Misc Thoughts

Buying Online – I Wish I Could Feel Better About It – Welcome TrustPlus

I’m a gadget junkie and I need a fix pretty frequently.  Like most people, my dealer is the Internet which almost always helps me get the monkey off my back.  For most items, I check PriceGrabber or Shopzilla, search for what I’m looking for and choose the best combination of price and vendor that I find.  Sometimes, the drug I’m looking for is a little more rare and difficult to find in the larger, more reputable online stores (e.g. unlocked phones, gray-market camera equipment).  For those, I hit everyone’s favorite it’s-got-everything auction site, eBay, or the Internet’s version of classified ads, craigslist.

Interestingly (to me, at least) is that as the online markets continue to grow and expand, I’ve become less comfortable with the online buying experience.  I suppose this is because it appears to me that rapid growth in online selling has created a somewhat chaotic environment that has opened itself up to thieves and thugs.  Don’t get me wrong.  This situation hasn’t slowed down my online purchasing activities – my credit cards rarely get cold – it’s just made me think about the process and how to protect myself a bit more.

Recently, I was in the market for a Canon 5D camera and was waiting until it came into a reasonable price range.  While doing a search to find the best and cheapest place to buy it, I came across this blog post: PriceRitePhoto: Abusive Bait and Switch Camera Store.  If you buy stuff online, it’s definitely worth a read.  It’s an interesting expose of some of the stuff going on.

One particularly concerning point the poster makes is how comments and feedback left on many sites may not truly indicate what customers experienced with the vendor.  As an example, he explains how PriceRitePhoto, the online site that he had a whole lot of problems with, changed their name on eBay (to Barclay’s Photo)after their reputation (feedback) turned negative . . .

“So welcome to the new world of online shopping Barclay’s Photo. Hopefully you do better than your evil twin (er, exact same company) PriceRitePhoto. And thanks eBay for having such a nifty feature as allowing online shopping companies the ability to change names and identity. We wouldn’t want any eBay online stores being weighed down with a bad name for bad behavior now would we?”

I always look at the feedback given by buyers when I buy something from an eBay vendor.  This situation makes me question the feedback mechanism and will cause me to do a bit more research the next time.

I’ve even gotten skeptical of some dedicated online buying sites.  I recently bought from one that “followed up to confirm my order” via phone.  Of course, the call was just a very thinly-guised sales pitch – a pretty strong-armed one at that.  It really pissed me off.  I guess you get what you pay for – I’m going to be using sites that I’m familiar with, even at the expense of higher prices (within reason – I’m pretty much a cheapskate) in the future.

This situation is somewhat manageable, of course.  With appropriate due diligence, you can make sure that the process for most stuff you buy is safe and executes as expected.  It’s quite a bit harder to ensure this with sites like eBay and craigslist, though, where you are often doing business with individuals or small companies.  These would work much better if there was some sort of network for reputation (aka feedback) with which you could get advice from others that you trust or, at least, from people that are otherwise just like you.  Even better if this reputation information worked across multiple sites.

TrustPlus,  is working on such a system (full disclosure: I am an investor in and Board member of the company).  As a seller, you take your reputation with you, building it with every transaction made on every site you sell on.  This way, as you honestly and effectively do business in multiple places, your customers can get a picture of the quality of the buying experience you offer which makes it more likely that potential customers will become real buyers. 

As a buyer, you can get a much broader and more detailed view of the reputation of the seller of the item you wish to purchase.  Because you can view the reputation of a vendor through a wide range of transactions, you get a more complete picture of how they have performed.  Perhaps even more importantly, the reputation of any vendor is filtered by friends, colleagues and people in similar positions with similar interests.  If someone I know and respect had a good experience, that information has more value to me than the experience of someone I don’t know.

There certainly is a big hole in managing the safety and security of the online buying experience.  Site-specific and vendor-specific solutions are unlikely to work and unscrupulous vendors will always be out there.  Since the frenetic growth of online commerce is not going to slow at any time soon, someone/thing is going to have to aid in making transacting business on the web a safer experience.  In the end, its us, the buyers of stuff that need to do it.  TrustPlus is a great vehicle that makes that possible. 

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