Internet shoppers failing to get a fair deal from online retailers
By Richard Green
The massive growth and development of the online retail sector in recent years has afforded a degree of choice and convenience to consumers that have never been possible before. But as more and more consumers look to the web to make their purchases – a trend that is set to increase by some 250% by 2010 – customer dissatisfaction with web purchases has increases in parallel with the explosive growth of online retail.
A new survey from the European Consumer Centre (ECC), a Europe-wide consumer group which includes bodies such as the UK Citizens Advice Bureau, has revealed that complaints about internet sales in 2005 increased by some 74% on the previous year. As with the offline retail sector the main reasons for unsatisfactory service included complaint handling, late or non-delivery of items and defective or faulty goods.
Web retailers have invested heavily on developing the customer experience aspects of their online offering but the main stumbling block identified in the new report was the difficulty in contacting the vendor to seek redress. It seems that the development of the online sector has thus far failed to replace the old fashioned customer interaction that offline retailers cite as being an important element of the buying experience.
Despite the massive growth of the internet as a retail medium, there are traditional consumer reservations such as the lack of customer interaction with the vendor, security and redress that continue to relate directly to internet shopping. Some online business models bypass this issue by allowing direct contact between individual vendors and purchasers. A recent survey by Loot, the online classified site, showed that over 25% of respondents who had made online purchases in the last 6 months have been dissatisfied with their purchase. Loot bypass the traditional issue of redress by encouraging the local vendors and customer to meet for the purchase to be made before handing over any money and allowing a direct course of redress should the customer be dissatisfied with the purchase.
But for the majority of online retailers the challenge is to reciprocate the customer interaction and course of redress that the more traditional high street retailers offer. Indeed, organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau are calling for more stringent consumer laws for online shoppers to obtain redress. Whilst there is no doubt that the convenience and choice offered by the online retail sector provides many consumer benefits and the sector will no doubt continue to show significant growth over the forthcoming years, the need for increased customer satisfaction indicates that the online retailers can still learn a thing or two from the High Street.
About the Author
Richard lives in Edinburgh, occasionally writing for the personal finance blog Cashzilla, and listens to music no one else likes.
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