To what ex­tent is an on­line re­tailer re­spon­si­ble for the ad­ver­tis­ing and prices on its site? Well, that de­pends on its busi­ness model… and the terms and con­di­tions.

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS -

DO YOU SHOP on­line? If you haven’t tried it, you’re not a di­nosaur – on­line shop­ping ac­counted for only about 1% of the coun­try’s over­all re­tail last year. This might pale in com­par­i­son to the busi­ness con­ducted in­side phys­i­cal stores, but re­tail­ers are in­vest­ing heav­ily in e-com­merce, be­cause not do­ing so means be­ing left be­hind.

A World Wide Worx (WWW) study from last year said that, for the first time since the dawn of e-com­merce in SA, on­line re­tail was ex­pected to re­main be­low R900 bil­lion. By 2020, the re­searchers fore­cast on­line sales will dou­ble.

Arthur Gold­stuck, WWW’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and prin­ci­pal an­a­lyst for the sur­vey, noted: “While 1% rep­re­sents a very small pro­por­tion of over­all re­tail, it is also a psy­cho­log­i­cal bar­rier for in­vest­ment in e-com­merce ini­tia­tives by phys­i­cal re­tail­ers.

“The num­ber also masks the ex­tent to which a num­ber of ma­jor re­tail­ers have ex­ceeded the 1% on­line mark by a sub­stan­tial mar­gin, com­pared to the vast ma­jor­ity that are not yet close to this mark, if they have an e-com­merce pres­ence at all.”

An­other 2016 study, by Ef­fec­tive Mea­sure, found con­sumers were at­tracted mostly to the con­ve­nience: time-sav­ing, the abil­ity to ac­cess prod­uct re­views, spe­cial of­fers and price com­par­isons are the four main rea­sons for shop­ping on­line. Yet 37% of this study’s 12 000 re­spon­dents said they pre­fer to touch and feel be­fore pur­chas­ing, while 53% of re­spon­dents said they sim­ply did not trust on­line pay­ments.

That trust can be eroded by what con­sumers con­strue as mis­lead­ing ad­ver­tis­ing. Max Ve­nier wrote to me about his is­sue with Takealot, which pro­motes it­self as “SA’s favourite on­line store”.

Af­ter notic­ing a daily deal for a 5L Blau­mann stain­less steel bin, Ve­nier ques­tioned how Takealot could claim the bin was dis­counted by 79% when it was nowhere near that.

He com­plained to Takealot, ask­ing: “Can you please ex­plain how the item on your daily deal – the 5-litre Blau­mann stain­less steel bin – can be dis­counted by 79% from R1 199 to R249, but on your nor­mal cat­a­logue, the 20-litre Blau­mann stain­less steel bin is R399 (not dis­counted).

“I be­lieve this is to­tally un­eth­i­cal and mis­lead­ing, and should be re­ported. This is in to­tal con­tra­dic­tion of your re­spon­si­ble dis­clo­sure re­port.”

The re­sponse from Takealot was wholly un­sat­is­fac­tory: “Thank you for your pa­tience while your query was be­ing es­ca­lated. Please note that the item is sold by a third-party seller and Takealot has no say in the prices they set for their list­ings.”

Ve­nier wasn’t con­vinced: “It’s sold on the Takealot plat­form. Surely you, as Takealot, should en­sure your re­spon­si­ble dis­clo­sure that you pro­mote is ap­plied, or do you let third-party sell­ers dic­tate and mis­lead Takealot sub­scribers/ buy­ers? I feel the con­sumer is pur­pose­fully mis­led with fake high dis­count per­cent­ages of to­tally over-in­flated prices which the net amounts to the nor­mal sell­ing price.”

Such cor­po­rate Takealot 1 on 2 on BMW 1 on Absa 1 on FNB of Home 2 on Dept Af­fairs Global 1 on VFS Post Of­fice 2 on SA Agents onRen­tal 3 Ten­ants 2 on speak and prom­ises of “es­ca­la­tion” are enough to get any­one riled. So I asked Julie-Anne Walsh, Takealot’s chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer, to ex­plain.

