As America Online gets further entrenched in its position as the world’s largest e-commerce portal site, the company has wisely responded to online consumer confidence issues, by developing the AOL Certified Merchant Guarantee.
In a special area of AOL.com, the company outlines what it refers to as “Our 100% Guarantee” of customer satisfaction for all products purchased on AOL, and declares “AOL Protects You” with secure transactions, merchandise return policies and quick customer service.
Online guarantees are not unique to AOL, nor are they new. However, as online shopping rapidly gains ground in “mainstream” culture and merchants are now scrambling to address consumer confidence and satisfaction issues, it is interesting to refer to AOL’s initiatives as a point of reference.
Certified Merchant Guidelines
AOL’s Certified Merchant program requires qualifying online vendors to provide the following services:
Post complete details of their Customer Service policies, including contact information, shipping information, return policy, and guarantee information.
Receive and respond to e-mail within one business day of receipt.
Monitor online store to minimize or eliminate out-of-stock merchandise.
Receive orders electronically and process orders within one business day of receipt.
Provide the customer with an order confirmation within one business day of receipt.
Deliver all merchandise in professional packaging. All packages should arrive undamaged, well-packed, and neat, barring any shipping disasters.
Ship the displayed product at the price displayed without substituting.
Total Satisfaction Guarantee
If an online shopper is dissatisfied with a purchase “for any reason,” the consumer notifies the vendor of the issue. However, if the complaint is not resolved by the merchant, then AOL Customer Service Help Desk will step in to resolve the outstanding issue. This is good news for consumers who are not at the mercy of any individual merchant for a guarantee of satisfaction. Rather, the online merchant has great incentive to soothe the consumer, in an effort to avoid confrontation with AOL.
Credit Card Protection
One major area of concern to online shoppers is the fear that their credit card information will be intercepted by cyber-criminals who will then add unauthorized charges to the shopper’s credit account. However, America Online states that, “Since the creation of AOL’s Shopping Channel, and the inception of our Guarantee in October 1996, AOL has never received a report of a credit card that was compromised during a shopping transaction with AOL Certified Merchants.” According to the company, “This actually makes shopping with AOL Certified Merchants safer than shopping at the local mall.”
AOL may claim that information is safe, but it is not. I had a charge on my ATM/Visa Check card last month for $59.95…this was a charge from AOL Credit Protection. I AM NOT an AOL member and certainly did not order this product/service and did not authorize the charge to my Visa. I don’t even know how they got my card number…they wouldn’t tell me. I spent hours trying to deal with this division of AOL and as it stands now, they will credit my card in 10-15 business days! Some protection!