I am often asked how you know whether the supplier you have found on a search engine like Google is legitimate and if the supplier requests a deposit prior to delivering the service you require, how you know that you haven't just been scammed as they disappear with your money.
In our industry of business consulting, we are faced with this question on a daily basis. It is standard practice for a business consultant to request a deposit prior to the commencement of a client's project.
The deposit is used to cover the expenses and time incurred for initiating and managing the client's project. There are various other industries in South Africa that operate in the same fashion.
As a rule, most consumers are hesitant in paying for a service provided by an online company before they have at least personally met a representative of the company.
As a rule, South Africans (and most other countries' citizens for that matter) are not trusting in nature when it comes to paying for a service if they haven't physically met the supplier or at least visited their offices.
The Internet allows individuals or companies to communicate with a large audience without spending a lot of time, effort, or money.
Anyone can reach tens of thousands of people by building an Internet website, posting a message on an online bulletin board, entering a discussion in a live "chat" room, or sending mass e-mails.
Vetting online suppliers
So, before you part with your hard earned money, consider the following if you are uncomfortable in working with a virtual supplier that uses the Internet as their primary marketing tool:
1. Review the website
Expensive looking websites can be set up all too easily and it's relatively easy to create a professional looking website that seems trustworthy.
Therefore, before engaging with an online business it's prudent to make a number of simple checks. When viewing a website, ensure there are 'About' and 'Contact' pages.
Another check is to determine how often the supplier's website is updated. A website that is older than 6 months may raise concerns.
A supplier's website that is updated at least once a month should demonstrate to you that they are actively involved in ensuring that the information provided and latest client testimonials is up to date.
2. Verify the company
Of course, it's important to match up the website's company name and registered address with the records on Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC).
Also request the company registration number from the supplier. If the business is not a company (such as a sole trader or a partnership), it will need to be registered with CIPC in order to trade in South Africa.
3. Review the company
Search engines like Google can also help uncover lots of useful information about a website.
Try searching for reviews about the company - you may even uncover previous warnings from disgruntled customers or from the authorities.
Another alternative is to use Google to search for the name of the company's representative. Websites like www.hellopeter.com will also list any customer complaints received from South African consumers.
If the website itself lists testimonials, check to see if the clients named actually exist and if so try contacting them.
Any company that lists testimonials of past satisfied customers will be more than happy to provide you with these customers' contact particulars so that you can personally verify the positive claims.
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