The evidence is mounting: 2016 will be the year consumer online dispute resolution fully emerges into the mainstream. The biggest development pushing this forward is the ODR regulation coming live in the European Union. Under this regulation (which is expected to go live mid-March) all eCommerce retailers in the EU must provide a link to enable their customers to file disputes on the new EU ODR platform, which has been built and will be maintained by the EU. The regulation specifically requires merchants to “inform consumers about the existence of the ODR platform and the possibility of using the ODR platform for resolving their disputes.”
How will merchants accomplish this? The regulation is quite explicit: Merchants “…shall provide an electronic link to the ODR platform on their websites and, if the offer is made by e-mail, in that e-mail. The information shall also be provided, where applicable, in the general terms and conditions applicable to online sales and service contracts.”
At launch, the regulation will not have much enforcement muscle behind it so some merchants may elect to take a chance on not abiding by the requirements when mid-March rolls around. Most likely, the best EU merchants whose business practices and customer service are already excellent are either already offering ODR or will more quickly and readily adopt it because they know it’s in their customers’ best interest to receive fast and fair resolutions to their transaction problems. One thing is clear: to have such a major commercial region like the EU mandating ODR for all online merchants is a major step forward, and other geographies will likely follow suit to ensure that their consumers are also covered by equivalent protections.
The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) ODR Working Group will also likely be wrapping up in the Summer of 2016 and it appears that there will be a consensus document generated that calls on national consumer protection authorities and online intermediaries to make high quality, impartial, easy-to-access ODR available to all global online consumers. This will provide additional momentum in pushing the expansion of consumer ODR to the forefront in 2016.
Everyone who has seriously examined the challenge of cross-border consumer transaction problems has concluded that ODR is the only feasible option. It has taken a decade for this realization to convert itself into policy, platform, and technological change, but it appears that the time has finally arrived. I predict that by the end of 2016, universal consumer access to effective and efficient ODR will be conventional wisdom. Now the challenge is making sure worldwide ODR lives up to its promise and potential.