Q: I received merchandise on consignment, and it was lost through oness (circumstances beyond my control). Am I liable for it?
A: A person who accepts merchandise with the express understanding of reselling can retract and return it if he does not find buyers.
While you hold the merchandise with the intention to sell, you are liable for any oness that occurs to it, since at that point you are considered a buyer (or borrower). While the merchandise is being returned, though, you are liable only as a shomer sachar (Nesivos 185:3; 186:1-2).
Similarly, if a sarsur takes the merchandise to another city to sell, if it is lost through oness on the way there, he is liable.
However, if he did not find customers and is returning with the merchandise, he is then a shomer sachar and exempt if it is lost through oness, unless it is also common to find buyers while returning (C.M. 186:2; Sma 186:4).
If the common commercial practice is otherwise, or the consignment contract states other terms, they are binding.