Over the course of the last decade or so, millions of people have discovered the joy of shopping online. What was once a fringe marketplace has actually emerged as a significant force, with consumers flocking to company websites and auctions rather than venturing into their favorite brick and mortar stores. Those brick and mortar retailers have taken note, and virtually all major stores now offer online sales in addition to selling from their physical locations. In the last couple of years, online retailers such as Amazon have changed the marketplace dramatically. Once an online store offering only books, Amazon sales have actually outpaced sales at physical bookstores, and the company has expanded the scope of its sales into many other non-literary products. When buying online, however, there are a few things the consumer must remember, for the failure to do so can end up costing more money, and set the stage for headaches beyond any additional costs. Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping online.
Know your seller
When making purchases from online sellers, you have far less recourse if the deal goes bad. At a physical store, you can always complain to the manager, who will, in most cases, try to work with you to resolve any problems. Many if not most online businesses, on the other hand, provide no means for actually speaking with a human via any means other than email or filling out an online contact form. On auction sites such as ebay, you at least have the ability to see other customers’ ratings of their dealings with a given seller. In addition, many auction sites, including eBay, have in place a good problem resolution policy. If there’s any doubt, run a search on the business and see whether they have a lot of complaints against them. While any business is going to have a few disgruntled customers, a pattern of complaints should be a red flag. Just as you wouldn’t buy insurance or take out payday loans from a company that had a litany of complaints filed against them, you shouldn’t shop for even small items from a company that has a poor record of customer service.
Don’t assume that you will get a better price, simply because you’re buying online. Some online retailers sell their products at or even above suggested retail price, knowing that some online shoppers won’t bother to research before they buy.
Take shipping and handling costs into account
A website where an item is discounted by 20% below retail might sound like it’s giving you a great deal, but shipping and handling costs can eat up that discount in a hurry. Some merchants who sell at online auctions will post a great selling price on items, but charge an exorbitant amount for shipping and handling. Make sure that the shipping charges are acceptable and locked in before giving the merchant your credit card information.
Avoid transactions on websites that are not secure
Look for the web address to begin with https, rather than http. That one little letter in the address indicates that the site is secured. You can also look for certification by Verisign, which provides yet another level of security.
Get a delivery date
Most online sellers will give you a reasonable estimate as to when you can expect delivery of your goods. Some, particularly those who ship from overseas, will have a significantly longer delivery schedule due to sheer distance and customs regulations. Know when you can expect delivery before finalizing your purchase.
Get a tracking number
On all but the least expensive items, which normally ship via standard post, having a means of tracking your package’s progress goes a long way toward easing your anxiety, and may even serve to minimize its pilferage en route. Adding tracking to even a postal shipment is very inexpensive,, and well worth the cost.
It is true that you can save a considerable amount of money by purchasing some things online, but you have to be careful. By following these few steps and heeding your own instincts, you can avoid the kind of problems that have given some people a very bad impression of shopping over the Internet.