An Online Shopper Bill of Rights

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Online shopping this holiday season is slated to ring up record revenues. And with the high price of gasoline and the extreme weather we've been seeing, expect shoppers to turn to the Internet for an increasing part of their holiday budget.

That is, if customers are happy with their online shopping experiences.

According to JupiterResearch's 2006 report, "U.S. Online Retail Forecast, 2005-2010," e-commerce will climb from $81 billion in 2005 to $144 billion by 2010. But that figure hinges on a few conditions. Patti Freeman Evans, the report's author, cautioned that Internet customers are not just opening their wallets, they also are demanding more. Retailers can expect an increasingly experienced population of online shoppers who are smarter about finding free shipping and deeper discounts, she noted.

Moreover, though new people will join the online world, it will get harder to convert larger numbers to online shopping. Ms. Evans urges that merchants who want to continue to increase revenue need to induce existing online shoppers to spend more each year. The adage that repeat customers are the best customers is equally true of online traffic.

So, to keep customers coming this holiday season and beyond, it's time to introduce core beliefs and practices across Internet commerce to ensure great service and product satisfaction in every consumer online retail transaction.

Here is a suggested "Online Shopper's Bill of Rights." Its tenets are based on our own experiences as fervent Internet shoppers. We encourage our partners, colleagues and competitors in retail to join us in making good online shopping experiences an inalienable right for all customers. Online shoppers deserve the right to:

• Find the best prices available, including the use of comparison shopping.

• Know the full price when considering a purchase. Hidden shipping and handling fees do not foster online consumer trust.

• Obtain detailed, relevant product information efficiently and in plain language.

• Access independent product reviews. Consumers should be able to easily research from various objective information sources to make the best decisions.

• Obtain unbiased customer opinions. Trustworthy retail sites should post all customer feedback and show how they responded to problems. It's how retailers respond that makes for a long-term shopping relationship.

• Trust that their personal information is zealously protected. Abusing customer privacy will damage our industry like nothing else.

• Receive fast responses when they order and when they complain.

• Experience an easy, friendly user interface. If customers wanted to be hassled trying to shop, they'd be out driving around a crowded mall parking lot.

• Shop at their own pace. If customers are ready to check out, make it easy to complete a transaction. If they want to browse, make it easy to cruise your site.

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