EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 20 - August 19, 2000 - ISSN 1528-6703     4 of 10

Getting to Yes - Online! SquareTrade's Online Dispute Resolution Service

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Have you ever had an online auction seller deliver something less than promised in the item's description? Or have you ever sold something and the buyer claims you "cheated" them? Online auctions have great potential for miscommunication and misrepresentation. Now a new Web site promises to help buyers and sellers get matters cleared up as quickly and neatly as possible.

SquareTrade is a Web site offering sellers "dispute resolution" for their customers. Sellers pay SquareTrade a monthly fee for a SquareTrade seal that they display to show potential buyers that they are willing to work through potential disputes. The SquareTrade service is designed to let buyers and sellers "work together constructively to settle issues involving transactions."

SquareTrade provides direct negotiation between the two parties. It attempts to remove the emotional aspects of the dispute and get to the key elements of the problem. The seller is provided with a concise description of what the problem is and remedies to the buyer. The seller responds, and the process can continue several times.

This part of the service is included in the monthly fee that sellers pay to SquareTrade. If this process fails, then either one of the parties may request an online professional mediator. There is a $15 fee for whoever files the request - buyer or seller.

If the mediator cannot bring the dispute to a conclusion satisfactory to buyer and seller, there is nothing more that SquareTrade can do. It does not guarantee transactions of its Seal Holding sellers, though they are looking into this issue. SquareTrade says it verifies all Seal Holders and only accept those that meet their standards. Note that the seals themselves are watermarked in order to ensure that fraudulent seals are not displayed.

For sellers with revenues up to $50,000, a SquareTrade seal costs $10/month, or $100/year.

I asked Suman Dutta, SquareTrade's Director of Business Development, whether the fact that the seller is paying SquareTrade affects the outcome of the resolution process. He replied that SquareTrade's most valuable asset is their ability to resolve disputes fairly, and they would do nothing to damage their reputation. "We are first and foremost a service for consumers, and our ultimate success is based on consumers' trust in our service."

I wouldn't count on seeing SquareTrade seals on all sellers' auctions - many sellers just can't afford an additional $10/month in expenses. But for some high-volume sellers, this may be a way to show buyers that they want to make their customers happy, and those sellers will see it as the cost of doing business. (Register your opinion in the AuctionBytes.com message boards, or email me at ina@auctionbytes.com.)

SquareTrade is offering sellers a free limited-time offer at http://www.squaretrade.com/learnmore/learnmore_buyselbenon.jsp.

An interesting note to those of you who've read the classic "Getting to Yes" bestselling book by Roger Fisher and William Ury: SquareTrade informed me that Roger Fisher is on its Advisory Board.


About the author:

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.


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