Saturday, 22 September 2007

Online shopping: credit card companies, how to promote your card (and supermarkets, how to make more money)

Internet shopping is exploding particularly in the UK (and see some detailed EU stats), especially amongst the time-poor, cash-rich A and B social grades so prized by retailers. Online sales of clothes have overtaken computers, even buying food and groceries on the internet is big, so online buying is certainly not a geek-only activity anymore, if it ever was. But having to be at home to take delivery at a time when you're supposed to be at work is a real problem for consumers without stay-at-home nannies or servants, which is in fact most of us, wouldja believe.

Most online shopping sites frequented by the average UK consumer take credit card payments rather than e.g. PayPal, from experience, so electronic shopping by credit card is growing.

This means there's a big missed opportunity here for credit card companies, who already face fierce competition for users judging by the number of letters I get every week from companies trying to thrust "pre-approved" cards on me. They make all sorts of "special offers" I don't want or need, and which other companies offer anyway. Why can't they offer something I do need?

Dear credit card or payment card companies, would you like a real selling point to differentiate yourselves from your competitors by promoting a simple service which consumers really want because it'll solve a genuine and common practical problem for them?

Here's how to promote your card (and I'm not even charging for this advice, aren't I generous): offer your customers the option of giving two, maybe three alternative addresses which will automatically be recognised as an official "registered address" on online or electronic credit card payment systems when entered for a "customer not present" purchase.

Then, as well as home address, consumers can register their office or work address, maybe their mother's or a friendly neighbour's, and have their orders delivered there where they can be sure someone will be in to take delivery and sign if necessary, rather than having to play telephone tag with couriers who try to deliver to a home address during work hours when you're, well, duh, at work.

Missed deliveries for "not at homes" also cost businesses a lot of money, which they could save if only credit cards provided this option. So my suggestion would kill two birds with one stone. Credit card fraud could be minimised by only allowing the customer to register 2 or at max 3 official addresses, after going through the usual security checks with the credit card company.

Then, when you buy stuff over the Net or on the telephone, you could enter your preferred delivery address on the online form or give it to the seller, your credit card would be accepted, and you could get your items delivered easily. You'd only have to register your delivery address once, with your credit card company, and not separately with every retailer that allows alternative delivery addresses, though of course you'd still have to give that address as your delivery address for your purchase.

I don't understand why credit card corporations don't already offer this service. Maybe their computer systems aren't up to coping with more than one "registered address" per customer?

Yes, it's possible to get round this problem at the moment. I do, by having one card registered to home and a different credit card registered to work, and using the work card when I need stuff delivered to work. Also, some suppliers are willing to deliver to your workplace, e.g. Amazon, though in some cases they'll do that only after you've ordered from them a few times, and you have to ask for it or input your alternative address. The big supermarkets cleverly offer their customers a choice of set delivery time-slots so that you can pick a delivery time when you know you'll be in, and they even deliver out of office hours. Some people have staff at their homes, but that's not exactly most of us. Ingenious secure solutions to the home delivery problem include the Hippo Box or Dormouse Box, which I can't have as there's no way I'd get permission to have one bolted to the front of my grade 2 listed building, otherwise I'd order one like a shot.

But really it's a pain and I'd much rather have one credit card which I can be sure I'll be able to use anywhere to buy anything and get hassle-free delivery of my goods at home or work etc, whatever I decide for the individual purchase.

I've banged on about the home delivery problem before, but I thought it was time to do so again. I really wish the IMRG would lobby the credit card industry about this, because it has to be good for e-tailers too as well as sellers in telephone and mobile commerce, or any kind of home shopping really. If a credit card company takes up this idea, please let me know, I'll be switching to you pronto (as long as you offer cashback too!).

And if any supermarket delivery service (Tesco, Sainsburys, Ocado etc) wants to branch out by offering its delivery service to other retailers for a fee, given that they've clearly mastered the art of making deliveries outside of office hours in definite time slots that suit the customer while still making a profit, the Royal Mail and courier companies had better watch out!

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