Define: Commission Merchant

Commission Merchant
Commission Merchant
Quick Summary of Commission Merchant

A commission merchant is a person or entity that acts as an intermediary between buyers and sellers, facilitating the sale or purchase of goods or services. The commission merchant earns a commission or fee for their services.

What is the dictionary definition of Commission Merchant?
Dictionary Definition of Commission Merchant

A commission merchant, also known as a commission agent or consignee, is an intermediary or middleman who facilitates the sale or purchase of goods on behalf of clients, typically for a commission or fee. The role of a commission merchant involves acting as an agent or representative for buyers or sellers in commercial transactions, particularly in the context of agricultural products, commodities, or merchandise.

Some of the key characteristics of a commission merchant are:

  • Agency Relationship: The commission merchant acts as an agent for clients (either buyers or sellers), representing their interests and executing transactions on their behalf.
  • Facilitating Transactions: Commission merchants assist in the marketing, sale, or procurement of goods, connecting buyers and sellers to facilitate transactions.
  • Marketing Expertise: Commission merchants often possess specialised knowledge of market conditions, pricing trends, and distribution channels, which they leverage to maximise sales or procurement outcomes for clients.
  • Handling Logistics: In addition to marketing and sales, commission merchants may also handle logistics, transportation, storage, and quality control of goods, ensuring efficient and timely delivery to buyers or sellers.
  • Earning Commission: Commission merchants earn compensation in the form of commissions, fees, or percentages of the transaction value based on the services provided and the terms negotiated with clients.

Commission merchants play a vital role in supply chains, particularly in industries such as agriculture, commodities trading, and wholesale distribution, where efficient and effective marketing and sales strategies are essential for commercial success. They facilitate trade and commerce by connecting producers with buyers, leveraging their expertise and industry networks to optimise outcomes for their clients.

Full Definition Of Commission Merchant

A commission merchant, also known as a factor, is a type of agent who sells goods for others, earning a commission on the sales they make. Commission merchants play a significant role in various industries, including agriculture, manufacturing, and import/export. This legal overview will explore the definition, duties, liabilities, and rights of commission merchants within the context of British law. Additionally, it will cover relevant legislation, case law, and practical considerations for those engaged in or dealing with commission merchants.

Definition and Role of Commission Merchants

A commission merchant is an agent who undertakes the sale of goods on behalf of a principal (the owner of the goods) in exchange for a commission. They operate by receiving goods from the principal, selling them to buyers, and then remitting the sale proceeds to the principal after deducting their commission and any agreed-upon expenses.

Commission merchants are distinct from brokers and other types of agents due to their possession and control over the goods they sell. This possession confers certain rights and obligations, making their legal status unique in agency law.

Duties of Commission Merchants

Duty of Care

Commission merchants must exercise reasonable care and skill in handling and selling the principal’s goods. This duty encompasses several aspects:

  • Proper Storage and Handling: They must ensure that the goods are stored appropriately to prevent damage or deterioration.
  • Market Awareness: They should be knowledgeable about market conditions to sell the goods at the best possible price.
  • Prompt Sale: They are expected to sell the goods within a reasonable timeframe to avoid unnecessary delays that could adversely affect the principal.

Duty to Account

Commission merchants have a duty to account for the goods they handle and the proceeds from sales. This includes:

  • Accurate Record-Keeping: Maintaining detailed records of transactions, including sales prices, dates, and expenses incurred.
  • Transparent Reporting: Providing the principal with timely and accurate reports on the sales and the status of the goods.

Fiduciary Duty

As agents, commission merchants owe a fiduciary duty to their principals. This entails:

  • Loyalty: Acting in the best interest of the principal and avoiding conflicts of interest.
  • Confidentiality: Protecting the principal’s confidential information and not using it for personal gain.

Liabilities of Commission Merchants

Contractual Liability

Commission merchants can be held liable for breaching the terms of their contract with the principal. This includes failing to sell the goods as agreed or mishandling the goods in their possession.

Tort Liability

If a commission merchant negligently damages the principal’s goods or acts in a way that causes financial loss to the principal, they can be held liable in tort. This liability arises from their duty of care.

Statutory Liability

Various statutes impose additional liabilities on commission merchants. For instance, under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, they must ensure that the goods sold conform to the description and quality standards specified.

Rights of Commission Merchants

Right to Commission

Commission merchants are entitled to receive a commission for their services, typically calculated as a percentage of the sales price. The rate of commission is usually stipulated in the contract with the principal.

