Protecting Consumers’ Privacy Rights Online
E-Commerce is simply the act of electronically purchasing or selling goods over the Internet or through online facilities. There are a number of options available to businesses wishing to promote their product or service via online transactions. An e-Commerce website is designed to sell and buy goods, services, and programs over the Internet, which can be either locally or globally. The most common form of e-Commerce is online shopping, where a buyer and a seller to enter into a virtual transaction to buy or sell goods and services. While there are other less common forms of e-Commerce, such as electronic payments, auctioning, and surveys.
Many businesses have moved full steam ahead into the realm of e-commerce, having spent significant amounts of time, money, and resources in setting up an online presence. For some businesses, this transition has been relatively smooth, especially if they are operating within a niche market that has grown to include a number of buyers who shop online. For other businesses, the process of transitioning into e-commerce has proved more problematic. For these businesses, there are still a few challenges they face that face both traditional retailers and e-commerce businesses. Specifically, these challenges include:
– Consumers: One of the biggest challenges for e-commerce merchants is how to keep consumers from turning away from their traditional retail experience. In this day and age, many people spend a large portion of their time online shopping for all kinds of items they could not purchase in their hometown stores. As such, the potential for consumer damage from e-commerce scams is high. To combat this potential threat, e-commerce websites need to provide consumers with a safe shopping environment. Safekeeping of personal information, secure payment processing, and non-intrusive customer support are all important elements for e-commerce websites. Unfortunately, the U.S. Consumer Protection Division under the Federal Trade Commission does not recognize all online shopping practices as safe, so consumers should always be careful when using online shopping sites.
– E-Commerce Websites: As businesses grow and develop, they may find it necessary to expand their product lines. For instance, a few years ago a local restaurant might have sold its items through an online auction website. Today, the restaurant may choose to sell those goods through a bricks-and-mortar store. Because the business-to-business transactions handled on e-commerce sites require a different sort of transaction – one based on consumer contact – businesses that don’t recognize this fact may find themselves facing a challenge when it comes to navigating to new consumer segments.
– E-Commerce Costs: Even though the Federal Trade Commission stresses that e-commerce businesses should not impose unnecessarily on consumers, there are certainly costs associated with e-commerce websites. Among these costs are the operational costs that are associated with maintaining a website and the costs that arise from consumers who find it necessary to travel to brick-and-mortar stores for the purpose of making purchases. For small businesses that don’t generate a significant amount of revenue, it may be difficult to determine whether or not it is worthwhile to spend money on e-commerce operations when they can simply wait out the cost of the operation by using other means.
– Credit Card Information: Many e-commerce sites require that consumers provide certain information about their credit cards when they are signing up for a service or to process a transaction. Among these is a security question, which is asked by the prospective merchant as a means of ensuring that the prospective consumer is who they say they are. The problem is that security questions are often asked by individuals who haven’t even made a purchase on the site. As such, when the information is collected, it can take a long time to respond to the request, and the resulting charges will usually apply even after the merchant has taken possession of the credit card information. This, of course, adds a layer of complication onto the transaction, and small businesses that don’t employ the services of a credit card processor will find themselves having to pay steep fees on any sales that didn’t result from legitimate credit card use.
– Social Security Numbers: Some e-commerce sites will ask for the social security numbers of consumers in order to process the sale. While many businesses legitimately use social security numbers to verify identity and current address, others do so because of the ease with which someone who hasn’t used their number for years could conceivably provide one, and the potentialities for misuse are great. As such, this type of information can pose a security risk to consumers. Small businesses that want to avoid potential security risks but aren’t interested in having their identity stolen should therefore avoid using e-commerce sites that make these types of requests.
As was noted earlier, many e-commerce sites are driven by the consumers themselves. They provide the impetus for consumers to interact with one another on a regular basis. In this case, the interaction can often translate into increased sales and profits for small businesses. However, this shouldn’t be the only goal of an online shopping site. Consumers should be able to access information about product quality and prices without fear of having their identities stolen in the process.