ecommerce audit

Gaining the trust of online shoppers through customized audits

The final month of the year in many countries marks a holiday season – and time to go shopping for gifts! As consumers the world over seek to avoid crowds and shop in safety, this year more than ever people are turning to the internet for their gift purchases. E-commerce is a rapidly growing retail force, representing just under a fifth of total retail sales worldwide[1]. This proportion has grown significantly since the beginning of the pandemic, when it accounted for just under 14% of sales.

However, some people are still reticent to buy online, remaining suspicious of websites and vendors on e-commerce platforms. To ensure their credibility, online retailers and platforms need to know that the vendors on their site are selling products that are safe and meet regulations, and that the service they provide matches what is advertised. It’s all about trust, so how do the stakeholders involved in online transactions build that – among each other and their end consumers?

Building trust in products

The problem of counterfeit goods has grown exponentially in the last few years. A study in the US estimated that seizures of counterfeit or infringing products increased 10-fold between 2000 and 2018[2]. In addition to products, marks meant to convey the safety and reliability of products are also being faked. This can have serious health and safety impacts – for example in the case of a child’s doll which, due perhaps to shoddy workmanship or cheap materials used – presents a choking hazard or contains potentially harmful toxins. The overall consequence of these crimes is a severe decline in consumer trust as they find themselves buying products that are essentially cheaply made copies, and/or which have not been subject to quality controls. To restore trust, the TIC Council Americas has issued strong recommendations to stakeholders on how to combat the growth of counterfeit goods sold in the US.

Instilling confidence in partners

For businesses, the counterfeiting industry has serious consequences in terms of lost revenues and damage to brand reputation; and the erosion of consumer trust is harmful across the board – to shops both on and offline. Online marketplaces face two main types of threats from unscrupulous vendors and suppliers. Firstly, they can find themselves targeted by companies that are simply unable to manufacture the goods they purport to sell or to ship them within the required timeframe. Such companies may just be sub-standard, or they may actually be scam companies that are not properly registered. The reputation of an online marketplace can also suffer from association with vendors that do business unethically and irresponsibly, for example using child labor or unethically sourced materials. 

The e-commerce platform challenge     

By 2025, around one dollar in every four will be spent online[3]. Some platforms currently have hundreds or even thousands of vendors and, over the next 20 years, not only is the number and power of platforms likely to grow, so is the number of references each one carries. This proliferation means consumers are spoilt for choice. It also creates a significant challenge for platforms as they seek to keep track of their suppliers and maintain control of their brand image.

It is worryingly easy for a dishonest vendor to damage the reputation of a legitimate website or platform. For example, when a consumer buys an electrical appliance as a gift via the website of a major high street retailer, she will not necessarily notice that the product is in fact being sold by a third-party vendor. Should anything go wrong with this purchase, the consumer will almost certainly blame the retailer and her perception of the quality and reliability they offer – along with her trust in the brand - will be significantly diminished. E-commerce platforms seeking to mitigate the risk of incidents like this are increasingly turning to specialized third parties to conduct reliable independent audits of their vendors.

Customized audits for e-commerce

Bureau Veritas provides a number of e-commerce companies with bespoke third-party supplier certification services in order to create a more trustworthy purchasing environment for customers and help them attract more high quality buyers and suppliers. Bureau Veritas performs an on-site audit of each supplier and potential supplier, covering critical areas from product manufacturing to human resources and customer service. We provide an in-depth assessment report which the client can choose to make available on their website.

The advantages for our clients are multiple. The fact that our audit programs are fully customized means they address the specific needs of the platform and the way it works. The boost to reputation they receive is significant thanks to Bureau Veritas’ global renown as a trusted name in certification. Certain Bureau Veritas clients have even chosen to implement full-scale “verified supplier” programs, which add value to the vendor as well as the platform by helping them attract and prove themselves to potential overseas buyers.

An e-commerce holiday wish

E-commerce is a major sector experiencing a boom likely to continue for years to come. But with rapid growth come new and greater challenges, and there can be no one-size-fits-all approach to the significant and multiple risks faced by online marketplaces. Particularly since, with no in-store experience to offer customers, their reputations and revenues are largely based on the quality and timely delivery of their goods.

Supplier management is a critical issue that requires an expert solution from a trusted independent body. By choosing Bureau Veritas, e-commerce players send a powerful message to their partners and customers about their commitment to quality, safety and ethical business practices, as well as the high standards they impose on supply chain. That kind of boost is sure to be on every e-commerce platform’s wish-list this year and for many holiday seasons to come. 

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