Though companies, governments and institutions play an important role in improving the digital economy, consumers remain the key actors since the final decision ultimately lies in their hands.
There can be no denying that the Internet has handed the power over to its users, who can now access detailed information on many topics of preference, including information about the products and services they wish to acquire. According to the most recent data available, 37% of Canadian households in 2002 used the Internet to make purchase decisions either by browsing the net or by ordering online. Furthermore, according to Jupiter Research, online window-shopping influenced 20% of in-store purchases in 2004 . Internet users are now more informed than ever when they make a purchase in the traditional way. However, when it comes to online security and knowledge of the practices that minimize the risks of online shopping, Internet users are largely ignorant and easily influenced. Therefore, here are a few resolutions for consumers, which, if kept, could drastically contribute to fostering the growth of e-commerce in Canada :
1- Get informed about online purchases
Since fear is fuelled most often by ignorance, Internet users should get informed; this would not only stem false beliefs, it would also teach them the ABC’s of being a cyberconsumer.
Even the slightest negative online shopping experience and any kind of security breach tends to be widely publicized, a phenomenon that contributes to spreading the myth that the Internet is an unreliable channel for making purchases. As I mentioned in a previous article, the proportion of Canadian consumers that have had negative online shopping experiences remained relatively stable between 2001 and 2003, varying between 12% and 14%. Three quarters (76%) of these negative experiences concerned purchases on auction sites, a revenue model based on consumer-to-consumer exchanges. The problems were resolved either entirely or partially in 54% of cases. This situation is hardly cause for alarm with respect to merchant sites. By getting informed of the true statistics of online security, consumers will be better equipped to put the messages propagated by the media into perspective.
Another resource that consumers can use to get informed is the excellent guide published by the magazine Protégez-vous in collaboration with the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec. We recommend that all new Internet users read this guide before making online purchases.
2- Buy locally to avoid surprises and facilitate recourse
With the emergence of the Internet and market globalization, Internet users may be tempted to buy from a merchant located outside Canada in order to save a few dollars. Yet it is under exactly such circumstances that consumers most frequently encounter negative experiences such as: exorbitant shipping fees; unexpected customs charges; difficulty returning the product ordered; inability to reach the merchant; and significant problems upholding their rights. Buying from a well-known merchant located in Canada will ensure that you receive all the advantages of virtual shopping along with precious peace of mind. Don’t forget that online retailers view buyers as particularly special customers that they will strive to serve as best they can in order to gain their loyalty.
To help you find merchants located near your home, here are a few useful tools:
- Google Local helps you find retailers located nearby;
- For all your computer and electronic purchases, sites like Meilleursprix.ca and other similar tools compare prices of Quebec ’s leading retailers;
- [GoQuébec.com-]>http://www.goquebec.com/] lists online commerces with French-language content and delivery to Canada via a secure transaction. Moreover, this site allows you to see how satisfied other Internet users were with the merchants listed – an excellent technique borrowed from eBay to boost consumers’ confidence.
3- Get to know the company and its policies
Negative online shopping experiences are also due to consumer negligence. Before placing your trust in a new merchant, make sure that you can find the following essential information on the retailer’s web site: contact information (street address, e-mail address and telephone numbers); policies on payment security, returns, warranties, shipping, protection of personal information and complaint management.
Another way to identify a web site worthy of confidence is to ensure that it follows the best practices for merchant sites. Does the site you plan on entrusting with your contact information offer: a shopping cart, data and payment encryption, a complete transaction summary, notice of delivery and a system for following product delivery? It may also help to do a bit of research on a search engine (enter the word “satisfaction” followed by the name of the commerce) to find pertinent comments from other consumers about the retailer in question.
Other resolutions to keep in 2005 for prosperous e-business ventures in Canada: