state “use” tax. Again, according to experts, this rarely happens. Most people don’t even know that they are supposed to pay taxes in this situation and most states don’t enforce this rule.
“For example, if you buy a book from Amazon.com, the purchase should be tax-free [unless you are in the state of Washington, where the company has offices],” explains Adams. If you buy a book from BarnesandNoble.com, the law
justifies taxes at the time of the sale because Barnes & Noble has stores and offices in just about every state. “These laws have always been on the books, but are seldom enforced,” he continues.
One deterrent to many potential Internet shoppers is the perception that you’re not likely to get as much personal attention as you’ve come to expect. On the Net, customer-service issues range from providing adequate information and descriptions about items for sale to providing sufficient confirmation of a sale. Guarding customer records, timely shipping of merchandise and dealing with returns are other concerns. A recent study by Jupiter Communications confirms that shoppers’ perceptions are justified.
Jupiter’s survey showed that 42% of online consumers had had no response from customer service after five days. “In Internet terms, that is unacceptable,” says Schreiber. “We believe customer service needs to grow a lot.” Retailers often suffer from problems ranging from too few customer-support personnel to technical glitches. The best way for consumers to combat this problem is to read and understand the site’s policies regarding purchases. When Mouzon ordered a pair of shoes that arrived damaged, he got on the phone and got prompt service. “They paid for the shipping and sent the new shoes before I sent back the damaged ones, so they actually showed a lot of trust,” he says.
Heidi Brown also got good service with a return when she shopped at the Gap’s online store. “The reason I like the site is that they have pretty good visuals and descriptions,” she says. In addition, the site was easy to navigate, showed clearly which items were on sale and sent confirmation of her purchase instantly. But after one of the items she bought went on sale online less than a week later, she called customer service. “I was ready to give them a huge explanation of why I should get the sale price, but I didn’t have to,” she recalls. “They just gave me the sale price.”
The story doesn’t end there. Days later, while shopping at the Gap store near her home, Heidi noticed that the merchandise she ordered online-the same merchandise a salesperson told her wouldn’t be in stock at the store for a while-showed up on the racks. She called the Gap’s customer-service number a second time, and explained that she should be refunded shipping and handling fees on her recent online purchase. “On both occasions, they were glad to do it,” she says. “I didn’t have to beg and it was hassle-free.”
Although problems will undoubtedly arise when shopping online, more merchants are becoming aware of their