In this new age of remote everything, it is no surprise that many service providers and brick-and-mortar businesses have taken their operations online. Many have created online stores or applications to make the shopping experience easier than ever. However, unlike with traditional IRL shopping, online trading does not allow you to test the trustworthiness of the retailer or the products before purchasing.
This result has unfortunately been exploited by a number of dodgy online retailers. Countless online customers have reported being conned. With many suffering serious damages often with very little recourse . There have also been countless cases of people buying things online where they get some ridiculous variation of their order (if they even get anything at all!).
Keeping this in mind, there are lots of other dangers that could creep up on you when shopping online including:
- Paying someone for something and never receiving your order;
- Your information being exposed to criminals to access for their own nefarious purposes;
- You simply not getting what you paid for (see Wish fails);
- Extreme conditions of sale including the famous “no returns or exchanges” rule;
- Having your sensitive data sold to a random third party in a country you’ve never even been to;
- Having absolutely no one in South Africa to report an issue to or complain to.
So, in an effort to help you avoid becoming another online shopping fail meme, we have outlined a few points to hopefully help guide you on how to confirm the legal reliability and reputability of an online store or business.
Review the Terms and Conditions of the platform
We know, the chances of you reading the T’s&C’s is highly unlikely but it helps to have a look over them if you’re getting “bad vibes” from the platform. When looking through the T’s&C’s try to establish if there is a local or effective presence to which you can go should you have an issue and need to see/speak to someone. See if you can find any sort of legal solution to problems which may arise. The T’s&C’s must clearly provide you with rights and remedies should something go wrong. Also look out for the platform’s unique and mandatory company information which should be provided in the T’s&C’s.
Make sure you receive a proper and comprehensive tax invoice and other sales-information when ordering
If you place an order online and are not sent emails or updates about your order including a tax invoice or shipping info, this should raise a red flag. Such a platform is immediately proving that they do not follow the law. This is because, the Consumer Protection Act, 2008 specifically demands that a tax invoice for all purchases be provided.
Look out for platforms who are members of an association (e.g., RMI, Trust Mark)
Wherever possible, choose an online services provider who is a member of a reputable industry association. This will ensure, firstly, that they are subject to excellent industry-topping standards of service. Secondly, that they are also answerable to that association should you wish to report them.
Always read the reviews!
Do not take the seller’s word that they are reputable; see what others have to say about them on reliable review platforms (e.g. Hello Peter, Google). Also be cognizant of intentionally vexatious or troublesome reviews too. There are a lot of trolls out there simply trying to make trouble for legitimate business owners for vexatious reasons.
Only use platforms with secure payment and communication methods
Ensure that for the most sensitive aspects of your transaction online that they are using leading or expected standards of security. These include 3D Secure payments tools, or the use of registered third-party payment gateways. If they are not willing to spend some basic capital in protecting their online payments there’s no chance they are willing to protect your information either.
Word of Mouth is Best
There is a reason that “Word of Mouth is Best”. It shows a provider has been tried and tested by someone you know and trust and have proven their reliability at least once already.
Look for reputable partners proudly listed on their site
Look out for whether online store has affiliates or linked partners listed on their website. If you’re still feeling unsure you can also confirm with those partners that the provider is in fact an affiliate or past partner of theirs. Just like Word of Mouth, this ensures that platform is not a fly-by-night operation but has an established history in their industry. It also shows they have the past clients/partners to prove it and provides testimony to their reliable nature!
We are not saying that if any of the above aspects are missing that your online provider is automatically some kind of evil online scammer. We are simply suggesting that you should try and transact with online platforms that have as many of these aspects in place as possible.
Always remember, you can take your time and question the seller on whatever you want! If they are hesitant or uncooperative when there is no reason to be? Thank you, next. As so well said by Bo Burnham, Welcome to the Internet and Take a look around, because online platforms are indeed the future. But it doesn’t hurt to be proactively ready for whatever transaction may come your way!
Thomas Reisenberger and Lauren van der Byl – 17 September 2021
Have any questions? Drop us a message below and we’ll be in touch!