Online seals of approval – Better Business Bureau Online and Internet Marketing Council begin campaigns to aid consumers in differentiating between suspect commercial Web sites and legitimate ones

Online seals of approval – Better Business Bureau Online and Internet Marketing Council begin campaigns to aid consumers in differentiating between suspect commercial Web sites and legitimate ones – Industry Trend or Event

Dale D. Buss

Commerce on the Internet has become an unruly frontier of ever-proliferating–and uncontrolled–communications. But now a couple of organizations have launched efforts to help online consumers separate the legitimate from the suspect and to give your Web site an added element of professionalism.

Though not as simple as endorsing a household cleaner or a frying pan, the idea behind these initiatives is to award a sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval to Web sites and unsolicited e-mail that meet certain standards–and, by exclusion, to alert consumers to stay away from those that fail the test.

“The Internet is exciting, but its Wild West nature doesn’t make you comfortable if you want to conduct transactions on it,” says Russ Bodoff, general manager of BBBOnline, one of the new initiatives. “We’re trying to bring law and order to the process.”

BBBOnline, the online consumer-protection initiative of the not-for-profit Better Business Bureau (BBB), has created a seal that authorized companies can display on their Web sites. First, businesses must pass a screening test by providing the BBB with substantial information regarding ownership and management, agreeing to adhere to “truthful and accurate” advertising claims and vowing to resolve “quickly and fairly” any complaints that may arise as a result of online advertising or transactions. Participating companies also agree to third-party arbitration to resolve any consumer complaints about their online practices.

Eleven blue-chip corporations–ranging from AT&T and Netscape to Xerox and Visa–have each chipped in several hundred thousand dollars to sponsor the effort by the Arlington, Virginia-based BBB. So far, BBBOnline has approved the Web sites of 350 applying companies.

“We have great name recognition and brand equity,” says Bodoff, “so one of our goals is to help make online commerce a more safe and reputable environment.”

A handful of on-line marketing concerns have launched similar, for-profit seal-of-approval efforts meant to help consumers stop junk e-mail. The Internet Marketing Council (IMC) is a Bethesda, Maryland-based organization formed to establish a certification and labeling program for its members’ commercial e-mail. To obtain association endorsement and the right to use the IMC Certified logo on the heading of an e-mail message, an applicant must agree to provide a “significant giveaway or discount” to the e-mail recipient, a way for consumers to block out further e-mail, and commissions to member ISPs on e-mail that is received and opened.

“We want to turn what is now a negative into a positive for consumers, certainly more so than direct mail or telemarketing,” says Jay McCrensky, executive director of the new council. “[The seals] will also create tremendous value for advertisers.”


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