Consumer concern over security of auction sites

An Office of Fair Trading study of more than 2,000 online shoppers has found consumers face a number of uncertainties when buying items from online auction sites, such as eBay.

“Despite the profile of online auctions and their apparent widespread use by respondents to our survey, it was clear that many people we surveyed had concerns about using them,” according to the OFT.

For those who had never used auction sites, the main reasons related to trust and security fears. About half (52%) of the online survey respondents who had bought items from an auction site in the last 12 months had experienced at least one problem in the past year.

Though most of these problems mirrored those of internet shopping generally, buyers on auction sites perceived that they had been victims of deceptions such as counterfeiting, or sellers bidding up their items.

There is also some uncertainty as to whether the Distance Selling Regulations apply to auction sites, though an ongoing European Commission review may help to clarify this, according to the OFT.

The study found that 60% of online survey respondents who bought items from an online auction wanted to know whether they were buying from a business, rather than an individual, as this affects both their confidence and their rights.

The OFT study did not specifically address whether travel was an area of particular concern to auction shoppers. However, the study did note that a growing percentage of online auction purchases were fixed-priced purchases, indicating that shoppers are more comfortable with a fixed-price model.

This finding coincides with analysts’ view that eBay Travel is likely to find the most success with a fixed-based pricing model.

The OFT reports that eBay had more than 15 million registered users in the UK as of May 2006 (although some may be multiple accounts), and more than 233 million worldwide as of the first quarter of this year. is one of the most visited websites in the UK, with visits to the site accounting for 11% of the total time spent on the internet in the UK.

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