Consumers may be shopping online in record numbers, but they aren't necessarily happy with the experience, says US Commerce Secretary William Daley.
Daley and US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Robert Pitofsky made the observations in a joint press conference here on Friday, the last day of Consumer Protection Week.
"In the past year we saw e-shopping come of age," said Daley, citing a three-fold increase in online sales from $US3 billion in 1997 to $US9 billion in 1998. But, he added, privacy infringements and less-than-stellar customer service remain areas of serious concern for a majority of consumers.
Pointing to a survey conducted by Jupiter Communications/NFO, Daley said consumers are less satisfied with their online shopping experience today than they were six months ago.
"Sites are slow, selection is thin, and orders are processed slowly," Daley said. "The fact is, people do want to shop online, but they want to get what they bargain for."
Daley praised several Web-based consumer protection programs, including those from the Online Privacy Alliance, Truste, the Better Business Bureau Online, and AOL Certified Merchants. All have increased their membership over the past year. But a great deal more work remains to be done, he added. "We want to see more work with small companies [joining these organisations]."
Like Daley, Pitofsky struck a cautionary note about the growth in online shopping.
"The Internet as a marketplace will not reach full potential unless consumers are confident, safe, and secure," Pitofsky said. "People think of e-commerce as the Wild West, where there's no law and anything goes."