Buying from an online platform

Could not find your dream watch via a normal website? Looking for a second hand mega deal? Or a hotel or flight at the best possible price? In such cases you will frequently be directed to an online platform. 

A single website which gives you access to hundreds or even thousands of products and services offered by sellers across the globe. Using search engines you can personalise searches and easily compare prices. To put it a nutshell, find a tailor made offer. 

However, buying from such a platform is not without risk. Always ask yourself the following questions:

What is the role of the platform?

Usually the company operating the online platform does not sell products or services as such. It gives third parties (professional or private sellers) the opportunity to offer their products and/or services for sale via its online platform, enabling them to use the logistics of the platform (layout, order procedure, payment system etc.) to enter into contracts with consumers.

Purchases made via the platform are non-binding for the platform operator, which means that you have no redress with them in the event of problems with the order. Nevertheless, some platforms will act as an intermediary between the seller and the consumer in the event of a dispute.

If the platform is executing part of an agreement, they are obliged to inform you accordingly. For example, sometimes a platform will manage the payment or dispatch of your purchase. A platform must clarify, together with the seller, who does what.

Who is the seller?

Every online seller is obliged to notify you of their identity, even if they are selling via an online platform.

Irrespective of whether you are making a purchase directly via a web shop or via an online platform, always check the seller’s identity and verify:

  • whether they are based in the EU. Why? Because it is much more difficult to exercise your rights (e.g. right of withdrawal or legal guarantee) if the seller is not European.
  • whether they are a trader or private seller. Why? Is the seller a private individual? If so, you will not be covered by consumer laws such as the right of withdrawal and legal guarantee.
  • how you can contact them in the event of a problem. Why? Because the seller is solely responsible in the event of a problem with your purchase.

Are you making a purchase via an online platform? It is the seller rather than the platform who is responsible for implementing the sales agreement. However, the platform must:

  • indicate the parameters on the basis of which they classify offers from third parties.
  • indicate whether the seller is a trader or private individual. This must be done on the basis of the declaration received from the seller.
  • point out that you are not covered by consumer laws, such as the right of withdrawal or legal guarantee if you buy from a private individual.

How do you prevent fraud?

Platforms are not obliged to check a seller's true identity. Fraudsters use this loophole to present misleading or even fictitious offers. 

Be vigilant, because platforms usually stipulate in their terms and conditions of use that they are not liable for the content of offers, photographs and other information posted therein by sellers. This means that you have no redress with the platform if you are the victim of a fraudulent offer. 

In order to minimise fraud some online platforms provide a central payment system on their website. Once the product or service has been supplied the platform transmits the money to the seller. If problems occur you can notify the platform to stop the money from being transmitted until the dispute is resolved. 

Always pay via the platform and never comply with requests from sellers to complete the sale or payment outside the platform, e.g. via e-mail. 

Be vigilant about the type of payment method used. If possible use a credit card, which will give you the option to contest the payment.

Online auctions

Public auctions have been around for a very long time. The highest bidder is obliged to pay the price of the bid. The arrival of the internet made it possible to organise auctions via online platforms. Public auctions are subject to specific rules, including the right of withdrawal.

An auction is considered a public auction when:

  • a business offers goods or services to a consumer
  • you have the opportunity to attend the auction in person
  • a transparent competitive bid procedure is used
  • a ministerial official is present
  • the winner of the bid is obliged to buy the auction lot.

Does the online auction meet all the above criteria? If so, there will be no cooling-off period.

In practice, however, online auctions do not meet all the above criteria. For example, you will not have the opportunity to attend the auction in person. Or it will not be possible for a bailiff or other ministerial official to check every sale. In such cases you are entitled to a fourteen day cooling-off period from the time you receive the item you made a successful bid for. Or from the time you won a bid for a specific service. Remember: this only applies if you made a purchase privately from a trader.

Tip: Check classified ads websites or online auction platforms to verify that all the criteria are met before making an online bid. And check what the platform/seller stipulate about the right of withdrawal. This way you will know what to expect if you want to enforce this right in practice.