On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Although the cartoonist did not intend it, that 1993 New Yorker cartoon predicted the future and so it came to pass – and then some. So much of what’s on the web masks an entirely different reality. And so little when you search online has anything to do with what you want to find. Most people do not scroll down to the second page of search results if irrelevance rules: the Internet is filled with an ocean of junk web pages and misleading ads, masquerading as legitimate commerce. Talk to our friendly representative (photo of woman wearing headset). Call NOW! As seen on TV! As mentioned in TIME Magazine! Misleading information or scare tactic pictures on websites targeting seniors -- to me, these rank with phony telephone credit card and financial services scams.
What about vendors who are ABOUT anonymity? So you are assigned to the task of building a short list of choices for your organization to recommend or resell. You’ve waded through the online sea of irrelevance and found a few items to consider. Now consider the question of ABOUT or COMPANY pages, where you should expect to learn a bit of the company history, identify the current executives and their brief biographies, in addition to being able to view the products offered, and (if appropriate) the partners that sell them. This is the minimum online data set, even for those firms that sell through pre-existing channels and use the page as a place holder. Next up – the CONTACT US information should reveal where the company is located – this is more true today than it has ever been, given the ability of sellers to reach from across the globe into Kansas.
Would you hire a plumber who wouldn’t tell you his name? Whether a company is transparent with information is an element of basic trust. An industry of goods and services for older adults should be, above all else, trustworthy. Imagine hiring a service person to come to your home, perhaps a plumber, who arrives at the door, but won’t provide a business card and refuses to tell you his name. Would you let him in? It is an even more frightening prospect when the door is online and the actual people behind a phone number or website may be other than what is described. Is there only one person answering the phone? Or is it a building filled with customer service reps?
Test the website transparency theory with companies that you know. Whether it is durable medical equipment (try a search for wheelchairs!), medical alarm/PERS products and services, passive activity monitors, home alarm systems, easy-to-use phones or hearing aids – transparency matters. The consumer or reseller has a right to know about a product, reseller or catalog company and its executives. With no information – that is not a good indicator. What are they hiding? Also questionable: unverifiable “testimonials” from first names, like “Sally S from Florida: I love this product.” Ultimately, consumers will benefit from reviews -- those Amazon, consumer reports, scam reporting or online forums that NEVER disappear.