Tech Talk From Silicon Valley

by Mike Langberg

E-tailers Cry Foul
Remember the nervous nellies who worried about using their credit cards on line? Turns out consumers have nothing to worry about — their loss is limited to $50 if their credit card numbers are stolen. But e-tailers can be hurt by “chargeback” fraud, in which dishonest recipients deny receiving merchandise or thieves use stolen card numbers. Either way, credit card issuers often take back the money they’ve paid to merchants. Online chargeback fraud is a huge problem because right now there is no way to collect a legally valid signature to prove a product was ordered. American Express is fighting back, organizing a coalition called the Worldwide E-Commerce Fraud Prevention Network
to share information and offer loss-prevention training.

Merchandise Return Made Easy
It may be hard to coax consumers to plunk down their credit cards, but that mental hurdle is nothing compared to getting past the inconvenience of returning unwanted or defective products. According to a survey by Jupiter Media Matrix, 85 percent of online buyers say the ability to easily return merchandise is important, and more than half are dissatisfied with the process. United Parcel Service and FedEx have solved at least part of the problem with “electronic return” programs. Online retailers can authorize a product return, allowing customers to print a UPS or FedEx shipping label on their home computers and get directions to nearby drop-off locations. Customers can also track the package from the time it’s picked up until it arrives back at the retailer’s warehouse.

Lonely Hearts Club Brand
Small business owners shouldn’t ever feel lonely. Some of the biggest companies in technology — including America Online, Dell, Intuit, and Microsoft — are wooing small businesses with matchmaking services. AOL’s Netscape subsidiary has just opened a site called Netscape Netbusiness (, where business owners can describe their companies on an online “netbusiness card,” which is posted on Netscape’s business directory. Using the same software as AOL’s dating pages, Netscape’s directory helps buyers and sellers find each other. Dell, the computer maker, launched Dell Marketplace ( and Intuit, the accounting-software publisher, beefed up its small business site ( so that buyers can combine forces to order supplies, thus taking advantage of discounts usually available only to large corporations. Microsoft’s site ( provides tools for writing a business plan, setting up a Web site, and marketing your new site to potential customers.

Drawing a Line in the Spam
Electronic mail can be a valuable marketing tool, or an unwelcome invasion of customer privacy. To help businesses cope with the fuzzy line between legitimate e-mail advertising and spam, 16 direct-marketing companies have formed the Responsible Electronic Communication Alliance. RECA ( is establishing a “seal of approval” program, with rules of conduct and penalties for violators. Under RECA rules, companies must tell customers what information they collect for their databases, and allow customers to challenge any incorrect information. In addition, customers can easily opt to stop receiving e-mail from certain companies. If the RECA seal becomes widely recognized, it could make it easier to identify and shut down spammers who don’t use e-mail respectfully. It could also head off numerous federal and state legislative and regulatory proposals aimed at curbing the spam explosion. Such laws could make legitimate e-mail marketing more difficult.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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