If one angry Manchester United fan has his way, an eBay seller will be taking him to court very shortly. Warrington man David Bonner bid Â£660,000 for one of the match programmes commemorating 50 years since the Munich air crash. Unsurprisingly, he won the auction. Now the seller has contacted him demanding payment. “He’s got no chance,” said the unapologetic bidder, “I hope they take me to court, because the sellers should be named and shamed.”
eBay had cancelled ten other bids placed by Mr Bonner on match programmes, each for Â£6,666,666. Quite why they wouldn’t have cancelled his account altogether, I can’t really work out: there are plenty of things on eBay that I object to, but that doesn’t give me the right to bid stupid amounts of money for them and then refuse to pay. Mr Bonner is clearly in breach of the (“you will not … fail to pay for items purchased by you … [or] manipulate the price of any item or interfere with other users’ listings”); being so so spectacularly, publicly and unrepentently ought to get his account closed down.
But it would be an interesting court case, which might finally establish whether that mainstay of eBay trading “your bid is a binding contract” would actually stand up in law, and whether eBay auctions are actually auctions in the legal sense or not. If they are, then Mr Bonner has to pay up, but the Distance Selling Regulations won’t apply to eBay auctions, and sellers can refuse to accept the return of goods for change of mind.
It’s my opinion that the DSRs do apply to eBay auctions, because they’re not true auctions because the buyer doesn’t get to physically examine the goods. And I would expect that if ever the current legislation were found to exempt eBay from the DSRs, that legislation would be changed. Consumer protection legislators will be more concerned with the process by which the customer receives the goods, than the process by which the price was decided. And in that case it will be more important that the customer has bought at a distance, than that they bought via a bidding process. But I don’t know – it’s about time we had some case law, and Mr Bonner and his seller may be just the people to provide it for us.