Answer: There are so many positives when shopping on-line. It is convenient and you can save time and money by not having to drive from place to place. A major on-line provider stated recently that consumers would be more willing to buy on-line if it weren't for their doubts and hesitancy to give information out via computers and telephone/modem lines. I conducted some research on this matter and found some valuable information from the Federal Trade Commission.
"The B@sics" (taken from "Facts for Consumers," Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Office of Consumer & Business Education; (202) 326-3650) cautions you to:
"Think Security." Starting with your connection -- the way your computer connects through telephone lines to the Internet -- and your browser -- the software that acts like a telephone to receive and present you with the information on the Internet.
Unsecured information sent over the Internet can be intercepted. That's why you need to consider a secure browser, which will encrypt or scramble purchase information. Use a secure browser that complies with industry standards, such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol (S-HTTP). These often are included with Internet connection through your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The credit and charge card industry is working diligently on an enhanced level of security that is simple and affordable using Secured Electronic Transactions (SET). SET protocol provides a highly encrypted communication between card issuers, merchants and card members (as of June '96). Because of the immediacy of the Internet and its rapid growth and advancement, this information may be outdated by the time of publication.
If you don't have encryption software to assure the security of your transaction, consider calling the company you are purchasing from, faxing your order or paying by check or money order.
Shop with companies you know. If you'd like to try a new merchant, ask for a paper catalog or brochure to get a better idea of their merchandise and services. Determine the company's refund and return policies before you place an order.
Never give out your Internet password. Be original when creating your password(s). Consider using a combination of numbers, letter and symbols, or use a phrase to remember it. For example: UR2G$48 -- "You are to give money for eight stars."
Avoid using established numbers for your password, such as your house address or telephone, birth date or a portion of your Social Security number. It's a good idea to use different passwords to access specific areas on the Internet, such as the World Wide Web.
Be cautious if you are asked to supply personal information, such as your Social Security number to conduct a transaction. It's rarely necessary and should raise a red flag. The Internet provides valuable information services for consumers, but some con artists who have used telemarketing, info-mercials, newspapers, magazines and the mail to attract consumers are turning to this new medium to promote their scams.
Pay close attention to the information you're entering when you place an order. For example, an additional key stroke could get you 10 shirts when you only wanted one. Check to make sure the shipping charge is acceptable to you and all charges are calculated correctly.
Make a note of the company's shipping time. If you need the merchandise quickly, ask if your order can be "expressed" for an additional fee.
The same laws that protect you when you shop by telephone or mail apply when you shop in cyberspace. Under the law, a company should ship your order within the time stated in its advertisement. If no time is promised, the company has 30 days from the time it received your order to ship your merchandise or provide an "option notice." This notice gives you the choice of agreeing to the delay or canceling your order and receiving a prompt refund.
There is one exception to the 30-day rule. If a company doesn't promise a shipping time, and you are applying for credit to pay for your purchase, the company has 50 days after receiving your order to ship.
When paying by credit or charge card, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Whether you're buying on-line, by telephone, mail or in-store, using your credit card or charge card to pay offers some protection over paying by cash. If you find a billing error on your monthly credit or charge card statement, you may dispute the charge and withhold payment in that amount while the error is in question. The error might be a charge for the wrong amount, for something you didn't accept, or for something that wasn't delivered as agreed.
Some cards may provide additional warranty or purchase protection benefits. If you're not comfortable entering your credit or charge card account number, call it into the company's 800-number or fax it.
Print out a copy of your order and confirmation number for your records.
I hope the above information is helpful to you when conducting a transaction on-line, whether it be for business or personal purposes. For more information or to obtain the brochure "Facts For Consumers, cyb.er/sho:pp.ing -- Protecting Yourself When Buying Online," visit the FTC at http://www.ftc.gov on the World Wide Web or contact: The Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC. 20580; (202) 326-2222; TDD: (202) 326-2502.
The Consumer Information Center (CIC) publishes a Consumer Information Catalog that lists more than 200 publications from a variety of federal agencies. The CIC can be reached at http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov or Consumer Informaiton Catalog, Pueblo, CO 81009; (719) 948-4000.
American Express has joined in by offering help for purchase protection information on their Web site at http://www.americanexpress.com.
As with all transactions on-line, remember to use caution and good judgment. When conducting business as a professional in the field of interior design, you set the example for the future of this medium. There are many reputable companies that conduct themselves in a professional manor. These are the companies you want to build a solid reputation with. Do not be misled, just because the Web page is appealing and looks enticing. Check them out first!
Editor's Note: This is a continuing series of articles written by Sharon L. Anderson which will answer some of the many questions we receive at Draperies & Window Coverings, as well as questions Anderson has encountered in her own business.
Sharon L. Anderson, Associate Member, Interior Design Educator's Council (IDEC), has more than 14 years experience as a commercial and residential design professional. She has taught numerous courses at colleges and universities throughout Southern California and is a published author and frequent public speaker.