Inspired by reports of massive looting in New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina Ebay, the world's largest online auction, launched E-Looting, an electronic shopping cart system that brings looters and buyers together.
"What we saw in New Orleans was that people are looting products that are of no use to them, like household appliances, furniture and consumer electronics," said Ebay spokesman Simon Teal. "Just as with the widely criticized rescue efforts, nothing appeared to be organized. That's where we come in with this new service," Teal added.
Numerous looted items did show up on the traditional Ebay website in the days following Katrina, but according to Teal shipping and handling as well as payment for items is a nightmare. "It is just not coordinated. We weren't prepared for this," admitted Teal.
The new E-Looting shopping cart system allows prospective buyers looking for cheap products to sign up and prepare what is best described as a digital wish list, thus enabling looters to more adequately meet market demand. "In case of another disaster, looters will know what to loot," explained Teal, "and using our well established bidding infrastructure they can even bid to get exclusive looting contracts. The item will then be marked as booked, so that double looting as we've seen it over the past week in New Orleans is avoided. Then it just takes another disaster to have the clients' shopping carts filled up, so to speak."
"I guess we were just as appalled by the images of uncontrolled and disorganized looting as anyone else, and we felt that Ebay could make a difference," said Teal, adding that "in all the media coverage, the emphasis has been on what the government did wrong and should improve, but corporate America should evaluate its response to such disasters as well if we want to continue to be world leaders."
Teal further commented that the system is being introduced in the US first, and may become available worldwide in November. "It would be terrific if we could have this operational before the holiday season in South East Asia and the Middle East."