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Virtual Disputes Are Very Real: Resolving Consumer Complaints

ecommerce_472With the internet being as prevalent as it is today, most people have either bought or sold items online. Some people rely on the internet as their main method of shopping, while others use online resources to compare competing prices before physically heading to the store. No matter how you use the internet for business, conflict is an underlying issue that is definitely going to be included in transactions. It is important for you to understand that these types of conflicts are unique because of the distance and anonymity between the seller and buyer. Usually, the individuals conducting business do not know each other and most likely will never meet. There is in a sense a virtual disconnect between seller and buyer; however, disputes between the two remain very real. Language barriers and cultural differences on both sides of the transaction create an even more complex situation.

So how have websites like eBay, a major online shopping platform, been so successful in establishing smooth transactions and customer confidence? The reason for these successes is primarily due to a trust-based feedback system. After each transaction, both the seller and buyer leave feedback remarks about each other. That way, a new customer can choose a vendor and read about the experiences of previous customers. Additionally, this motivates sellers to conduct legitimate and appropriate business because a negative review might deter a future buyer. This method has created a safe and organized business environment amongst strangers that other marketplaces like Craigslist cannot offer. However, even with this structure, conflicts are bound to arise.

On a previous Texas Conflict Coach® radio show, Colin Rule, current CEO of Modria, an online dispute resolution company and former eBay and PayPal’s director of online dispute resolution spoke about some of the issues he noticed when dealing with online disputes. During his time with eBay, he created a page with advice on how to deal with conflicts. Interestingly, when the strategies were localized for the Italian eBay site, many believed that the tips were written in a patronizing way. Instead of directly changing the advice, the importance was on rephrasing it in a culturally acceptable way. Cultural standards and social boundaries are often overlooked during online disputes. Another strategy towards preventing online disputes that Rule mentioned while on the show was the significance of creating a personal or conversational relationship with the users. It is easy to skip over traditional conversational norms when dealing online with a person you will never meet. Rule mentions that being polite and conducting online interactions more similarly to face-to-face interactions has better results in resolving disputes.

However, when online disputes cannot be resolved through the use of a feedback system or personal negotiation, a neutral third-party is most beneficial. Centers like Youstice, featured on a previous show, and Modria provide the resources for turning online disputes into resolutions. These types of sites provide quick results and allow the customer to feel like their disputes are more personalized. The issue of a language barrier is overcome with the help of Youstice because their system automatically translates disputes and interactions into the corresponding language. eBay currently uses a similar third-party dispute resolution center in order to reduce hurried negative feedback posts, create customer trust and resolve online disputes in a timely and fair manner.

If you are interested in learning more about online conflicts and dispute resolution, visit this resource and also check out Online Dispute Resolution for Business (Jossey-Bass, 2003) written by Colin Rule.

John Wagner

Student Intern

Salisbury University – Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution

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