Shop Assessment

Overview

Retail Gatekeeper’s audit methodology has been formulated from the advice and guidelines gleaned from numerous experts, consumer regulatory and advocacy agencies in USA, UK, Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand. Our methodology is also the outcome of years of research by Retail Gatekeeper.

We have divided our audit assessment into 5 categories and weighted the categories as follows:

Business Transparency  30%
Consumer Protection 20%
Customer Service 30%
Value & Quality 10%
Security 10%

 

1. Business Transparency

 

If you run an online shop and you want the shopping public to trust you, then you owe it to them to be upfront and very clear as to whom you are. We advise all online shops to disclose the following:

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Business registration number

This is the most important piece of information any online shop should disclose on their home page. Without this information it is very difficult to verify the credentials and existence of your online shop.

Ownership of the business

Who owns this online shop? Is it a company or individuals? A website is not a legal entity and cannot enter into any contracts. In most cases the website will be owned by a company. If a company owns the website you should disclose the name of the company and the major shareholders. If owned by individuals disclose the names of the owners.

Director names and profiles

If the online shop is owned by a company, the people legally responsible for how a business conducts itself are the directors. You should disclose the names of the directors.

Names and profiles of key management

Most online shops only have one single email for complaints or queries. In the event that shoppers are not getting a response it would be useful for them to contact a member of the management team.

Business address of where you are based

This allows a shopper to verify existence using a range of techniques. Many small businesses operate from home. Using this address or the registered office of your accountants or lawyers is perfectly reasonable.

Contact names and or email addresses in the event of an issue

This is useful as part of your overall customer service philosophy.

Date this business was started

This gives prospective customers some idea of the experience of the business. New is not necessarily bad. Being silent on such matters can lead to a level of mistrust.

 

2. Consumer Protection

 

Privacy Policy

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Be found from the home page of a stores website

Be brief and easy to understand

Clearly state what information it collects

State the purpose for collecting the information

State how information is stored

State how information is used

State how private information is protected

State how users may make changes to the information collected

It should articulate that you will only receive emails or messages regarding services you subscribe to.

It can deal with Cookies but we prefer a separate policy on cookies

 

Cookies

These are small text files that are placed on your computer by websites that you visit. They are widely used in order to make websites work, or work more efficiently, as well as to provide information to the owners of the site. You should disclose the following in regard to Cookies:

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Each website should have a cookie policy

It should be clearly displayed on the Home page of the website

First time visitors should be required to provide consent to the placement of cookies. This consent can be implied or explicit.

The policy should detail the types of cookies used and the purpose of these cookies

Policy should also deal with session and persistent cookies as well as third party cookies

The policy should clearly articulate how you can disable cookies if you so wish and where to go for further information.

 

Terms & Conditions

These should clearly set out the scope and ideally deal with both terms and conditions in using the website and the sale of goods. Ideally terms and conditions should be easy to read, use simple language and be no longer than 4 pages. Scope should include:

Terms of service

Product specifications and suitability

Warranties

Returns policy

Availability and delivery times

Payment

Governing law

Delivery

Cancellations

Returns

Reviews & comments

Liability

 

Returns Policy & Process

The Returns policy should be clearly displayed on the home page. Elements of a returns policy and process should allow for the following:

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In the world of online shopping it is the ease of use, quality and simplicity of the returns policy that differentiates good shops from the poor shops.

The shopper deserves a fair and simple returns policy and process.

If the product is returned due to the fault of the shop, that is, a faulty product or delivering the wrong product, the cost of returns should be borne by the shop.

Alternatively if the fault is that of the shopper, return costs should be borne by the shopper.

There is however some grey areas such as sizing and colours of products. In these instances the shop is obliged to provide sufficient information and clarity so that the shopper can make the correct decision.

In Europe under the consumer protection (distance selling) you have a right to cancel your order in writing, except for customised products, seven days from the date of receipt. This is considered a good benchmark.

We also consider it good practice to allow customer to cancel products ordered if they have not yet been delivered, particularly if it takes some time to execute delivery.

 

3. Customer Service

Customer service is assessed by reference to shop reviews at sites such as www.sitejabber.com and www.trustpilot.co.uk We urge online shops to monitor reviews at such sites and hold the review site accountable for negative reviews. Review sites have a responsibility to ensure negative reviews can be backed up by customers that have experienced poor service.

Customer service involves the service through chat and email response the shopper receives in making the purchase decision but most importantly the services you receive post purchase.In addition it deals with the actual delivery and returns experiences and how the shop engages on these matters. It also includes quality of the website, product presentation, ease of navigation and checkout processes. Customer service in detail refers to:

The shops returns performance and practices

Email and telephone response

Chat services

These services are useful when clarifying product, delivery or returns details.For smaller online shops a responsive email service will suffice.

Scope of delivery (local and international)

Delivery performance and practices.

Evidence of delayed deliveries will be penalised. If you don’t have the stock on hand inform the shopper of expected receipt. Accepting an order and not having the stock and not informing the shopper is VERY POOR SERVICE.

Honouring discounts

There appears ample evidence of online stores offering discounts on products and not honouring these discounts. They attract shoppers with discounts and while you are visiting their shop you normally will buy other products as well. Evidence of these practices will be penalised in our assessment.

Website design

Clarity, beauty and simplicity.

Website navigation

Ease and speed of navigation and understanding the website.

Website performance.

By reference to Alexa’s performance rating. 9Ideally less than 2 seconds to load.

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4. Value and Quality

Value and quality perceptions will vary from person to person and as a result Retail Gatekeeper does not place great emphasis on this in the shops overall rating. This is for each shopper to decide. In time as our member ratings increase we may change the relative weightings.

The Retail Gatekeeper view of Value and Quality is as follows:

Quality of images and information provided.

Size, colour, quality images, zooming. The ability to assess the product from multiple images.

Detailed descriptions of the product

Third party information.

Customer reviews of the product

Customer reviews of the shop

Third party magazine and other reviews, made available on the shop’s website.

Product price by reference to price comparison sites

Product availability

Fact sheets and related information in making a quality purchase decision.

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5. Security

SSL technology

This technology should be used when customers provide personal information and at the time of payment. A secure web address just before you make payment begins with https:// or an image of a padlock will appear in the bottom right corner of your browser window. This form of security is critical. Ideally the whole site should use SSL technology.

Passwords

Encourage shoppers to use strong passwords and change them regularly. Strong passwords have a mix of capitals, lower case, numbers and punctuation. The online shop should provide advice on the strength of your password.

Suspect websites

Shoppers are generally encouraged to stay away from websites that don’t look trustworthy. Red flags include poor design, a strange or nonsensical Web address, and multiple pop-up windows you can’t close. Ensure your online shop does not raise any of these red flags. 

Anti-malware software

Ensure your online shop website is using up to date anti-malware software that protects you from viruses, spyware and other malware. It is useful to display this on your home page.

Payment methods

Generally most use either a major credit card, Paypal or something similar. Major credit cards include Visa and Master card and American Express. Online shops should allow shoppers to use any of these secure payment methods.

Personal details

Web sites requesting too much personal information should be avoided.

Buying process

The shop should allow you to confirm your order before you buy. The shop should facilitate the shopper keeping a record of the transaction. 

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