The online shopping space has been a booming concept, but it’s only recently been catching on in India, with sites like Flipkart and Snapdeal at the helm of this new movement. However, just as with all things that become big, they often tend to become too big for their shoes. Lately, the amount of horror stories we’ve heard from our readers regarding their experiences with many online portals has been alarming, to say the least. The problem seems to be a growing one. Untimely deliveries, cancelled orders, missed deals. The online retail business is definitely going through a paradigm shift and with so many players now coming into the market, one must wonder why the competition hasn’t led to an increase in quality of service? Maybe somewhere we’ve become a little too resigned to the whole “this is just how things are” mentality. For those of you who aren’t so passive, here’s how you can maximize the joy of online shopping.We reached out to not just our readers, but also some online retailers to truly understand where the potential problems could lie and how you, as a buyer, could work around them.
Pick the right marketplace
As of now there are a number of websites that have established themselves as key players in the business. Sites like Amazon, eBay, Flipkart, Snapdeal and HomeShop18 have established themselves as reputed marketplaces, amongst others, and we strongly recommend in dealing with only known brands. The reason for such an endorsement is the fact that their brand has been built on excellent customer service, even though they there might be a few hiccups from time to time. However, their rate of messing up will definitely be much lower than that of a “new-kid-on-theblock” site.
A good marketplace is one that allows for free expression of opinions regarding shopping experiences. If a marketplace only has positive feedback, then there is something funny going on there. Websites like Amazon India and eBay have built their reputations on completely uncensored feedback, which is what has helped many buyers from all over the world make decisive purchase decisions.
Remember it’s a marketplace, not a retailer:
There was a time when some of the online sites were the sellers of the item in question, but that is no more the case, for the most part. Most e-commerce sites have now switched to a marketplace model, meaning they no longer stock the products you see on their site. They have instead brought on board various other sellers. This model was originally seen on eBay and is now adopted by pretty much every popular e-commerce site. One of the biggest advantages of such a system is that it opens up the possibility of selecting whatever you’d want to buy from the largest selection possible. eBay currently has close to 30,000 resellers on-board, which means that if you’re looking for an HDMI cable, chances are that you’d find every kind of cable in existence through one seller or another. Now try hunting for that in your local market. Once you’ve taken care of the above two pointers, don’t think it ends there. There are a few more important things one must keep in mind.
Once You’re Ready to Buy
Research your deals
The whole point of buying online is that we can find better deals faster and more conveniently. Back in the day of analogue, people would scour markets, looking up prices on the one thing they wanted to buy. We suggest going through the popular e-commerce sites to find a good deal on the products you’re trying to purchase. You’re chilling on your chair anyway, so how much effort could it be to open a few extra browser tabs? Not a lot. However one strong word of caution. If you find the stuff you’re looking for on a relatively new/obscure e-commerce site, we strongly recommend staying away from that deal. In the online transaction world, the simple rule is “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” Pick the right seller: Each of the e-commerce sites will have a particular seller that offers the best service. This is where your free time and internet skills come in. You ideally want to buy from a seller who’d take good care of you in the event your order goes wrong. Look at the negative ratings, and it will give you a good idea of where the seller falters. We don’t mean to sound like we’re endorsing the brand, but if you want a hassle free online shopping experience, products from Amazon.in that carry the “fulfilled by Amazon” tag are probably the most reliable. These products are guaranteed by Amazon to be available and will be delivered to you by the requisite date, no matter what, free of charge (on orders less than Rs. 500). These products are also tested at Amazon’s fullfilment centres for quality. We reached out to various online retailers and the spokesperson from Amazon and eBay India informed us that one of the best ways to ensure that your purchase isn’t going to end up being a headache is by ensuring that you’re only buying from sellers that have a very high positive rating.
Mode of payment
While CoD ensures that none of your cash goes into a transaction that could eventually go sour, paying by Credit Card or Debit Card is also a safe bet. If an online retailer can’t process your order, the money is simply returned to your account, though in the case of a credit card transaction, it may take a few days, depending on your bank. Your money is safe in the event the order doesn’t go through, as long as you are ordering from a reputed online marketplace. eBay India has implemented PaisaPay, a payment method which holds the money until the order reaches the customer. In fact, if the package isn’t shipped within five days of placing the order, the money is automatically refunded.
After You’ve Bought:
Track, Track, TRACK!
As we learnt from our recent experience, the first signs of a cancelled order lie in the order status remaining as “processing” for any duration longer than 2 business days. eBay gives its sellers five days to update the order information, but If your order has been “processing” for longer than that, call up the customer care helpline and get one of them to verify the status of your order. If they are going to come through with your shipment, they will tell you so and if not, they will probably say something like “we’re still trying to procure your order,” or something similar. IF your order status hasn’t moved after 2 days of this call, you’re better off cancelling the order, but the final call is still yours. Don’t just shell out your cash willy-nilly. Understand how transactions work on the site you’re purchasing from.
