Shopping online in the EU
There is much to consider before shopping online as a client and much to be done by the e-commerce site to address the buyers concerns.
The Swedish Consumer Agency, ECC Sweden, who is Part of the European Consumer Centres Network published a set of guidelines for online shoppers in the EU.
These online buying guidelines for clients are common sense and easily addressed by the e-commerce site owners. The reality is though that many e-shops ignore their client's expectations in terms of company and product information, personal data preservation and online payment security.
Here are 17 guidelines for online shoppers to have a positive online buying experience and how e-commerce shop owners can cater for it.
- Online shoppers: Check out the company that runs the online shop
Find out facts about the online seller. Is the company's name, street address, e-mail address telephone number and the country in which it operates, clearly stated on the website? Otherwise, you should probably look for another company to shop from.
E-Commerce site owners: Make sure your physical address and phone number appear in the footer of your ecommerce site together with a link to your contact page. The detailed address of your outlet(s), generally with opening hours and an interactive Map are on your contact page.
- Online shoppers: Have a close look at the e-commerce site's Email
Is the online shop using an email address on their own domain or do they use some kind of generic email service that allow creating an email address in 5 minutes? (If the online trader is using a free mail service, it is easier to enter fake personal information),
E-Commerce site owners: Make sure you display a contact email address on your eshop that is based on your domain name. These email addresses generally come together with your ecommerce platform (The WSI eFusion ecommerce gives you 10 separate email addresses with unlimited aliases). Avoid using Gmail or Hotmail addresses and if you already have an email form your ISP (email@example.com etc) keep it as a fall back, not as the main contact or support address.
- Online shoppers: Is there a Customer service?
Make sure that the online shop has an effective handling of inquiries and complaints. Reliable companies have a customer service that is easy to get in contact with. Check for phone numbers, twitter handles and support email addresses on the e-commerce site.
E-Commerce site owners: Good customer service on an e-commerce site is not easy. In fact, from the technology point of view there are many e-commerce customer service solutions but they can only be as good as the people behind them. The bare minimum is displaying a support email address and be clear about your return policy. Other support options are 'Live Chat', 'Facebook interactions', 'Twitter support channel' typically named as @YourcompanyHelp, 'WhatsApp support', etc. Implementing any of these support options will create an 'real time reply' expectation. Can your company handle this? More sophisticated Customer support solutions include ticketing systems linked to the Company's CRM.
- Online shoppers: Their online offers are 'Too good to be true'?
Always be suspicious of extremely cheap offers or miraculously good products. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be particularly suspicious for well known brands that sell at a fraction of the market price. They are probably fake. Check if the online store is an authorized reseller of the brand.
E-Commerce site owners: Be honest about your products. Display clearly if you are a reseller of a well known brand. Make sure your physical address and phone number appear in the footer of your ecommerce site together with a link to your contact page. The detailed address of your outlet(s), generally with opening hours and an interactive Map are on your contact page.
- Ecommerce clients: Gather as much Information about the product as possible
Read the information provided about the product and check, if you order the goods from another country within the EU, that they can be used in your own country. Make sure that the warranty is valid in your country.
E-Commerce site owners: Selling products online has many challenges, the main obstacle is that your online buyers cannot touch the item they intent to purchase. It is important to have a few high quality pictures of your product online, show the item from different angles, some close-ups, the product being used. It is recommended to have fewer but better pictures (Read more about the importance of ecommerce product pictures here). Add a detailed and relevant description with technical specifications where applicable to each product. You will be answering here the frequent questions clients would ask the salesperson in a brick-and-motor shop. Add a link to your customer support, a phone number or an online chat to allow for more queries from your clients. If the export of a specific item you are selling is restricted to certain countries make sure you can exclude the restricted destinations from your shipping options.
- Ecommerce clients: Is the total price stated?
Is the total price stated, postage, shipping, handling and other fees included? Otherwise the total price may be higher than you thought.
E-Commerce site owners: State clearly all applicable fees BEFORE your client needs to enter his payment details. In B2C e-commerce in the EU the displayed product price must include the applicable VAT (and single it out on the invoice that you send to your client),no additional payment method fees are allowed any more (remember the airlines selling tickets plus some € for Credit card processing)
- Ecommerce clients: What is the Time of delivery
Check how long the delivery time is. This is important, especially if you need the product for a particular event. More information about your rights in terms of delivery are here.
