Today, online auction websites (OAW’s) have become very popular, for people to buy and sell very unique and cheap products. The internet has turned out to be a very useful media to enable sales of such products, across the globe. Online business may connect various groups including consumers to consumers, business organisations to business organisations or business organisations to the consumers. Many of the OAW’s such as E-bay have specifically said that in case of consumer to consumer business, they would be acting as mere venue providers and cannot be held more liable that the role it is playing.
This was inferred in the case Gentry vs. eBay (2005). The Consumer Protection Regulations are meant to protect the consumers from businesses. However, in a customer to customer scenario, there may be no specific legislation or a legal system which can be applied, as both parties do not have many responsibilities as compared to business organisations. The consumer would be playing the role of a buyer or a seller in a customer to customer scenario. In the past, the consumer protection statutes have been applied in such situations, which may not always be appropriate.
In such situations, alternative dispute resolutions seem to be appropriate. One of the largest online business organisation namely ebay has provided an alternative dispute tribunal to help resolve the consumer to consumer cases especially the online auction issues. This tribunal is known as ‘consolidated dispute console’. In this tribunal, both the buyer and the seller can meet, and all issues can be sorted out. A panel of professionals would be helping the consumers to resolve all disputes. Consumers can also search insurance organisations which would be covering the online auction websites from any risks.
In the litigation in courts, the consumers face a lot of disadvantages including:- High costs Difficulty in acquiring the data Getting information of the opposite party (Gu, 2007, Rogerson, 2003). Several international organisations are trying to make online auctioning not only less risky, but also more pleasurable for the consumers. Online auction frauds are the most reported every year with consumers. Some of the fraudulent issues that can develop include late shipment, no shipment at all, poor quality of goods, goods not promised what they are actually are, bogus payments, etc.
The web site would not be taking any responsibility. However, the consumers should follow the terms and conditions posted on the website. An auction would compulsory mean that the product would be sold to the highest bidder. If the consumer fails to sell the product to the highest bidder, then the very need of auction would not be met. This clearly constitutes online fraud, and is punishable. The user is making the internet a difficult place, by promising to sell the product, but not actually selling it.
It is also illegal for the seller to place ‘shall’ bids with the intention of raising the price of the product. The seller cannot also sell anything that is illegal. The seller has to ship the good within a period of 30 days to the buyer (or the time frame which has been mutually decided). In this case, Sue is bound to follow the terms and conditions of the online auction website. Once the consumer who has bid highest is available, the seller should get into touch with him. If the seller wishes not to give the product to the higher bidder, then he/she should get in touch with him.
The buyer if not provided with the product can approach the alternative dispute means or litigate in court. When the seller is advertising his/her product for online auction, he/she should do so accurately and sincerely. The seller should clearly state whether the product is new, used or a reconditioned product. They should be able to answer all the questions the buyer has about the product or the service. It would be better to include a photograph of the product to ensure that the buyer has an idea of the product and to prevent any legal dispute from arising.
The minimum bid of the product should be clearly stated, and the terms and conditions under which the product would b shipped should also be clearly mentioned. If the highest bidder has followed all the other terms and conditions, then I do not think so that the seller can withdraw from selling the product to the highest bidder. The seller has created a violation under the contract laws as he has agreed to the terms and conditions of the web site. The web site terms and conditions can be considered as the basis for holding the seller liable. Some of the legal remedies that Tara can go in for to sue.
Sue and/or the Magazine company for not giving the product includes:- Filing a complaint before the attorney general’s office Filing a complaint before the consumer protection organisation Several trade organisations such as the Federal Trade commission or the Bureau for better Business Alternate dispute resolution (such as E-bay’s Consolidated Dispute Console) (Gu, 2007, Rogerson, 2003). As online trade is another version of auctioneering, the plaintiff and the defendant should examine the offline auctioneering rules to find out who could be liable.