TradeMe to take no action against rogue seller

TradeMe will take no action against Massey, Auckland trader Ernie Travers, whom this morning was issued a formal warning by the Commerce Commission.

The commission said Mr Travers had, in its view, breached the Commerce Act by attempting to fix prices for LED bicycle lights by contacting another seller and suggesting they collude on pricing.

Mr Travers allegedly sent an email saying: "Hey, how about instead of continually discounting these lights we agree to one price. $189 and stick to it. Post a question as a reply on one of my auctions if you like then no buyers will know about this. I am sure we will both get a share of the market if we are both consistent on the price."

Mr Travers told the Commerce Commission he had not sent the offending email, but was unable to explain who had.

Watchdog warning enough
TradeMe Trust and Safety Manager Chris Budge told NBR the auction site would not terminate Mr Travers’ account, or censor him in any other fashion.

It will, however, keep a close eye on his future trading.

The Commerce Commission’s formal warning, and the attendant publicity, was considered enough in itself, said Mr Budge - especially as TradeMe had not found any action by Mr Travers that broke the law, or the site’s terms and conditions, before or after the auction focussed on by the commission.

No complaint to TradeMe
Had TradeMe been aware of the price-fixing allegation while the auction was on, it would have delisted the item, said Mr Budge.

However, the Fairfax-owned site had been unaware of the accusation. “People have a couple of choices when they want to complain,” said Mr Budge. “They can either complain to us [there are links at the bottom of each page], or they can go to the Commerce Commission or the police”.

In this instance, the person who complained went to the commission, and TradeMe was unaware of the allegation of anti-competitive behaviour until approached by the government watchdog.

ABOVE: Trading as pop007, Ernie Travers has drawn mixed feedback from those he's traded with - raising red flags for those familiar with the auction site's community ratings, Commerce Commission warning or not. One buyer warns: "Good torch but probably not worth the price I paid. This trader induced me to buy by making the representation that the torch was the only one of two left that he was selling. He is now selling four." Another: "Was not honest about the condition of the goods".

A big place to police
Mr Budge said the sheer number of listings and sellers on TradeMe made it challenging to monitor behaviour.

Today, for example, the Trust and Safety Manager said there are around 1.4 million items listed for sale. TradeMe has 2.4 million active members, 548,000 of whom visit the site on a typical day. Last month, the site clocked a staggering 1.3 billion page impressions, by Nielsen’s independent count

Professional traders
High volume traders are still a sizeable subset. Mr Budge said it was difficult to quantify the number of professional traders, but that there are around 4600 members who sell more than 10 items per week.

TradeMe has a round-the-clock team looking for members who break its terms and conditions, said Mr Budge, and uses keyword searches and other techniques to try and filter out rogue behaviour among the site’s tidal wave of traffic.

The site, and its members, also look to each member’s reputation score, as determined by other traders they’ve done business with. (And by this measure, Mr Travers, who trades under the user name pop0071, has had mixed reviews.)

Unique and isolated
TradeMe takes “a very dim view” of any attempt at price-fixing, said Mr Budge, but indications were that this was a “unique and isolated incident”.

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