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PricewaterhouseCoopers offers Net quality seal

The company best known for tallying Academy Awards votes launches a Web standards program to rate privacy and customer service on e-commerce sites.

Professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers wants to give e-commerce sites the white-glove treatment.

The company best known for tallying votes for the Academy Awards, PricewaterhouseCoopers announced today that it has launched its own Web standards program. The company is offering e-commerce sites a chance to be evaluated on how well they disclose sales terms, protect customer privacy and handle customer complaints.

To Web sites who meet the services firm's standards, PricewaterhouseCoopers will license a seal that companies can post on their sites for a $15,000 annual fee.

At a time when Net security and privacy issues are of great concern to many customers, e-commerce firms may find the standards program attractive. But the firm has jumped into the market a little late in the game, as industry-sponsored TRUSTe and the online arm of the Better Business Bureau, BBBOnline, already offer similar services for e-commerce sites.

"We think our business is different," said PricewaterhouseCoopers' partner Maryanne Murphy, who is overseeing the company's "BetterWeb SM seal" program. "[Other firms] focus on privacy and security issues mainly; we are taking a look more from a consumer viewpoint."

For its services, TRUSTe charges on a sliding scale, ranging from $260 to $4,999, based on the size of the Web site. BBBOnline also charges on a sliding scale for services, ranging from $150 to $3,000.

Murphy said the services firm will base awards on standards such as how easy it is for customers to select goods and browse a site, as well as if customers can easily verify whether a site is secure for credit card transactions. Additionally, PricewaterhouseCoopers plans to examine how easy it is for customers to contact site administrators with comments or complaints.

"This is another item that companies can stick in their advertisements," Forrester Research analyst Seema Williams said. "The real value for companies comes from learning what improvements you need to make to your site."