Over the weekend, I ran across a fascinating – and somewhat disturbing – account of a new approach to e-commerce. You can read the full article from the NY Times. I’ll just summarize it briefly here, and then talk a bit about what you can do to protect yourself from this sort of thing.
This past summer, a woman named Clarabelle Rodriguez ordered some glasses online from a website called DecorMyEyes, which she found by searching Google for the brand name she was looking for. She also ordered some contacts. This is where it gets strange.
The day after ordering, she received a phone call from the company saying that they were out of the contacts she wanted, and that she would need to choose another brand. When she declined and asked for a refund, he got rude and obnoxious, essentially trying to bully her into another brand.
Two days later, her glasses arrived, but they were counterfeit. On top of that, she discovered that she had been billed for $125 more than the total she was presented with at checkout.
When she threatened to dispute the charge with her credit card issuer, things got nasty. The proprietor of DecorMyEyes started threatening, harassing, and stalking her in an attempt to get her to drop her claim.
She went to the police, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), her cell phone carrier (to block the harassing calls), his web host (to get his site taken down), and so on, but nobody was willing to help.
No such thing as bad publicity
In case you’re unaware, there are a number of consumer protection websites out there where consumers can post about their experiences. One such website is full of negative reports about DecorMyEyes, and guess what? The owner of DecorMyEyes couldn’t be happier.
Here’s the text of one of his posts on that same site:
“Hello, My name is Stanley with DecorMyEyes.com. I just wanted to let you guys know that the more replies you people post, the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement.”
Yes, you read that right. His goal is negative advertisement. The reason for this is that Google drives the majority of traffic on the web, and they rank sites based on the number and quality of inbound links.
Consumer protection sites such as GetSatisfaction are well-respected in Google’s eyes, so links from there carry a lot of weight. And when people complain about the company on their own websites, they’re just adding to the diversity of links. All of these things push DecorMyEyes higher in the search engines, meaning that more and more unsuspecting consumers will be sent their way.
Sure, if you search for the company name, you will see all sort of nasty reviews, but if you search for a certain brand of glasses, you’ll frequently find DecorMyEyes ranked very highly in the Google search results with nary a bad word about them.
In other words, in a world dominated by internet search engines, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
How to protect yourself
While it’s true that you can often get great deals by shopping online, you have to be careful. Fortunately, it’s not all that hard to protect yourself.
One line of defense would be to stick only with known quantities. For example, only buy from companies like Amazon, who are well known and sell just about everything under the sun – and if they don’t sell it themselves, someone in their marketplace likely does.
The good thing about vendors like Amazon is that they run a tight ship, so even if you’re dealing with a marketplace vendor, Amazon has your back. The downside is that you can often find better prices from lesser known vendors.
If you’re intent on finding the best possible deal and are willing to deal with relatively unknown sites, then the easiest thing you can do to protect yourself is to simply run a Google search for the name of the company and look through the results. You might also consider searching for <company-name scam>, as that will turn up even more of the negative results that are out there.
If you see a ton of negativity, look elsewhere. The internet gives you a ton of options, so there’s no need to roll the dice with a company that has a questionable reputation, no matter how good their price looks.
Finally, if you do have a negative experience with a company, don’t be afraid to write about it online. Just be careful not to link back to the site in question, or you’ll be doing them a favor. See my old post about SimplyBunkBeds.com for an example. And also note that, while I mentioned DecorMyEyes repeatedly in this article, I never once linked to them.