Being able to touch or try on the items? Sure! there’s that.
Not waiting for delivery? Sometimes; but not always.
How about information? I’d say information — including the sensory and material kind.
You see, according to the Canadian Competition Bureau, the rules for selling in-store and selling online are the same; yet, repeatedly, I’ve failed to find country of origin information while shopping online.
In a store you can pick up a shoe and find country of origin information on the tongue or sole. Online, that information is arbitrarily available, even while surfing within a single site. One shoe might have country of origin, while another won’t.
Some online retailers present country of origin information upfront; probably because it works as a marketing tool, conveniently tapping into patriotism, or traditional regional associations with quality. For example, technology items with the label, “Made in Japan,” suggest superior quality and innovation. Ditto for the Swiss made timepiece or army knife. In the past, I’ve even seen, “Proudly made in the USA” headlining select baking pans at one American online retailer.
And while labels may not reveal the whole truth — with, “made in Canada” sometimes meaning stitched in Canada with foreign components — that’s a different beast. The issue here is that country of origin information, which retailers must provide on their goods, is consistently found in-store, but only sporadically online.
The Canadian Labelling Acts (Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, and Textile Labelling Act) exist partly to inform consumer decision-making; However, neither Act specifically tackles the issue of labelling online goods.
If no one has thought of addressing that issue yet, it’s time.
Statistics Canada data shows that in Canada, between 2007 and 2009, sales of online goods and services increased from $12.8 billion to $15 billion, a 17 per cent increase within two years.
Furthermore, as people adapt to the Internet, e-commerce is expected to thrive, with those who begin using the Internet primarily as a communication tool, eventually adapting to its other uses.
And considering social trends, country of origin information is good to know.
Anti-globalization and environmentally conscious groups are drumming up support for locally produced items, and those grown close to home, or sustainably produced.
Details such as country of origin are important to these groups, which tend to be affluent and educated, and likely to spend in keeping with their values.
You might be wondering: Isn’t the government doing anything to ensure labelling compliance online?
Well, so far they haven’t taken up the issue specifically. A representative I spoke to at Industry Canada agreed that there is a gap needing remedy, adding that he would suggest it to the powers that be; but that’s all.
Still, recognizing the importance of helping consumers adopt to business on the Internet, Industry Canada provides a Canadian Code of Practice for Consumer Protection in Electronic Commerce (CCPCPEC). It was created with the help of various members of the business community, but it might do well with more exposure and compliance from those participating businesses, which are promotable as role-models.
The first of eight CCPCPEC principles essentially calls upon vendors to provide up-front information about the goods or services they offer for sale, and requiring “material information that consumers would otherwise have available to them when buying the goods or services offline . . . .”
Again, although country of origin is implied, it isn’t specifically mentioned in this provision.
Retailers I contacted did not explain why they don’t consistently provide country of origin information; but some provided the information for specific items when requested. One was a participating CCPCPEC advisor.
Now, I don’t know about other people, but I’m likely to pass up a purchase rather than e-mail for more information, or call and wait for a customer service agent, who is not guaranteed to provide the desired information anyway. And on those sites allowing instant messaging with agents, that service can be unpredictable, or unavailable when you desire it. In sum, this lack of information can cost in sales.
In-store, if you can’t get the help you need, you might just walk out; Online, you click away to another site, which will hopefully provide the information you desire with less hassle.
In light of all this, the opportunity exists for both retailers and government to ensure country of origin information is available online, as it is in-store — after all, if it can be done sometimes, why not all the time? especially since most information is stored electronically nowadays.