Is There a Warranty on that Hex?

eBay has banned the sale of magic spells.

No more tarot card readings. No more conjurings. No more magic potions.

Darn. And I was just about to go buy me some digital JuJu.

Why did eBay stop? The answer warms this dispute resolution professional’s heart.

eBay will no longer serve as a marketplace for the sale of these services because they “often result in issues that can be difficult to resolve.”

Well, ya think?!

Let’s see just how difficult these issues could be to resolve. But first, let’s back up a bit and put some context around this.

Commercial Disputes: from $10 to $10 Billion

The scale of commercial transactions can be seen on a spectrum. From eBay transactions on stuff that in an earlier age would have been sold in a weekend garage sale, to customer relations on consumer goods, to disputes between businesses, to multi-billion dollar disputes between transnational enterprises.

The swing on the expensive end of that spectrum can fuel a lot of animosity. The potential risks and rewards can justify a lot of capital expense in lawyering-up and fighting. “Send lawyers, guns and money” Warren Zevon sings.

Commercial disputes can be accurately described as a difference in the parties’ expectations. One party thought the transaction was one thing; the other party thought it was going to be something else. It didn’t turn out that way, so one party – or maybe both – are disappointed.

Dashed Expectations

Yet it doesn’t take bank-loads of money at risk for people to get upset. It isn’t necessary for the numbers to have lots of zeroes for people to get very exercised about their conflicts. They can do that all by themselves over a pittance. All it takes is a small transaction – the scale of a item sold in a garage sale or on eBay – that doesn’t go as they expected.

That’s because all commercial disputes at base share the same conflict dynamic. What is that? All commercial disputes are conflicts among humans. Humans can become disappointed over relatively small things.

Agreements at the outset that set clear expectations are the best dispute prevention. When millions and billions of dollars are involved armies of lawyers and paralegals can be hired to create massive contracts that could fill rooms. On a smaller scale, two partners going into business together can benefit from even a two page contract.

Yet even one-page contract may not always be possible. Spending time for each buyer and seller to reach an agreement isn’t always in the cards. Front-loading a marketplace with measures to prevent conflict in all transactions isn’t always efficient.

What to do? Instead, back-load the system to deal with just the transactions that wind-up in disputes.

That’s what eBay did.

Online Resolutions to Low-Value Disputes

The millions of participants on eBay rivals the largest countries in the world. It faced having hundreds of thousands of disputes involving transactions over relatively small amounts. It used its expertise in the online world to address the challenge that all these disputes posed to its marketplace. It created what is probably the most extensive Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) system in the world to handle this high-volume of low-value disputes. It has been on the cutting-edge of ODR from the get-go.

eBay was able to do this because people doing transactions in consumer goods largely have the same expectations. Even millions of individuals from all around the world will all have similar ideas about how the deal should go down: The thing should work. It should be as described. It shouldn’t be broken. If it’s worn it should be cheaper. It should be delivered when promised.

It’s so much more likely for parties to have differing expectations when at the outset there isn’t any basis for even beginning to understand what the transaction is supposed to be.

Which brings us back to the warranty on that hex.

Resolving Disputes about Magic

How long should a voodoo curse take? How do you decide how whether a tarot card reading was accurate enough? How do you know if a healing blessing was effective?

How would you even begin to resolve these disputes?

I don’t have a clue. Apparently neither did eBay.

Maybe we’ll see the emergence of a new online marketplace for this stuff. CurseBay? I’ll be interested to see how they resolve their disputes.

photo credit: deflam via photopin cc

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