In the e-commerce world, there are two main possible routes: selling physical objects or selling virtual or intangible items and services. In this second case we are talking about consulting, design, coding, coupon codes, gift cards, ebooks, online courses and any kind of downloadable content.
In any commercial activity conflicts and claims could arise. Customers might state that they have not received the purchased product or service, and the seller needs to provide proof of delivery. The causes for this might be several, from a customer mistake to fraud. Sellers need to be protected against these possibilities.
It is quite easy to produce proof of delivery (or proof of shipping) when we sell physical goods. It usually consists in a tracking number or receipt from the post company. But when we talk about virtual items and intangible services, things get more complicated. Here we see the different possibilities we have.
What constitutes proof of delivery for virtual items and intangible services
Every e-commerce platform defines what is proof of delivery according to its own standards. In some cases they could be pretty ambiguous. For example, according to Paypal’s policy:
“Proof of Delivery” for intangible or virtual items or services is documentation satisfactory to PayPal that the item or service was provided to the buyer such as proof of download including the date of fulfilment.
In these cases, the best for the seller is to maintain a register with as much information as possible about every delivery. Here some data that might be useful to collect:
- IP address of purchaser at date and time of transaction
- Device geographical location at date and time of transaction
- Device ID number and device name
- Name and email address linked to the customer profile on-record
- Evidence that the customer profile was activated and verified by the cardholder before the date and time of transaction
- Evidence that the cardholder accessed/used the downloaded digital goods on or after the date and time of transaction
- Evidence that the same device and card were used in previous, undisputed transactions.
Proof of delivery for intangible services and emails
A fundamental tool to demonstrate the delivery of professional services and content delivered by email (such as ebooks) is email tracking. Email tracking services allow us to track the activity of any email we have sent, to keep a record and to produce a third-party report which can be used as proof of delivery.
One of the best tools around is whoreadme.com, a free service that provides an impressive amount of data. With WhoReadMe you can create a downloadable report that includes, among other things:
- Date and time the email is opened
- Actual location of the recipient
- Browser and operating system
- Read duration
- Proxy detection (if the recipient is hiding their actual IP address)
- Organization name
- Email forwarding
- Attachment and link tracking
- And more
Of course, this service not only can be used for e-commerce but for confirming the delivery and reading of any kind of emails for any purpose.
Proof of delivery for downloadable content
Regarding downloadable content such as ebooks, music, photos, videos and PDF documents, a useful tool is DPD (Digital Product Delivery). This service provides a comprehensive report called “proof of delivery”, especially designed to protect sellers in case of claims. The report has the following information:
- Day and time the purchase took place
- Buyer’s IP address
- Download attempts and amount of the file transferred
- Successful deliveries
- Download IP address
- Geographic location
The physical alternative
If costs and logistic allow it, in certain cases it might be convenient to turn the virtual and intangible into physical and tangible. The strongest proof of delivery for any work or content is always a physical object delivered by post. For example, a coupon code can be printed on paper, or a graphic design work can be delivered in a flash USB memory. This is especially recommended when selling expensive items, and you need to reduce the risk of claims as much as possible.
2 thoughts on “Proof of delivery for virtual goods and services”
What about intangible services such as design and development retainers? As in a fee for starting work without clear deliverables? What happens if the buyer disputes such an agreement? What options does the seller have?
Hi! In those cases we’d recommend to have a contract that clearly states the terms of the arrangement and what would happen if either buyer or seller does not comply.