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Online Savings V’s WWW risks

Purchase online or locally

The WWW has opened a world of opportunity for everyone to sell online. Anyone can set up a website and enter into the e-commerce world with no qualifications required. In the first instance you have no idea if you are choosing “a Man and Van” operating out of their spare room. That’s not to say that is bad way to trade– some of the best retailer services come from, or even started life in a front room or garage. The point is it is very difficult to tell if you are dealing with Mr Big or Mr Small.

In principle the further a-field you shop the higher the risk should a challenge arise with your purchase. The world is ever shrinking and a good way to checkout any company local or world wide is to search for feed back on the web using search engines. This will show up negative feedback via blog spots and so on.

Shop or internet
Bricks and mortar window shopping is by far the easiest way to compare goods – this is of course easiest achieved in the high street with staff around to answer your questions. The best selling technique that the high street relies on is touch and feel – Pick it up and take it away. You have many more senses to rely on and reasons not to make the purchase – The look of the shop, the smell – you don’t like the staff ! The internet’s version of window shopping is surfing, browsing – even known as googling. With internet browsing you have less senses to rely on in making you decision – a flat screen.
To compare goods on the net you need to use search engines to do your window shopping.

Which Search Engine to use
Enter the keywords of the products that you are looking for into any search engine to discover hundreds of relevant, and irrelevant, listings for suppliers both worldwide and locally. How do you sift through them and find the best retailer to deal with?
The three big Dot coms Yahoo, Google and MSN are the main engines used for searches globally but also have the offer of searching locally – ie, .de and so on. More specific local engines will give you more localsied specific results straight away.
There is a facility on all of the engines to search pages within the UK or worldwide. By narrowing the search down your results can be closer to home or
product specific.

IE using the search word “shutters” will return shutters results world wide
“Shutters Netherlands” will return results from the Netherlands
“ Shutters Netherlands Roosendaal “ will return results only from that town
The more info put into the search engine the better the results are.

Local, Nationwide or Worldwide Retailers ?
Local - This increases the chances of you or your friends knowing them or something about them – in a good or bad way. Also if something does go wrong it is not so far to travel to collect goods or chap a local door. Remember news about bad service travels 10 times further than good service, so the fact that no one knows anyone that has purchased is not all bad – but watch out for the negative feed back. Using this rule for purchases you are at least covered by
local trading laws.
Nationwide - Similar to local searches but with extra distance to collect or complain. National trading laws apply.
Worldwide - Once you purchase worldwide the risk level is at its highest. Payments, security, quality, will your purchase ever arrive ?.

If you do choose to purchase from abroad be aware that the customs can open your purchase and impose a import tax before you receive it - This can often negate the savings made by purchasing WWW in the first place. No payment no goods

Choosing an online Retailer
So we have decided that with 128 bit security encryption and added security we are going to purchase online . The challenge is finding a site that gives off the right signals of reliability and trust. As a start they should be professional - The lower quality sites have invested less money in the customer facing part – does that then reflect on what you cant see – back of house. Secondly the site should be easy to navigate and informative, with contacts available for questions should they arise. The online retailer should set your mind at rest and wet your appetite for the product – not explain it to the umpteenth degree. Once you do make contact the staff they should be friendly, knowledgeable and respond promptly.

Due to email spamming many retailers will no longer put an email address or telephone number on the website – All fine and well but how do you get an immediate answer if and when a problem arises. If this is the case, as a minimum there should be some kind of time commitment of when to expect an answer – at least it is a timescale to work towards. Are they hiding once they have taken your money or are there facilities such as online chat? This builds credibility about the site and ultimately the level of service on offer.

Easy of site navigation
Easy of use is the single most important feature for online sources for any product. A web site that is poorly designed or difficult to navigate is of little help to the user. A good web site should display the main choices available in a clear and concise manner with prices supplied. Navigation buttons should shown on every page to allow you to navigate easily and not have to follow a designated route set by the web designer. It’s a bit like going to the supper market and you have to travel down ever aisle to get to the one of your choice.

