Investing in safe, trustworthy online shopping

With the festival season under way, e-commerce companies are scaling up operations to expand the volume of transactions and reach across the country. At the same time, the shift from traditional business structures as a one-stop-shop to networks servicing customer needs globally is manifesting in India as well.

Several networks of companies are mushrooming, fuelled by the dominant wave of social, mobile, analytics and cloud computing. As companies start to move to marketplaces, the core competency needed is shifting from command and control to orchestration. The supply and demand are looking for models which provide efficiency, transparency and above all – trust.

On the other hand, consumers are getting a wide variety of choices and utility functions across various domains – product e-commerce, real estate, transportation, home services, travel, health and wellness, food and beverages, and so on. Both marketplace enablers and financial services businesses depend on their abilities to receive, process and store sensitive financial information of customers. Hence trust and safety become central to the business. Payment providers too are stepping up security measures to keep consumer information safe.

However, as the number of online shoppers skyrockets, so does the number of cyber-criminals looking to prey. Cyber-crime is borderless and everyone is a potential target. People determined to defraud online consumers and businesses are constantly testing the agility of law enforcement and coming up with new scams. Phishing is one of the most popular methods used by cyber-criminals and comes in many forms such as spear phishing, whaling and clone phishing. One should stay away from suspicious websites. The complexity of cyber-crime is compounded as the issues as well as laws meant to prevent them vary greatly.

Consumers too should do some basic research and check on online forums if the website they are buying from is legitimate and if it has any services or goods issues. They must watch out for fake trust mark logos and verify the conditions for delivery and return. Shoppers should check that the website is secure (https vs. http) and choose a payment option that keeps details secure.

Awareness among consumers and exercising prudence by merchants are equally important. Online merchants should monitor for orders that are suspicious, shipping requests to high-risk countries, requests to change the shipping address after payment, multiple orders to the same address, and over-payment followed by requests for refunds via wire transfers. Customers should ideally start with a seller with better ratings. Once one is familiar with the online shopping process and the website’s processes for address issues if any, buying from any seller should be safe.

Both buyers and sellers need to recognise that transparency driven by ‘perfect competition’ enables trust in the network. One should maintain a level playing field where every participant has the opportunity to succeed based on his or her individual efforts. Players must maintain complete transparency in the marketplace so that participants have perfect information on products and pricing. They should focus heavily on safety so that the marketplace is as safe as possible to create the trust required on both sides.

Every player in the ecosystem must be responsible to ensure that everyone wins. The ecommerce opportunity has advantages for everyone: buyers can have products from across the globe delivered at their doorsteps while sellers can reach out to global markets to significantly grow their business. So it is everyone’s responsibility to be a Good Samaritan in this e-world and help e-commerce companies in detecting and preventing fraud.
There is also need to promote ever-greater economic empowerment for sellers and create an efficient structure where marketplace fees were at levels that allow sellers to achieve this. As eBay has operated as an open marketplace (not even a managed marketplace) since inception two decades ago, we have built this intellectual property. So the moment a seller registers on eBay site, we are able to start evaluating his risk profile based on several checks – whether he has sold on our platform before, his performance, whether his behaviour is risky or questionable. A large amount of this is automated.

Trust about sellers, buyers and their reputation is built over time. At eBay India, we allow new sellers to scale up based only on their performance. They can’t bring 1,000 products, sell them, and then vanish. We allow limits to every seller account. The limit keeps increasing with performance and time. The system starts recognising whether or not a seller is a credible person. We track the response time of a seller to a query. That determines the standing or ranking in eBay version. All these are system-driven. This back-end trust and safety function are the core strength of eBay marketplace, providing a trustworthy environment for both buyers and sellers.

Previously, people were skeptical about buying and selling online due to their respective reasons with regard to authenticity, payments, shipping and timely delivery. Many customers found it difficult and were not comfortable with shopping online. Over the past 10 years that we’ve been in India, there has been a significant shift in the entire ecommerce space at a micro as well as macro level. It has been an eventful journey for us, and a key learning has been regarding the importance of acknowledging and adapting to changes in the ecosystem.