For the consumers and retailers there has never been a better time to be online. In 2012 eCommerce sales in the UK were £38.48bn and this is expected to hit £44.06bn for 2013. As consumers we are increasingly turning away from the high street and doing our shopping online. The Centre for Retail Research predicts that by 2018 the total number of physical stores in the UK will fall by 22 percent, with online retail taking an ever increasing market share, predicted to grow from 12.7 percent in 2012 to 21.5 percent in 2018. While the opportunities are clear there are also risks for both buyers and sellers.
Consumers are well protected in many ways when shopping online. Legislation such as the EU Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 ensures that online retailers have to abide by certain criteria, such as allowing a minimum 14-day cooling offer period for distance sales, while the UK’s Consumer Credit Act 1974 offers protection for credit card purchases over £100. However, as customers it is still better to take precautions so that we are protected before the event rather than afterwards. After all, it is far better to avoid a problem occurring rather than have to deal with the aftermath.
One of the benefits of all of us being online is that we can share information freely. This benefits shoppers because we can easily check for reviews of companies before we buy, especially from smaller, less well known retailers. When buying holiday or looking into a restaurant, sites like TripAdvisor offer consumers the benefit of other shoppers’ experience, while websites like TheFusionBoutique provide detailed sale information – a good starting point if you have a rough idea of what you are looking for.
Check out the retailer’s return and delivery policies before you buy. If something goes wrong, will the site take back goods and if so, what restrictions apply? Often, if you buy personalised items the company will not accept return of the goods, as they are probably cannot resell them. Also, there will probably be a maximum return period so find out what this is and remember that you will probably need to return the goods in the original packaging in the condition they arrived in. Also, how much will it cost to return? Does the company take care of the cost of delivery or will you have to pay for this? Plenty of questions but worth looking into before you buy.
Check that the company has SSL encryption in place. You will know this because the website address will start with https (rather than http). This is a basic level of security and speaks to the site’s ability to safeguard your payment details and so on. If the site does not have SSL security it is probably best to steer clear.
From a businesses perspective crime is unfortunately an ongoing problem. The cost of crime to UK businesses is increasing and online crime now represents an even bigger proportion of this cost than traditional theft. According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) the cost of all retail crime in the UK increased by 15.6 percent in 2012 to £1.6bn – 37 percent of this related to e-crime. The cost of online crime, including damage, the value of goods and crime prevention measures is actually now costing UK businesses more than shoplifting, which represented 28 percent of the cost of business crime.
Clearly it is important for businesses to ensure their eCommerce platforms are secure. Like most people setting up an eCommerce platform you will probably opt for either joining an online marketplace like Ebay, Amazon or Etsy, or setting up your own branded platform via a provider like Magento, Shopify or Highwire. Look into what security and risk management support the provider offers. If you get hit by a fraudulent transaction you will need service that enables you to address the problem quickly, particularly at peak times like holiday seasons. This means looking beyond the upfront and monthly costs of the service and getting a proper understanding of what security features come with the service and what ongoing back-up is provided.
It can be worth considering using a company that has a strong US focus. Companies in the US have to comply with the PCI Compliance Guide (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard), which is designed to ensure that organisations process, store and transmit credit card information securely. Companies like Ebay and Amazon tend to have extremely secure systems. Other, standalone providers that are PCI compliant include Shopify, Etsy, Stripe and Highwire. The latter two can also take care of SSL.
Once your payment processing platform is in place it is worth conducting checks to make sure that your site runs the way it is supposed to. This includes ensuring that URLs stay in “http” during the ordering process (including if you leave the site and come back later). There are also programmes available for site owners that offer protection from card fraud. Some of the more well known are Verified by Visa, MasterCard Merchant Fraud Protection, WorldPay. As a retailer you should really require the 3-digit credit card security to be input for orders. This will ensure that individuals making purchases have the physical card with them and it helps to cut down on fraudulent transactions.
Do you use tracking numbers for sales? If not, you should look at introducing a system. It helps to protect a business from chargeback fraud, when a customer gets funds back via the the card issuer. When this type of fraud happens the most common claim is that goods never arrived, so if a business uses tracking numbers they can investigate the delivery of the order from leaving the premises to arrival.