“(We al­ways strive for) hon­est, sim­ple and di­rect com­mu­ni­ca­tion of our pric­ing, dis­counts and prod­uct in­for­ma­tion… We’re in the process of reach­ing out to Mr Ve­nier to ex­plain the re­sults of our in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his com­plaint, as it’s now clear to us that our first ex­pla­na­tion did not give him all rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion, and we will ad­dress this in­ter­nally with the team mem­bers in­volved.

“To start, a quick ex­pla­na­tion of how our prices are set and dis­played on the Takealot web­site: On each prod­uct in­for­ma­tion page, the list price (LP) and sell­ing price (SP) are set man­u­ally and the per­cent­age sav­ing is cal­cu­lated from these two amounts and dis­played au­to­mat­i­cally. This sys­tem works iden­ti­cally for our own lines of prod­ucts, where the in­for­ma­tion is pro­vided by our sup­pli­ers, and also for third­party sell­ers.

“The LP shown in SA 1 on Loan Finder 3 on Loan Le­gal Life­style 1 on Vo­da­com 2 on 1 on MTN Bank Stan­dard 1 on Se­lect Im­pe­rial 1 on Life Lib­erty 1 on Bank African 1 on Fridge Dare 1 on AA re­spect of deals and other dis­counted goods is the rec­om­mended re­tail price (RRP) sug­gested to us by the sup­plier of the rel­e­vant prod­uct. Where the sup­plier has not pro­vided an RRP, an es­ti­mate may be pro­vided. Where a prod­uct is of­fered for sale by a third-party seller, the LP may be pro­vided by the third-party seller.

“The LP is there­fore es­sen­tially based on the RRP of the prod­uct, pro­vided to us by our sup­plier or the seller. While our sell­ers must in­clude an SP, they are un­der no obli­ga­tion to in­clude an LP in the prod­uct in­for­ma­tion that they pro­vide to us. On Jan­uary 23, 2017, our prod­uct list­ing for the 20-litre Blau­mann bin did not in­clude the item’s LP – only the SP of R399, and there­fore re­flected no dis­count. The seller has since con­firmed with us that the cor­rect LP of the 20-litre bin was R1 999.

“By com­par­i­son, our prod­uct list­ing for the 5-litre Blau­mann bin, as fea­tured on Daily Deals on the same day, in­cluded both the LP (R1 199) and the SP (R249), thus re­flect­ing a dis­count of 79%.

“The LP be­ing in­cluded on one prod­uct (the 5-litre bin) but not the other (the 20-litre bin) cre­ated an in­com­plete pic­ture of the range’s com­par­a­tive dis­counts on that date. The ef­fect was Mr Ve­nier think­ing the LP on the 5-litre bin must have been in­flated and the re­sult­ing dis­count over­stated – when in fact it was due to an omis­sion of any LP on the com­par­a­tive prod­uct (the 20-litre bin).

“Takealot has in­formed the seller of the is­sue and rec­om­mended that all items in that range must in­clude list prices in fu­ture.

“The seller has con­firmed that the omis­sion was ac­ci­den­tal. It’s worth not­ing that it is not ben­e­fi­cial for a seller to omit an LP when the re­sult­ing dis­count is so sig­nif­i­cant; in the case of the 20-litre bin on this day, 80%. Fol­low­ing this, the seller swiftly up­dated the prod­uct list­ing of the 20-litre bin to in­clude the LP.”

Walsh then ex­plained that Takealot does hold sell­ers ac­count­able for ac­cu­rate prod­uct-re­lated in­for­ma­tion on the site. “Sell­ers should make sure that the in­for­ma­tion they put on the Takealot web­site is ac­cu­rate, and in our seller agree­ment with them we oblige them to en­sure this. Non-com­pli­ance with the seller agree­ment is taken se­ri­ously and can re­sult in dis­ci­plinary ac­tion and, in crit­i­cal or per­sis­tent cases, swift re­moval from the Takealot seller por­tal.”

That’s good to know, es­pe­cially for peo­ple who are not com­fort­able with on­line shop­ping.

The seller swiftly up­dated the prod­uct list­ing

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