South African President, Thabo Mbeki, recently signed the controversial ECT Bill that introduces a number of regulations to SA's e-commerce world. Among other things, the bill provides for the protection of consumers in terms of privacy and the security of electronic payments. Kalahari.net, SA's leading e-tailer, is fully compliant with the requirements of the ECT Bill and supports the efforts made to protect the consumer.
"Kalahari particularly welcomes the requirements in respect of consumer protection as we believe consumer confidence is key for the continued development of online businesses. Confidence will be boosted when consumers feel they have security in the case of a transaction going wrong. Kalahari has always championed consumer rights and as a leader in the e-tailing market we believe we need to set the standard for South African e-commerce," says Hein Pretorius, Kalahari.net's general manager.
Kalahari has ensured its compliance by signing up with Trust Online, the first South African company to offer an independent assessment service for fulfilment of the requirements of the ECT Bill. Trust Online also offers mediation and arbitration services in the event of a dispute between the website owner and a customer.
Trust Online was developed by E-Business Law and Security (eBLS) and is registered as a separate company. The company's major shareholders are eBLS and Buys Inc, Cape Town's only specialised e-commerce law firm, and believes it is offering a key service to encourage customer confidence in electronic commerce. According to Mijo Skoro, MD of Trust Online, consumers have concerns regarding not only the security of their information but also the reliability of delivery.
"Consumers need to know that a website they are visiting is secure in terms of payments and privacy and that if there's a problem, something can be done about it. Previously, it was difficult, time consuming and expensive for consumers looking for legal recourse in the event of an electronic contract not being honoured. In the real world there is the Office of Consumer Affairs but until now, there has been no independent organisation specifically designed to assists online shoppers and vendors to resolve commercial disputes quickly, effectively and affordably."
In order to be certified by Trust Online, a company needs to be able to:
* Prove that the website is safe in terms of payment methods.
* Have the appropriate privacy technology in place.
* Be fully compliant with all elements of the ECT Bill.
* Offer, through Trust Online, an online dispute. Settlement service that includes both mediation and arbitration.
"Kalahari.net is the first to take the full Trust Online service and we believe that with the ECT Bill now an Act, an increasing number of e-commerce businesses will see the benefit of having specialist support when ensuring their compliance," says Skoro.
Trust Online - how it works
Along with the authentication service provided by Trust Online, the mediation and arbitration facilities add an increased level of security for customers. In the event of a problem that cannot be agreed upon between the customer and the website owner, the customer can send a complaint via Trust Online and the mediation process will begin. If this does not result in resolution, an independent arbitrator will be appointed and both the customer and the website owner agree to abide by the decision taken. Both mediators and arbitrators are advocates and lawyers who have some experience of e-commerce law and include Advocate Willem Heath.
A further advantage for both consumers and websites is that the costs of mediation and arbitration are very low with Trust Online and only the loser in a dispute pays. Costs are lower because the entire dispute is settled via e-mail, saving time and hassle and cutting the need for venues, transport and supporting lawyers. This is a significant advantage the online environment has over the real-world and is not only cost effective but quicker. Arbitration can take place within two weeks rather than the months that are sometimes needed for real world events. The service is completely confidential and requires only the time it takes to write and respond to e-mails from all parties.
Pretorius says, "There are potentially millions of consumers out there who could use the Internet for online transacting, but security continues to be a significant inhibitor. Through Kalahari's compliance with UN regulations we were already fully set up for the ECT Bill but we believe use of an independent body such as Trust Online will help to reassure customers and this will drive the development of e-commerce going forward."
Michelle van der Toorn, 021 595 9600