retail crime, the bill is actually a retail industry-led push to funnel money from online sellers like me back to their stores. And unfortunately, it reflects a growing trend among more than a dozen other states to push through similar legislation.
On its surface, this bill appears to propose levying reasonable provisions on individual online sellers. In reality, it poses a direct threat to the personal privacy and safety of tens of thousands of Pennsylvanian small businesses that rely on the virtual marketplace to thrive. To be precise, this bill would require so-called “high volume sellers” to provide “business” addresses and phone numbers on all of their online listings.
The problems with this requirement are twofold: The first is privacy. Since many individual online sellers work from home, they lack business addresses and telephone numbers. If the bill becomes law, they would be required to publicize their home addresses and private phone numbers on the internet for all to see. For anyone who hasn’t worked in retail, I can assure you there are many customers with whom a retailer would definitely not want to share this information.
The second problem with HB 1594 concerns the bill’s definition of “high volume seller,” which is defined as any individual or business that has engaged in at least 200 transactions or grossed $5,000 in revenue over the course of two years. This comes to less than four transactions per week or about $6.80 per day. The majority of people selling goods or services online—whether they are hobbyists, storefront retailers dabbling in online commerce, or someone trying to make an honest dollar during difficult times—would fall into this so-called “high volume” category. Forcing sellers to disclose sensitive personal data without even having a business entity allows big-box retailers who have local stores to dominate the market while harming online sellers of all sizes located throughout the state.
This is a deeply personal fight for me. I began my small business, Conshy Consignment, in 2012 as a brick-and-mortar location. During my first year of business, I decided that I wanted to have an online presence and began selling on eBay as well. Within a couple of years, my online store was outselling my brick-and-mortar location. With the cost of rent so high, I decided to make the change and move my business exclusively to eBay. Since then, we average 500 transactions a month.
I started my own store because I wanted to do something sustainable and create a more financially stable future for my family. But selling online has completely changed my life. Having an online presence for my business has given me that security and flexibility I wanted. It allowed me to be home with my family, while also running a successful business. This flexibility became even more important when the pandemic hit. Selling online kept a steady flow of income coming into my home. Without it, my business would not have survived.
All things considered, I don’t know where I’d be today without having been able to sell on eBay. If legislation like this had passed during the pandemic, I’m not sure what decision I would have made—give up selling online, or sacrifice my privacy so I could continue to make a living? It’s hard to think about, and I’m grateful that I wasn’t forced to choose.
Millions of Americans still face an uphill climb out of the pandemic. Online sellers are crucial to our economic recovery and simply can’t afford to be weighed down by legislation that could expose their personal details on the Internet. I hope Pennsylvania’s policymakers will defeat this bill—and others across the country follow suit.