The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)—the US consumer protection agency —offers consumers a number of useful eCommerce guidelines that should also guide NZ organisations looking to offer eCommerce.
The FTC recommends:
- Know who you’re dealing with. Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number so you can contact them if you have questions or problems. If you’ve never heard of the seller, check its reputation with the local Chamber of Commerce or local government — or just Google it. [Insight for eCommerce Operators: Credibility is essential on the internet. Provide as much real-world information as you can, to reassure potential buyers that you’re a solid business.]
- Know exactly what you’re buying. Read the seller’s description of the product closely, especially the fine print. Words like “vintage,” “refurbished,” “close out,” “discontinued,” or “offbrand” may indicate that a product is in less-than-mint condition. Some name-brand items with “too good to be true” prices may even be counterfeits. [Insight: Detail is everything]
- Comparison-shop. Check out Web sites that offer price comparisons on similar items from different manufacturers [eg PriceSpy.co.nz, PriceMe.co.nz) or visit different Web sites offering the same product ranges. Some price comparison sites favour their advertisers’ products, so it’s a good idea to look at more than one. And remember to compare “apples to apples.” [Insight: Check out what your competitors are offering. If you can’t match their prices, don’t panic — provide exclusive added-value extras that they can’t match]
- Pay with a credit card. It offers you the most protection as a consumer. Don’t send cash. [Insight: offer as many ‘safe’ payment options as you can — credit card, PayPal, PayMate etc]
- Use a secure browser. Look for an unbroken key or padlock at the bottom of your Web browser window to ensure that your transmission is protected. Buy only from Web vendors that protect your financial information. [Insight: protection is really, really important]
- Consider shipping and handling costs. Factor these into the cost of the order and choose the delivery option that best meets your needs and budget. [Insight: be upfront about your shipping costs — you’ll save on returns, disputes and lots of other grief]
- Print records of your online transactions. Save the product description and price, the online receipt and copies of every e-mail you send or receive from the seller. [Insight: where you can, provide print-friendly versions of your pages]
- Understand the return policy before you buy. Can you return the item for a full refund if you’re not satisfied with it? If you return it, are you required to pay shipping costs or a restocking fee? [Insight: develop a returns policy and post it clearly on your website]
- Check delivery dates. An FTC rule requires sellers to ship items when they say they will or within 30 days after the order date, when no specific date is promised. If the vendor can’t ship the goods within the promised or 30-day deadline, it must notify you, give you a chance to cancel your order and provide a full refund if you’ve chosen to cancel. [Insight: say when you’ll deliver. If you can’t meet the date, communicate and give cancellation options. No exceptions].
If consumers feel they’ve been misled or deceived, they can file a complaint online at www.ftc.gov, In NZ, the Commerce Commission is probably the best place to start. [Insight: don’t make consumers need or want to do so]