Thursday, December 11, 2014

Online Scams: How to Make an Educated Purchase Decision

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
In the previous two articles we investigated two common internet scams featuring Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Fake Online Reviews.  Each of these had their own individual tips on how to avoid falling for suspect marketing techniques.

But how can an a savvy consumer reduce the risk of being taken by an Online scammer when making a purchase?

Do Not Rush!

The biggest tip in avoiding online scams is not to rush into making a decision.  Often scammers, either by phone or online, are encouraging their targeted potential client to rush into a purchasing decision.  Whether it be a water heater, SEO or a free cruise, the high pressure sales tactics are quite evident.  They want to see your gas bill to promise you savings on your hot water heater, they threaten to remove you from Google and promise you a free cruise if you pay certain shipping charges for the tickets.  With promises like these why would a potential client say no?  But sadly, in the end many clients who have signed up have either seen very little savings or nothing in return for the money paid.

These high pressure tactics are quite easy to avoid by adhering to:

Do not buy anything right away over the phone, online or at the door when the salesperson contacts you. If you seem interested in the product or service, ask them for a brochure and/or business card for you to contact them after you think about it. If they persist, with sales tactics, kindly decline their service.  A good sales person will hand you what you need and say "feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need help moving forward".

Do not give any billing information to a salesperson or contractor.  Your current service provider will not need this information as they should already have this on file, how else would they bill you? Remember to only allow contractors that you have requested visit your home in.  Contractors who appear out of the blue are not likely to be an authorized contractor with your service provider and may only want to see your equipment to obtain information in order to gain your personal information and questionably take over business.

Do not succumb to threats.  A good company would never threaten you for not using their services. We've been threatened to be taken off of Google completely and  have the police called on us if we didn't adhere to certain demands.  If a company representative makes a threat, simply hang up and move on.

Do Your Research!

To protect yourself and your business from falling for these shysters make sure to do your research before making a significant purchase.  It seems many shoppers have already started doing this by turning to the internet to research before making a purchase. In a 2013 study computer component manufacturer Cisco, found "78 percent of all shoppers use the Internet to research and purchase products and services."   These savvy consumers want to make sure their prospective purchase will live up to marketing hype before handing over their money by conducting thorough research. 

What's even more more notable, in this same 2013 Cisco study, was that:

 "...online ratings and reviews on retailer websites are cited as most influential in purchase decisions by 52 percent of respondents, followed by advice from friends and family (49 percent). "   

In other words survey respondents have indicated they are more likely to consult what people are saying online about a certain product or service than traditionally speaking with friends of family.  But there is an easy to use process to take advantage of both recommendations from friends and family as well utilizing a plethora of online resources to make an educated decision. 

How to Research a Purchase Online

Recently we used a strategic approach in researching for a number of purchases.  In the past year we have purchased a new washer & dryer, residential shingle replacement and residential heating & cooling systems.   In making these purchases we adhered to the following step by step process:

Ask friends & family for recommendations. Many of our friends and family members are willing to share a good contact for a product or service. Ask around to see who they recommend. A great spot to start is Facebook where you can post a status requesting referrals (e.g. "I'm looking to have my Furnace and Air Conditioner replaced, anybody know of a good HVAC company in the Ottawa area?").  For any project, collect the names of four or more recommendations preferably from two or more of family and friends.

Google the company or product name. Many consumers with bad customer relationships will share their experiences online.  So make sure to go through at least the first three pages of Google results noting what complaints there are about the company or product.  A company or product with lots of negative responses is probably not worth your while.   Tip: Make sure to include searching the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website if dealing with a service provider as the BBB reputably rates companies depending on customer service complaints and resolutions.

Use Social Media to see what others are saying.  Many reputable retailers including Best Buy, Canadian Tire, Home Depot and Sears provide opportunities for consumers to review the products they sell on their website. Read as many of these consumer reviews as you can and across as many websites.  At this stage, be sure to follow these tips to avoid falling for fake online reviews.  Further your social media research by reviewing websites like Yelp.caUrbanspoon.com  and Tripadvisor.ca to get a more broader perspective from a base of people who have already purchased what you are exploring.

Narrow the number of prospects down.  After doing the preliminary research both from recommendations and searching the internet, narrow down your list of prospects to about three companies. This will remove any questionable companies from your list as well as narrow your focus to those you are likely to do business with.

Request a Quotation from each of your prospects.  The best way to request a quotation is via e-mail instead of over the phone. This allows you to clearly communicate with a prospective product or service provider about what exactly your needs are right from the start.  Be sure to attach photos and/or links examples of your needs if necessary.

Review the Quotations.  A good customer focused company will provide a clearly worded and priced Quotation for the solution to your needs along with a single client representative.  This client representative will be your main source of contact for pretty well everything to do with your purchase including everything signing the quotation, implementation of promised product or service, ensuring accepting final payment and answering any questions or concerns. Tip: take your time before making a final decision to allow time for you to think over each aspect of of your purchase and ask clarifying questions to each provider

Implementation of your purchase.  Be on site for either installation or delivery of your purchase. Greet the team in a friendly manner and be open to helping them with anything they may need (e.g. door held open, easy access routes, etc.).  Be sure to ask questions during delivery or installation of your purchase if anything is unclear.  If your new purchase (e.g. furnace, roof shingles, etc.) requires a lengthy installation period, be sure to check in with the team about the progress and if the promised timelines are achievable.

Offer testimonials. If you or your business received quality service someone you have done business with, be sure to offer a testimonial or recommendation.  LinkedIn is a great tool to offer a written recommendation to recognize the great service you received from the main point of contact at the company.  Find tips on how to offer a Recommendation here
With consumers turning towards the internet to research purchases more frequently, marketers are devising schemes on how to skew this research in their favor.  But if consumers do broad research using multiple sources, these marketing tricks can easily be overcome.

Businesses who that employ desperate marketing tactics like buying positive reviews and threatening prospective customers are not likely to see much business.  Businesses can easily benefit by employing positive online social media marketing tactics including encouraging customer testimonials and positively responding to customer service issues by being easily found online in search.  You never know where a prospective customer may find your business, so make sure to employ honest marketing techniques across multiple platforms to make your business easy to find. With almost  nine out of every ten consumers turning to search and social media to research purchases, businesses will benefit in having a positive presence.

Need help with promoting your company online in a positive way using social media and review websites?  Suddcorp Solutions can help customize and implement a solution that fits your company's needs while avoiding shady marketing tactics.