Right to Reimbursement

They have the right to be reimbursed for expenses reasonably incurred in the course of selling the principal’s goods. This might include costs related to storage, transportation, and marketing.

Right to Lien

Commission merchants have a lien on the goods in their possession for unpaid commission and expenses. This means they can retain the goods until the principal settles any outstanding amounts owed.

Relevant Legislation

Sale of Goods Act, 1979

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 is a key piece of legislation that affects commission merchants. It outlines the rights and obligations concerning the sale and quality of goods, and commission merchants must ensure compliance with these provisions when selling on behalf of their principals.

Factors Act 1889

The Factors Act 1889 specifically addresses the role of commission merchants, particularly concerning their authority and rights over the goods they handle. Key aspects include:

  • Apparent Authority: The Act provides that third parties can assume that commission merchants have the authority to sell the goods in their possession.
  • Lien Rights: It codifies the right of commission merchants to retain a lien over goods for unpaid commissions and expenses.

Consumer Rights Act 2015

Where commission merchants sell goods to consumers, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 applies. This Act mandates certain standards of quality and fairness in transactions involving consumers, and commission merchants must ensure compliance to avoid legal disputes.

Case Law

Dronfield Silkstone Coal Co. v. Midland Coal, Coke and Iron Co. (1886)

This case established important principles regarding the duty of care and skill expected of commission merchants. The court held that a commission merchant must act with the same level of care and diligence as would be expected of a reasonably competent professional in their field.

Scruttons Ltd v Midland Silicones Ltd [1962] AC 446

This case underscored the importance of fiduciary duty, highlighting that commission merchants must not place themselves in a position where their personal interests conflict with those of their principals.

Practical Considerations

Contractual Clarity

To avoid disputes, commission merchants and principals should ensure that their contracts clearly outline the terms of their relationship, including the rate of commission, the scope of authority, and procedures for handling expenses and reimbursements.


Commission merchants should consider obtaining insurance to cover potential liabilities arising from the handling and sale of goods. This can provide financial protection in cases of damage, loss, or legal claims.

Compliance and Training

Staying informed about relevant legislation and case law is crucial for commission merchants. Regular training and legal advice can help ensure compliance with all applicable laws and best practices.


Commission merchants play a vital role in various industries by facilitating the sale of goods on behalf of principals. Their unique position as agents with possession of the goods imposes specific duties, liabilities, and rights, all governed by a combination of common law principles and statutory provisions. Understanding these legal aspects is essential for commission merchants and those who engage their services to navigate their relationships effectively and mitigate potential risks.

By adhering to their duties of care, accounting, and loyalty and by understanding their rights to commission, reimbursement, and lien, commission merchants can operate successfully within the bounds of British law. Regular updates on legislative changes and case law developments, along with clear contractual agreements and adequate insurance coverage, further support their professional practice.

In summary, the legal framework governing commission merchants is designed to balance the interests of both the merchant and the principal, ensuring fair and efficient transactions in the marketplace.

Commission Merchant FAQ'S

A commission merchant is a person or entity that acts as an intermediary between buyers and sellers, facilitating the sale of goods or services for a commission fee.

The responsibilities of a commission merchant include marketing and promoting the goods or services, negotiating sales contracts, handling payment transactions, and ensuring the timely delivery of the goods or services.

While not always required, it is highly recommended to have a written agreement in place when engaging a commission merchant. This agreement should outline the terms and conditions of the arrangement, including the commission rate, payment terms, and any other relevant details.

The commission rate is typically negotiated between the commission merchant and the client. It can be a fixed percentage of the sale price, a flat fee, or a combination of both, depending on the nature of the goods or services being sold.

Yes, a commission merchant can represent multiple clients simultaneously, as long as there is no conflict of interest between the clients. It is important for the commission merchant to disclose any potential conflicts and obtain the necessary consent from all parties involved.

If the commission merchant is unable to sell the goods or services within the agreed-upon timeframe, the client may have the option to terminate the agreement or renegotiate the terms. It is advisable to include provisions for such situations in the written agreement.

No, a commission merchant is generally bound by confidentiality obligations and should not disclose any confidential information about the client’s business without proper authorization. It is advisable to include a confidentiality clause in the written agreement to protect sensitive information.

Yes, a commission merchant may charge additional fees for specific services or expenses incurred during the sale process, as long as these fees are agreed upon in advance and clearly outlined in the written agreement.

In case of a dispute, it is recommended to refer to the dispute resolution mechanism outlined in the written agreement. This may involve negotiation, mediation, or arbitration. If the dispute cannot be resolved through these methods, legal action may be necessary.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 10th June 2024.

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