7 Popular Products You CAN'T Sell Online (Without Special Permits)

Shopping online has made your life easier. You can browse through the merchandise of thousands of stores and comparison shop until you are exhausted. Some days, the possibilities do seem endless. If you choose, you can survive entirely on items purchased online. That's not to say that everything you want to own can be bought through ecommerce. According to state and/or federal law, some products cannot legally be sold online. Others are allowed but only with restrictions. In addition, each territory and nation has its own laws and regulations, so shipping and ordering abroad bring their own complications. To stay on the right side of the law, you need to do your research before buying certain items.


In most states, you can purchase alcohol online and have it shipped directly to your home. There are a few exceptions, however.

Online liquor distributors may not ship to Alabama, Alaska, Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Utah. Idaho residents may only have wine sent to their homes. Shipping alcohol directly in some states is a felony — bringing with it severe legal penalties.

To get around these laws, some distributors are working to partner with local stores in the same way that FTD Florists sell online bouquets.


In the U.S. guns can be legally purchased online from a licensed dealer. However, they can only be shipped out-of-state if they are sent to a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL). That means you can order online but must pick it up from a licensed dealer who can check to make certain you are a legal buyer. State laws vary to some degree and federal law allows gun owners to lend certain sporting rifles for a limited amount of time.

Before selling or shipping any firearm, make certain that you are in compliance with all pertinent laws. Federal Law states that, "any person who engages in the business of dealing in firearms must be licensed." In other words, if you repetitively buy and sell firearms for the purpose of generating a profit, then you need a license — otherwise you do not.

Federal law acknowledges that the growth of new technologies and ecommerce have given gun dealers the ability to sell and market firearms to a much larger audience at a minimal cost. However, the same law for brick-and-mortar sellers applies to those who sell online and at temporary locations – like flea markets and gun shows.

Even if you're a licensed firearm dealer, many credit card processing companies will not approve business that buy and sell firearms. Make sure to check your payment processing provider's acceptable use policy to make sure you can process transactions through your ecommerce store.


Tobacco lovers can order some products online, but cigarettes are usually not among them. That means that cigarette smokers are still limited to buying locally. Other tobacco products — such as cigars — are usually permitted online purchases – but, as usual – state laws vary. For instance, Maryland outlaws online cigar sales as well as cigarette sales. Before attempting to sell or buy tobacco products online, check your state or national laws in order to avoid legal complications.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Again, regulations vary, but some states do not allow online purchases and out-of-state shipping of fresh fruits and vegetables. California has strict limitations in this area due to fear of agricultural pest infiltration. Most states have regulations on labeling, handling and packaging that must be followed as well.


Animal lovers rightfully have serious concerns about the ecommerce of animals. Shopping for a pet online and having it shipped to your home is legal in many states, although animal rights groups have concerns about the practice. Each state and territory has regulations about the transport conditions for these domestic animals.

Purchasing exotic animals is a different matter and is illegal in some areas, whether done through ecommerce or not. If someone offers you an exotic pet online, do your research and find out if it is legal in your state, territory or country.

Prescription Drugs

Many ecommerce pharmacies now exist that allow you to transfer your prescription out-of-state and have drugs mailed to your home. These businesses do verify prescriptions before sending you the medications.

The pharmacy landscape is changing with the advent of telemedicine doctors — physicians that can write prescriptions for some ailments by conducting a phone or online examination with you. These doctors are board-certified but are limited in what they can prescribe without conducting an in-person exam. In general, they can legally prescribe antibiotics, antifungals, allergy meds, oral contraceptives, decongestant nasal sprays, high blood pressure medications and cholesterol-fighting drugs. However, you are responsible for verifying the pharmacy's legal status.

Foreign pharmacies are a different matter. The FDA allows some drugs to be exported into the US if they meet several criteria, including declaring them to US Customs. Foreign pharmacies cannot legally sell and ship drugs to your home.

Illegal Items

Some people think that if something is available online, they are allowed to buy it. Of course, this idea is completely false. You may not purchase an illegal item online and have it sent to your home (even if the item is legal in the area where it is sold). The onus is on you to follow the laws of your state and country.

While a few items are completely illegal to purchase online, others are strictly regulated. What is okay to buy in Maine may be forbidden in California. Purchasing items from an overseas supplier means you have to be even more vigilant. Although sellers should follow ecommerce laws, they sometimes cut corners. If you have any doubts about the legality of an online item, check the laws and regulations that apply to you.