10 Tips for Trouble-
Free Online Buying
Online shopping for holiday gifts offers many advantages — the Internet is always open, the odds are better at finding hard-to-find items, and it’s easy to comparison shop and locate bargains. But there can be serious downsides like credit card scams and delivery no-shows. To help ensure a trouble-free shopping experience, keep this tips list next to your gift list when you’re buying online.
1. Shop at Secure Sites
One way to tell if a site is secure is to look for a padlock icon in the locked position in the lower right hand corner of your browser window. This padlock indicates the site uses encryption technology to transfer information from your computer to the online merchant’s computer. You should also check the address field of the browser to make sure the site uses the “https://” prefix when placing an online order. The “s” that is displayed after “http” indicates the site is secure. Often you do not see the “s” until you actually move to the order page.
2. Research the Company
Anyone can create a website. If the company is unfamiliar, do your homework before buying online. Confirm a physical address and phone number in case you need to get in touch with them. To verify the site is in good standing with customers, check out the company’s reputation with the Better Business Bureau at http://search.bbb.org/.
3. Check Privacy and Security Policies
4. Pay Attention to Shipping
A holiday gift that arrives in February loses some of its luster. Find out the answers to these questions: Are there choices for shipping? What are the shipping and handling fees, and are they reasonable? How soon can you expect delivery?
5. Learn Cancellation and Return Policies
Even under the best of circumstances, you may need to return merchandise. Can you return the item for a full refund? Is there a time limit or other restrictions on returns or cancellations? If you return it, who pays the shipping costs or restocking fees?
6. Compare Prices Carefully
There are a number of websites that offer price comparisons including http://froogle.google.com/ and http://www.pricegrabber.com/. Make sure you compare “apples to apples” and factor the costs of shipping and handling into the total cost of the order.
7. Use Shopper’s Intuition
Look at the site with a critical eye and heed the old adage, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” For example, if the company’s prices seem unusually low, it should be a red flag that the products might be counterfeit. Also be suspicious if the site looks amateurish or contains lots of spelling or grammar errors.
8. Be Skeptical of Reviews
Legitimate consumer ratings sites like PriceGrabber.com and epinions.com do a great job of policing their user reviews and weeding out fraudulent ratings. However, the Internet is full of rating sites that have been abused by cheats. To look good, some online merchants submit positive reviews for transactions involving them that never took place. Get a sense of a site’s trustworthiness before you put too much stock in the reviews.
9. Pay by Credit Card
The safest way to shop on the Internet is with a credit card because if something goes wrong, you’re protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. You have the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you can withhold payments during a creditor investigation. If it’s determined that your credit was used without authorization, you are responsible only for the first $50 in charges. Always read your credit card statements to be on the lookout for unauthorized charges.
10. Print Copies of Order Messages
After placing an order online, print out a copy of the web page(s) describing the item you ordered as well as the page showing company name, postal address, phone number, and return policy. Also print the confirmation message that reviews the entire transaction including the costs of the order, your customer information, product information, and the confirmation number.
BROWSE THESE SITES
Youíll find more helpful tips about online shopping at these sites:
- www.bbb.org and www.bbbonline.org
The Better Business Bureau certifies web merchants with a privacy seal of approval. You can research merchants through the BBB and also report e-commerce fraud problems at these sites.
The National Fraud Information Center, a program of the National Consumers League, maintains information about online scams and lets you file complaints
The Federal Trade Commission gives online shopping advice.
FTC, other federal agencies, and the technology industry offer advice on identity theft, phishing, spyware, spam, online shopping, and more.
Online shopping tips provided by the American Bar Association.
Online shopping has exploded in recent years as consumers have embraced its variety and convenience. Here are some of the numbers that tell the story:
- In “The 2006 State of Retailing Online,” published by Shop.org and conducted by Forrester Research, they reveal that online retail is expected to hit $211.4 billion in 2006, a 20 percent gain over 2005.
- The forecast of $211.4 billion includes travel, a category valued with revenues of $73.4 billion in 2006. The top non-travel categories include computer hardware and software ($16.8 billion); autos and auto parts ($15.9 billion); apparel, accessories and footwear ($13.8 billion); cosmetics and fragrances ($800 million); and pet supplies ($500 million).
- Retail chains account for about 40% of online sales, reports Emarketer.com, compared with just over 25% for pure-play Internet retailers.
- The Nielsen//NetRatings Holiday eSpending Report revealed that online holiday shopping during the 2005 holiday season (October 29 – December 23) totaled $30.1 billion, excluding travel. This represents a 30 percent increase from the 2004 holiday season.
- Nielsen's reported 2005 retail spending distribution figures were: Stores: 68% | Catalogs: 5% | Online: 27%
- It’s estimated that online purchases may eclipse store purchases (as a percentage share) by 2014.