Cancellations and refunds
In the event that you do decide to cancel your order, the money will be refunded to you depending on how you paid for the item. However, things get a little tricky if you have ordered stuff using your credit card on EMI. Now when you do use the EMI option, the entire amount gets blocked on your card, with the monthly payments being made to the vendor as per the due dates. In the event of the cancellation, most online marketplaces will not issue a full refund! They will refund your money in the same EMI format. So for example, if you bought Rs. 60,000 worth of goods from a seller using the 6 month EMI option, followed by cancelling this order; the Rs. 60,000 will not be refunded to you. You will get Rs.10,000 back every month for the next 6 months. It’s an utterly stupid policy and in the event that you do cancel an EMI order, insist on having the entire amount refunded immediately. Don’t accept things lying down. You might have to make some noise, but we are yet to hear of a case that was turned down.
Bad things happen
Sometimes, no matter how cautious you are, you just may end up having a bad experience. It could be a failed delivery, broken product, a seller not honouring the warranty or a Dead on Arrival request etc. Don’t let that stop you from shopping online. Think of it this way; just because you got food poisoning from eating at a restaurant, you don’t stop eating out altogether. Hell, some people don’t even stop eating at that particular restaurant. We strongly recommend you make sure the matter doesn’t die down though. Online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon strongly believe in customer feedback and both the sites make sure than if a seller has become a repeat offender, that seller will be barred from selling on their website. Don’t let one bad egg ruin the entire basket for you.
We spoke to representatives from both eBay and Amazon, namely, Deepa Thomas – eCommerce evangelist for eBay, and Meenu Handa – Head of PR at Amazon India, and this is what they had to say.
Q)Are there any specific signs we can recommend from our end that users should definitely look out for in their online dealings with retailers?
eBay: Online shopping is completely secure as long as customers shop on a secure, reputed, shopping website. eBay has a robust feedback mechanism that enables buyers to rate sellers based on their experience with the seller. The feedback scores and the verbatim feedbacks are visible to all users. This helps buyers to take an informed decision about their purchase. Amazon: “We are relentless in providing our customers a secure and reliable delivery experience. Towards that we encourage Customer Reviews on the product detail page and Seller Feedback Rating on the seller page. We believe these help customers make an informed buying decision. Customer Reviews provides unbiased feedback on the product from real shoppers while the Seller Feedback Rating provides feedback on seller performance. You will find that we keep both negative and positive reviews visible on the site. This has always been a tenet at the company ever since its inception.”
Q) What sort of challenges does e-commerce face in procuring orders and ensuring their delivery? Do you play any role other than that of a “portal for sellers and buyers to connect?”
eBay: eBay is a pure marketplace and hence, is a platform to enable trade between sellers and buyers. We don’t hold inventory and therefore the onus of shipping lies with the seller. There are more than 30,000 sellers on eBay India, spread across the country. The delivery time of the merchandise is majorly dependent on the geographical location of the buyer and the seller. Hence, deliveries within the same city / state would be faster than that compared to far away locations. So, the estimate time for a product to reach the buyer largely depends on the proximity factor.
To make the delivery system efficient and manageable for our sellers, we launched PowerShip, which is a logistics management service for eBay merchants which significantly enhances the efficiency of managing multiple item shipments and delivery of items to eBay India buyers. We’ve engaged with reputed logistic service providers like Bluedart, DTDC, Fedex & Aramax for this initiative. The service includes product pick-ups from eBay Merchants’ doorstep, automated tracking of shipments, and faster item deliveries by Logistic Service in India.
Amazon: While it is difficult to generalize, but our delivery estimate is based on multiple factors such as shipping address location, courier coverage and speed of delivery to a particular region and seller location (in case of seller fulfilled orders). Order delays can be due to various reasons including external factors such as local holidays, customer availability at the given address, natural calamities, or social and political unrest or even weather.
Q) How do you deal with a transaction that goes bad?
eBay: At eBay India, it’s our aim to provide consumers a pleasant, safe and transparent transaction. We have a secured payment mechanism called PaisaPay, which holds the money of the buyer till the transaction is fulfilled in accordance to the set policies. On making a sale, the seller is required to ship the product to the buyer within 5 days of the transaction and update the tracking number on eBay. If any seller fails to do so, the money is automatically refunded to the buyer. Moreover, the payment is released to a seller only once the product gets delivered to the buyer. This is India specific innovation by eBay, keeping customer convenience in mind.
Amazon: If a customer contacts Amazon customer service because of a delay in delivery of an order which was Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA), we escalate it to our courier partners to rectify the problem and have the product delivered at the earliest. If the problem isn’t resolved or there are long delays in a particular region due to uncontrollable factors which could be weather, natural calamities, or social & political disruptions we offer a refund to our customer. If the order is dispatched directly by the seller (only those using Selling on Amazon) we encourage our customers to contact the seller and allow them a chance to resolve the issue. However, all customer purchases for seller fulfilled orders are protected by Amazon’s A-to-Z Guarantee, which ensures that the customer can get their money back in case the seller is unable to resolve their issue.