In a virtual world where buyers and sellers never meet, field expert CY Tan gives us a step-by-step guide to a safe and happy online shopping experience
Before e-commerce, everyone used to do face-to-face offline retail purchases. But e-commerce is all about trusting the unknown.
Have you met Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos? Clearly not. The buyers and sellers on e-commerce sites are two involved parties who probably have never met each other.
However, transactions in this industry totalled US$840 billion in 2014 and it is expected to touch a cool trillion by 2016. It has also brought convenience, cost-saving and easy access to goods to billions of people worldwide.
But without the continued trust and support from buyers, it is impossible to keep up this upswing. Here is a short list of e-commerce hacks that you, the buyer, can adopt to make your online experience valuable:
1. Trust the right seller
When shopping online, be on the lookout for contact information on the page so that you know you can reach out if there is a problem. If you are extremely cautious, write to them to test if the response is fast and accurate. Remember to social proof the site through their Facebook and Twitter profiles to see what other users are talking about the site.
Also, there are third-party online review communities such as TrustedCompany and Trustpilot where you can look at reviews of e-commerce sites.
On the checkout page, make sure there is no hidden cost. The pricing should be clear with a breakdown. Hidden costs at the last moment show that the site is dishonest and post-sale experience wouldn’t be that far off.
2. Delivery and return policies
A delivery policy is the formulated rules of delivery as agreed between the buyer and seller for goods/services purchased for a date in the future. You should know what the basic shipping time is, and by when the item will be delivered to your doorstep.
For overseas shipping, go for an affordable speed upgrade to reduce wait time and do not forget tracking information and delivery signature.
So what happens after the item is delivered and you don’t like it? It is testing, that moment when a customer tries to return the item, effectively cancelling the sales transaction.
This could be due to multiple reasons such as the customer finding something better, a lower price, or realising that it was a mismatch. As these returns have been increasing, many retailers have shortened the time period on the policy.
You should look out for the return policy especially on return window and its conditions (for example, discounted items normally can’t be returned).
3. Protect your confidential financial information
Given the creativity of fraudsters now, you have to be careful who you disclose your information to, especially with regard to payments. Not all sites are equal. Do some due diligence to confirm the site’s authenticity and security.
Or use a third-party payment processor instead of giving your payment information directly to the online site via its form. Most accept payments from trusted third-party processors, such as PayPal or Google Wallet. This limits the risk of your payment details getting into the wrong hands, because confidential data such as card numbers do not go to the merchant.
In addition, check for security seals such as Norton Secured on the site. If you are providing confidential information, do make sure the site is on a secure channel (HTTPS) and has a valid SSL certificate.
4. Coupons, rebates and vouchers
A coupon code is used to get discounts off the purchase and make your final amount cheaper. Discount sites such as Slickdeals and Dealmoon in the US are abundant; you just have to find the ones that suit your purchase needs.
At times merchants embed these codes in their regular newsletters/loyalty programmes that they send out to consumers, so don’t forget to subscribe.
A voucher can be sold by other retailers or the merchants themselves as a ‘prepaid’ value to products/services and is normally cheaper than the original value. In contrast to coupons, vouchers have to be purchased by consumers.
A rebate is a partial refund of the purchase and takes place post-sale. Merchants might provide store only rebate value as part of a promotional campaign.
Alternatively, affiliate networks such as Ebates and Shopback are given commissions to refer you to shop on their site. Instead of keeping all the commission, they will share part of it as rebates with you.
5. Be rewarded through engagement
Follow the brands on social media and look out for their announcements and marketing campaigns on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook or any related platforms. Brands are quite generous sometimes and give out discounts codes to attract more followers.
Social media-powered flash sales have been become a trend, especially during festive occasions. You can expect exclusive access to new products and huge discounts/freebies within the specific time frame.
Congratulations, you have just aced Online Shopping 101!
If you also happen to be an online merchant, you now know that we live in a world that is well-informed and customers are spoilt for choice and will switch to other sellers in no time. The future belongs to the merchants who engage them by providing value, thereby earning their trust.
The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, please send us an email at writers[at]e27[dot]co
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