In recent years, online shopping has become a huge phenomenon. On the back of this, Internet Auction sites have become an extremely popular way to purchase almost any item, usually via a bidding process. Whether trying to purchase a rare find, or find a bargain, online auction sites are the place to go.
However, if you purchase an item through an Internet auction website, you will not necessarily be covered by the same consumer rights that you have if buying from an online retail store, or shopping on the high street. Occasionally, users of Internet auction websites may run into problems regarding the quality, delivery or description of the goods that they have purchased. Internet auction websites can also be susceptible to opportunistic fraudsters. So if you are considering buying from an Internet Auction website, make sure you know what consumer rights are applicable, and how to shop online safely in this way.
Private or Business Seller?
The first fundamental point that you should be aware of is the fact that the Internet auction site is not an online retailer - that is to say that the auction site is effectively acting as just a host to the sellers, much like a paper will print private classified advertisements. This means that the Internet auction site is not responsible for the content of the advertisements placed. Unlike their live auction house counterparts, an online auction site will have no legal obligations in relation to the goods advertised for sale on its website.
You should also be aware that if your seller is based outside of the UK, any consumer rights that you usually have might not be applicable when purchasing overseas. For this reason it's always a good idea to first check the location of the seller so that you can be sure of whether any of your consumer rights are applicable.
When buying or bidding, you'll be purchasing from either a private seller or a registered business seller. It is partly your responsibility to decide whether you feel that the seller is trustworthy and bona fide. This can be done in a number of ways - for a private seller, it is worth checking their feedback, the actual comments left and what contact details have been made available to you. If buying from a private seller, then you should be aware that your consumer rights are effectively relatively limited compared to buying from a business. Private sellers in particular may not always be clear about their terms of sale, and what their returns policy is. If the auction website does not stipulate a general returns policy that sellers must comply with, then you should contact the seller prior the end of auction or purchasing the item, to ascertain their individual terms of sale and returns policy.
Private sellers are, by law, only expected to provide an accurate description ('as described') of the item that they are selling. This means that unlike a business seller, the items don't have to be of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose.