Internet auction sites offer a tempting shop window with a wide range of merchandise, ready to buy at the click of a button. For sellers, they offer an easy way to advertise and sell their goods. But before you bid, do you know your rights?
Whilst auction sites seem to be straightforward, they don't operate in the same way as traditional auctioneers, and they don't have the same responsibilities. When you buy something from an internet auction site, you are usually buying from the seller, not the site, so it is the seller you will need to complain to if something goes wrong. The seller could be a private individual, or a business. It is important to know if the seller is a private individual or a business, as this will affect your rights.
As a general rule, you will have more rights if the seller is a business trader than if they are a private individual. For instance, in a private sale, the goods must be as described, but a seller who is not acting as a business isn't covered by the rules on satisfactory quality and fitness for purpose. One of the biggest problems with internet auctions is that it may not always be possible to tell if the seller is a business trader, and if you have a problem, it could be harder to get it put right than if you bought from a shop. Some auction websites offer complaints resolution processes or anti-fraud guarantees. Not all do though, so read the terms and conditions. The obligations which the website has to you are likely to be limited.
Enjoy the flexibility e-shopping gives you, but be sensible and know the risks.
It's not always possible to tell whether you are buying from a business trader on an internet auction site. A seller who is a business trader should tell you that they're a business trader before the sale is made. However, many traders don't do this and pretend to be private sellers in order to avoid their legal responsibilities towards their customers.
Some things which might tell you that you are buying from a business trader are if:
None of these indications are decisive, as private individuals could easily establish a false "business" front and vice versa.
Some internet auction sites have a protection scheme. These schemes can deal with problems such as non-delivery of goods or goods not matching their description. They can be useful if you want to avoid going to court, or the seller is from overseas, so it's worth checking if you can make a claim under one of these schemes.
However, you need to consider the following:
Many payments for things bought on internet auction sites are now made through special payment services, such as PayPal. Payment services will collect your money and won't release it to the seller until you have received your goods.
These services can be useful, but they do offer very different levels of protection for your money. Look carefully at the terms and conditions to find out what the scheme does or doesn't do. You may have to pay a fee to use a payment protection scheme, so it's important to shop around for the best one.
When you use an online payment service, you may find that your payments are not fully protected in some circumstances, for example, if you are dealing with sellers from overseas. You may also find that you are not protected if:
If you aren't able to trace the seller, contact the website. The site may be able to give you the seller's details. There is nothing in law which prevents them from doing this. However, they don't have to give you the seller's details if they don't want to.
If the seller appears to operate their own website with their own domain name, it may be possible to find out how to contact them by searching on a 'Who is' search engine, such asor (UK domains only).