Information is the most important feature on any site. A good informative web site should anticipate the questions you have and supply you with the information in an easy to find manner. The site should have all of the information about their products sales pitch and essential technical data – ie size and weight of the item . The site should not be too technical and confuse you with science but, should answer the basics and have facilities to allow you contact them and follow up your enquiry if you so wish. Use caution with companies that generalise to much without giving away any serious information.
What type of Products are on offer?
There are 2 clear areas that are offered online – Products – a physical item “stereo” or so on, or a Service i.e. “ book keeping “ . Is it a physical item that needs to be shipped
Main concerns about buying products online:

Most websites now accept payment methods such as Paypal and Western Union. These services offer you some protection against no show goods or faulty goods. More extensive insurance is provided by most credit card companies who at the end of the day take the brunt of the majority of fraud on line. Fraud is an issue on line but it is such a low percentage that it would be a pity to deter honest shoppers and sites. If you follow common sense and basic rules fraud can be avoided. If the website asks for details over and beyond what is required for a normal transaction i.e. DOB - back out. Another good idea is to have one specific credit card for online use with a low credit limit – minimising the risk should your details fall into unscrupulous hands. Never use a card that is linked directly to your bank account – as you could face the prospect of an empty account. Another idea is if you need to make a large purchase – test the water with a smaller purchase before hand.

Price and add-ons
A dedicated online web site should indicate what is included in the purchase without the fear of add-ons and additional costs. Some companies will start with a low price to hook the interest of the client and then inflate it with extras such as – Measuring costs, Installation costs, Additional Items required, Traveling costs, delivery and insurance. The pricing structure should be clear, simple and concise. Some of the best packages come in all inclusive offers – Guaranteeing no hidden costs. Also to remember if a price is so unbelievable or to good to be true – it probably is.

Quality of Products
Samples and customer referrals are easiest way of testing the water. It is not such a problem when dealing with well know brands – Sony and such like but more important with Own Brands.

Manufacture time and delivery
Production for custom products is generally the longest – not on the shelf. Quality products do take time to manufacture and the last thing you want to do is rush it. The company should be able to give you a general time line when you place your order. Some companies will offer or promise quicker delivery times but you either pay extra unnecessary costs or the timescales are unrealistic. Compare it to ordering a new sofa or kitchen – these are also made to measure and take time.

Integrity of the company
The Company should demonstrate the ability to communicate all of the necessary information to you about purchasing your Product. This starts with the first telephone contact, to the engineers that come to measure or assess you job. They should also be able to supply a list of customer comments and/or references if requested. If you are in any doubt - don’t do it. Your gut feeling is often the best measure.

Packaging Your goods will be in for a rough ride on route to your address, numerous vans and trucks – we have all seen baggage handlers at the airport. Normally this is not a problem as they are goods are packed suitably, very often a tried and tested method by the retailer – the last thing that they want is a return ! But it does no harm in asking what type of packaging and its suitability.
Transport and Insurance. How quickly do you want the goods? Most online retailers will offer several options on speed of delivery – The quicker the parcel the more you pay is the normal rule. Insurance – my rule of thumb is if you do not relish the thought of replacing it if it gets lost or damaged in the post- Insure it.

A quality company should supply a local phone number to allow customers to speak with a knowledgeable, experienced, friendly person who is able to answer technical questions and advise you on your product. They should also promptly respond to all e-mail communication within a specified timescale, 24 - 48 hours is more that time enough. Remember is the start of the buying process - If they can not get this right it will reflect on how the rest of the job will materialise.

Online retail therapy can be both rewarding and safe and by following some basis rules and common sense it is just the same as the high street – without the hustle and bustle of the crowds, but unfortunately also without Starbucks for that double espresso pick me up.
Annette Wilson spent in excess of 20 years face to face with the customer in bricks and mortar retail in London’s Oxford Street. She now heads up a number of online retail sites and is available to answer any questions about selecting an online retailer

Raadhusistraat 63
4701PM Roosendaal
The Netherlands
0031 165 392 066