Developers will have to pay more attention to educating their customers in matters of Internet content following a report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) that revealed the majority of e-commerce sites are failing to provide even basic consumer information.
The report lists findings from the recent International Internet Sweep Day, which saw consumer protection agencies from around the world examine almost 700 e-commerce sites, including 250 Australian sites.
Graded lower than average, Australian sites achieved a score of 4.4 out of 10, prompting questions about the responsibility of technology enablers in educating the market about the content and maintenance requirements for an e-commerce site.
'The general understanding is low,' according to Karl Veidis, managing director of Sydney developer Webolution Internet Engineering, who added that the report scores listed 'reflect reality and may even be optimistic'. But instead of looking for the causes of customer dissatisfaction in the business community, Veidis blamed the current situation on misleading marketing strategies.
'This has occurred mainly because, in the beginning, Web sites were [and con-tinue to be] marketed as an electronic version of a company's brochure,' he asserted. '[But] Web sites are [and have always been] software solutions. Because of the sophistication of many of the new Web sites a potential client needs to be edu-cated that what is trying to be achieved is often more complicated than when the company first went onto the Web,' he said.
Andrea Cartwright, manager global strategies at Melbourne-based Multimedia. com agreed, saying educating the marketplace should be amongst e-commerce developers' top priorities.
'If you're working with a client who, for example, doesn't know that you have to put privacy statements on your Web site, you need to guide them and tell them 'you need to do this, you need to do that',' Cartwright commented. 'I find some clients are really up on it, but for some it's a really new thing. In these cases the developer is likely to know more and needs to give them a gentle push.'
However, the lack of information is not the only problem leading to customer disappointment. Inadequate maintenance mechanisms that allow businesses to keep their site information up to date without having to hire outside help are also to blame.
'The problem is there is no consist-ency in the data,' Peter Warren, managing director with Sydney-based online solutions specialist Internet Creative, said. 'If all the vendors categorised products in the same way and provided it in the same format, it would be easy, but they don't. Most businesses don't have the resources and time to maintain their product information to the extent required for an e-commerce site.'
Warren said he has a software solution that offers computer resellers easy maintenance of their e-commerce sites. But for those developers whose solutions do not come with enough educational information and maintenance help to keep their customers' investment worthwhile, the question is - will your customers be the next unhappy lot?