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Are the terms of the sale
clearly disclosed?

It has been said that some customers on the Internet will willingly look through a shopping web site, but they are likely to back out of a sale once they see the shipping and tax charges required for their merchandise. This is a generalization, and it is not simple to prove. However, it makes a statement about the relatively new, unfamiliar nature of Internet commerce. If customers do not know data such as shipping fees, fair pricing schemes, return policies, and warranties, customers will put little faith in online stores. Providing data to customers is the duty of a retailer. On a similar note, being aware of scams and being prompt is the duty of a customer. The terms of sale for any online transaction should be made clear to maintain a balance between a consumer and a store.

The first thing an online merchant must do is to assure customers that specific merchandise is available. A website that gains a reputation of running out of items will lose its positive reputation. This may be simple for a small business, but the more a retailer deals in pre-orderable, obscure, or ephemeral merchandise, the larger this problem may become. Merchants must not only take precautions to ensure that merchandise is ordered and ready to ship, but that the availability of a product is clearly listed, and updated on a regular basis. Customers must take as many precautions as a retailer in order to keep track of the reliability of a store.

Shipping costs should be clearly listed on a website. Details of the prices should not only include how quantity affects shipping costs, but also how weight and bulk contribute to shipping costs. Different shipping options should also be described in both costs and benefits. Websites that keep shipping costs hidden until the end of a transaction may be wise to consider ways to reveal this information to the consumer as early as possible. Likewise, customers should be aware that high shipping costs are not necessary a scam, but also aware that unusually low shipping costs may have a negative tradeoff.

It is also not good to assume that prices of merchandise on a website are fair. Some websites may subvert normal pricing policies and set costs too high. Some websites may undercut the competition. (This can be a scam, as discussed in the article “Is information on websites truthful and accurate?”) It is beneficial to find out if high-priced items are of an unusual level of quality, or whether low-priced items are bargains or pirated merchandise. To avoid pricing scams, a person should research common costs of merchandise and services. 

All but the most ephemeral merchandise should have a warranty, and all items sold should have a guarantee that the products will be shipped intact and ready for use. If a warranty can apply to a product, then a retailer must make sure that the warranty is explained and advertised. Furthermore, a retailer must guarantee that if a customer pays for a product, that it will then be delivered in good shape and in within a reasonable length of time. Online retail companies have to overcome a number of obstacles in order to ship a product in time, but except in unusual circumstances, it should always be possible to deliver products to those who order them. 

In addition to a guarantee of shipment, retailers must also provide the assurance that merchandise can be returned and refunded. If a product is cancelled, if it does not function as it is said to work, or if it breaks by accident, a customer must be able to obtain a return or a refund. As with the other examples, a retailer can live or die by its return and refund policies. An unclear statement or an unfair policy will anger customers.

At the final steps of a transaction, a customer should know the details of what has happened and what will happen. This is also a matter of give and take. The retailer should provide a detailed list of the items ordered and their costs, and the customer should be able to examine the list and make changes. Before the final steps of a transaction, a merchant must detail shipping costs, especially if the shipping options were not mentioned earlier. Credit, check, and money order options should be explained at this time, as well as any applicable tax. The retailer needs to give its contact information to the customer, just as the customer needs to verify his or her address. In short, if anything seems absent from the final step, the customer should delay the transaction to clarify any confusion with the retailer.

Even after the sale has been completed, some matters may still be unclear. If a customer needs to double-check the terms of a sale, the retailer must provide a way to do this through email or the retail website. As stated above in regards to product changes and cancellations, the retailer must take steps to assure that the customer receives notice (and if applicable, compensation) of such changes. The last thing that must be assured is the shipment of a product. As long as a customer can be reached by mail, this should not be a problem. Yet as stated above, errors in shipment occur, and it is the customer’s duty to notify the company of any problems.

To sum it up, the terms of sale for any online transaction must be made clear to maintain consumer confidence. The retailer must take each possible error into account. Likewise, the customer must be aware of missing information, scams, and his or her rights. Once the two sides understand their needs, terms of sale will make sense.

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