E-Commerce site owners: Except you are delivering your products yourself (like a food take away store) you will offer several shipping options to you the buyers on your e-shop. Indicate clearly for each shipping option the expected delivery time, associated conditions (Is the shipping insured...) and cost. Provide whenever possible a tracking number and URL that will allow your buyers to follow the delivery.
- How is your personal information handled?
- Think before you hand out your card number
Do not hand out your card number for purposes other than purchase. And never send your card number via e-mail. Remember that you are responsible to check your bank statements yourself. Make sure the internet connection is safe (starting https:// ...)
E-Commerce site owners: If you handle credit cards yourself on your ecommerce checkout you will need at least to provide a secure https connection. Using payment gateways like Paypal or Stripe will avoid the burden of securing credit card information. Display valid security certificates during the checkout process. All other confidence building measures will be helpful here
- Secure payments
Several banks offer secure Internet payments. Buyers should contact their bank and ask if they offer this service.
E-Commerce site owners: Accept the most common payments that your target customers use. If for example Visa cards are common in France, whereas in Germany mostly the EC-Karte is used. Using Paypal and/or Stripe can help e-commerce owners to streamline the payment process on their e-shop.
- Credit card payment
If you pay by credit card, the buyer can make a complaint either to the company or to the creditor. Read more about e-commerce payment here.
E-Commerce site owners: Over-deliver on expectations and avoid customer complaints. If there are too many charge backs on your merchant account, the payment processor may freeze your account.
Credit card charge backs are a costly for e-commerce owners. Charge backs occur when customers contact their credit card issuers to dispute charges. If an issuer deems a dispute valid, the e-commerce merchant is required to pay the amount owed for the transaction plus a charge back fee from the payment processor – which can range from €10 to €100. If there are too many charge backs on your merchant account, the payment processor may freeze your entire merchant account. PayPal is fast to block amounts on the online merchants PayPal account if the customer complaints about non-reception, late reception or non-conform products. Prevention is easy: Provide an honest and the best possible product description, ship your items in the displayed time frame (24h shipping, etc), use shippers that provide online tracking.
If you pay a product in advance, you lose your best leverage as a consumer – to withhold payment for late delivery.
E-Commerce site owners sometimes provide a 'Transfer into Bank Account' payment option: The buyer transfers the purchase amount (or part of it as a down-payment in some specific cases) into the merchant's bank account and the order is shipped or prepared upon clearance of the transfer. Experience has shown that this payment option is rarely used by online buyers as the sending bank may charge them transfer fees. Eshop owners should provide, if possible, on domestic online orders, a COD (cash on delivery) payment option (that has generally a small additional cost for the client).
- Print and save all documents
To be able to prove what you have ordered, you should always print and save promotion, your order (before you send it), and the confirmation that the company is required to send you. Also save all e-mails between you and the company.
E-Commerce site owners: Make sure that each step in the buying cycle of an online purchase is documented and confirmed by email and/or text message (SMS) to the client. Order confirmation, payment receipt, order shipped with tracking information, invoice. Clients should have access to their accounts with the ecommerce store on which all their transactions are stored and are available for later download and printing.
- Cooling off period/Right of withdrawal
When purchasing goods from another country, it is advisable to check the right to withdrawal and what the additional charges are. Within the EU you have a cooling off period of 14 calendar days.
E-Commerce site owners must be very clear in their Return Policy and abide to it. Take the time to describe every possible case (only unopened items or unbroken seal, original packing, etc depending on the products you are selling) on and explain clearly how items can be returned (generate a return number, a return shipping label, etc). Keep customers informed about the progress of the return process and their replacement or reimbursement. In Paypal and/or Stripe it's just a click on the 'Reimburse' button.
Some e-traders are connected to a labelling system where the trader agrees to follow certain rules.
E-Commerce site owners: Display your trustmarks on your site, preferably in the page footer and during the checkout process. Show your certificates, bring forward your secure checkout process.
- Listen to what other clients say about the company
Check on various forums about other consumers experiences about the company.
E-Commerce site owners: Implement a 'Comments' and 'Reviews' system for your ecommerce shop overall and for each item specifically. Reply to all reviews, offer commercial solutions to negative reviews, consider them as an occasion to improve your online service.
- Avoid money transfer services
These services are often used by families to transfer money to each other. This flow of money is not traceable.
E-Commerce site owners: Propose only traceable online payment options, this will avoid misunderstandings and non-payment claims. Keep your online customers informed (if possible in real time) about the status of their payments: Payment received together with an authorization code, payment declined stating the reason or payment pending stating the reason. All moderns payment gateways return success and/or error codes that need to be sent to the eshop client.