December 3, 2020

Consumer protection and trust is at the forefront of all discussions related to commerce. While millions of transactions fulfill the purchasing expectations of the customers there is quite a considerable number of them that do not. Consumers are mostly uninformed of the existence of online dispute resolution tools and instead of using them they are subjected to a dispute resolution adventure by being directed to other customer service tools (if the trader has such) and by struggling to establish communication with the right department/person through lengthy & persisting efforts. As the volumes of e-commerce are growing, so is the lack of trust by consumers as to the redress mechanisms the traders are making available to them to address their concerns when a problem occurs.  

On the other hand, the majority of traders seem to have prioritized the use of ADR mechanisms pretty low in their agenda. They tend to exhaust dispute resolution efforts to direct negotiations with their customers, do not seem to have appreciated the added value of the involvement of a third neutral party in the ADR process and seem to prefer postponement of their engagement in it under the belief that the low value claims discourage consumers to pursue further action through costly & time consuming court proceedings. That is a reality that calls for further thinking on the idea of establishing a framework of a mandatory ADR process for consumer disputes just like is being done more and more in several jurisdictions in civil, commercial and family cases.   

This is where we stand at the moment. So what we need is to act on two different levels. The first one is to connect technology with consumer dispute resolution. Not in the abstract, but through real tools of everyday use. We need to provide a super-fast, efficient and easily accessible environment for both consumers and traders. The consumer must be able to use online ADR at a distance of a click. They must have the option to seek redress instantly. Even at the premises of the trader. So, they need what we could call an “ADR go”. Available at all times, in all places. Smartphones can play a key role in providing access to such ADR mechanisms. With the number of smartphones projected to be 3,5 billion in 2020, 1 billion up from 2016, it is estimated that in 12 years most of the word population will hold a smartphone.  

The second level we need to work on is to address the skepticism of the traders. To understand and discuss their concerns. We need to build on a system that will facilitate honest direct negotiations between the consumer and the trader. Make them understand that the goal is neither replacing direct negotiations with neutral resolutions nor aiming solely at consumer protection, but rather at the protection of both. They need to realize that direct negotiations and ADR is a single two stage process that creates value and as such must be an integral part of their services to their customers. In that sense they need to have a modern online environment, customized to their needs. A cloud system that will allow them to manage cases internally and immediately and to help them acknowledge the complementary role of an ADR body in handling a number of unresolved disputes. A system that would become standard practice offering a customer-centered service that will upgrade the company’s image and reputation.

This is exactly what we envisage with the ADR4ALL app and the components we currently add. We are creating a consumer-trader ADR ecosystem that provides all the necessary features and tools for addressing consumer disputes. The ADR4ALL app is a joint project funded by the European Commission and ADR point and is the first smartphone app of its kind in this field not only in Europe but globally.  

The ADR4ALL smartphone app

The ADR4ALL app operates in both android and iOS systems and combines an easy interface and a dynamic case management tool. The app offers an introductory tutorial of the submission process and the user can easily file a complaint in a few clicks following the app wizard. After submitting a case the consumer can watch the status of the complaint by clicking a button at the toolbar of his app. A software calculates whether the dispute resolution process is a free or a paid service and the consumer is informed of the next steps in the process. After a complaint is submitted the system manager runs a dual check and if the case is admissible a case handler is appointed and once the trader consents to participate, the case moves on to the dispute resolution process which is completed either when parties reach an agreement during their communication with the trader or when the case handler proposes a solution which the parties may or may not follow depending on the procedural rules of the ADR body the case has been referred to. In the upcoming few months the ADR4ALL smartphone app will be converted into a holistic ADR ecosystem for consumers & traders. New features will be integrated which will allow several levels of management, a direct negotiation system built-in the app, a traders’ interactive customer management platform enabling negotiations and dispute resolution by an ADR body, features making the app accessible by vulnerable consumers, time alerts, case statistics, reviews for traders and so on.

The ADR4ALL app is an easy entry point to dispute resolution services. The updated version will be an entry point to an ADR ecosystem. What the consumers need is instant access to simple redress mechanisms. What the traders need is a familiar and well explained resolution process smoothly integrated in their customer service philosophy. What both the consumers and the traders need is full trust in ODR. Our endless effort is to let them know that dispute resolution technology has tools that can serve their needs. Matching “buying online” with “resolving online” will be the new deal for consumers and traders in the future ahead.  

Petros Zourdoumis, Founder of ODReurope , General Director of ADR point,
Fellow at the NCTDR, Member of the Central Mediation Committee of the Ministry of Justice.