The internet is a wonderful way to explore the world today. You can now get information on every conceivable topic in existence. The internet makes connections possible that one could not even have dreamed of just a few years back.
In addition to information gathering, online shopping is one of the most exciting developments of the internet today. When it comes to retail therapy there's nothing quite like shopping on the web from the comfort of your home or office.
Let's face it, there's every reason in the world to shop online. The bargains are there. The selection is mind-boggling. The possibility of comparing prices and getting the best deal are endless. The shopping is secure. Shipping is fast. Even returns are pretty easy, with the right e-tailers. It's a golden age for not going anywhere, yet buying more than ever.
In order to exploit the full shopping potential of the internet, it is a good idea to learn how to do it properly. This involves following a few pointers and on-line shopping tips as well as taking some precautionary measures to ensure that your every online shopping experience is a good one.
Main points are:
· Know the seller
· The product or service and the price
· Terms and Conditions
· The TOTAL cost
· Safety and Security on-line
· Where to shop
But first, some common sense bits and pieces:
Common sense bits and pieces
- If you don't feel comfortable buying or bidding on an item over the web, if you feel pressured to place your order immediately or if anything, anything at all, doesn’t feel right - maybe you shouldn't do it.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This includes sellers offering very low prices or large quantities of impossible-to-find items.
- You get what you pay for – if you are buying a very cheap item, you can’t expect it to be of the highest quality.
- If you are buying a brand name product from an unknown website and at a cheap price, it is most likely not a genuine article. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with buying a fake Louis Vuitton bag, after all it will still serve it’s purpose of carrying your belongings, just don’t expect it to be real.
HOW TO SPOT FAKE ALMOST EVERYTHING – coming soon
- Make sure you have a copy of any forms, emails, documents or webpages you have filled in, read or received - they are a record of the sale and will come in handy if something goes wrong. This includes the advertisement, pictures, any policies (privacy, security or refund), the terms and conditions, buyer questions, receipts and payment forms.
Get to know the merchant
Before you buy anything online, take the time to get to know the merchant or seller. A little research about the business or person you're buying from goes a long way.
You need to know their contact details in case something goes wrong; a reputable business should make this information easy to find. A reputable business should also have good customer feedback - do friends, family or other customers rate them highly? Also, in the case of an Australian business, look for an Australian Business Number (ABN).
Use familiar web sites
If you are new to internet shopping, start at a trusted site rather than shopping with a search engine. If you know the site, chances are it's less likely to be a rip off. We all know Amazon.com and that it carries everything under the sun; likewise, just about every major retail outlet has an online store, from David Jones to Bunnings.
Beware misspellings or sites using a different top-level domain (a .net instead of a .com, for example) - those are the oldest tricks in the book. Yes, the sales on these sites might look enticing... that's how you can get taken for a ride. You can progress to a more advanced level of search once you familiarise yourself with the process.
Look for reviews from other shoppers
Many sites, including eBay, have feedback systems that feature comments and ratings from other buyers. This is most common in travel and accommodation websites and is ALWAYS a good indication of the quality, if sometimes a little too critical.
You can also find feedback and comments by other users by Googling the particular website. You are very likely to find something in a forum somewhere.
Get answers about an item from sellers/merchants before you make a purchase or offer. Good communications help ensure a smooth transaction.
The product or service and the price
Read and look at the description or advertisement carefully - make sure that it is exactly what you want. Consider the features and specifications such as make, model, dimensions, condition, age, functions, customer service and support. If you are unsure about something, ask the seller for more details before committing yourself.
Now for the most important step - finding the best price.
Search the internet for the best price. Use the net as a tool to make the right choice. You’d be amazed at the price differences you can find between sites.
You can start by using Google or another standard search engine. Type is exact model number if you know it or general description, if you don’t. I always add words “buy Sydney” or “buy Australia” at the end, this narrows down the results somewhat. But be prepared to look through 100s of pages and spend long hours doing this research. This is the only way get a good result.
Once you get an idea of the price, you can use price comparison websites. Some popular examples are: GetPrice and MyShopping. It takes a while to get your head around how it all works but well worth it in the end.
You should never just use one comparison website, using two or more will give you a balanced view of the market.
But don't expect price comparison sites to be a sure-fire way of getting a bargain. The sites will only show products from companies who pay them. This is not necessarily a bad thing - suppliers value their reputation and their commercial relationships, so it means you can be fairly certain you're not dealing with cowboys.
AND SEARCH AGAIN - If you are an advanced on-line shopper and use Firefox or Google Chrome to browse the web then there are add-on applications or extensions that you can download which finds the cheapest price for a product for you. Add-ons obviously won't search every single site out there but it may confirm your choice or give you some new options. One word of warning though: add-ons are largely US based so will take you to US sites, be very aware of the shipping costs. More on that in “Total Cost” section.
PRICE COMPARISON SITE DOS AND DON'TS
- Make sure the company with the lowest price is reputable
- Haggle. Take a print-out of an internet price quote to a shop and get them to match
- Look for reliability as well as price. The cheapest option may not always come from the most reliable source
- Take into account the price of delivery when shopping online. This can often push the price up above the High Street equivalent. More on this in “The Total Cost” section
- Try to source non-branded goods (or products you don’t know) on price comparison websites; if an element of choice is involved, go to the store and decide what you want first
- Assume you won't find the internet price in-store, especially during sales
The terms and conditions
Before buying, understand exactly what is involved in the purchase. The terms and conditions of your purchase should be outlined by the seller - they may be located on a separate web page to the advertisement. They should be clear and outline any extra warranties offered by the seller, or policies covering security, privacy and returns.
Review the return, refund, and shipping and handling policies as well as the other legal terms
If you can't find them, ask the seller through an e-mail or telephone call to indicate where they are on the site or to provide them to you in writing. Also ask them if there's a time limit to return an item and whether a full refund or merchandise credit is offered.
Print the terms
You should print out and date a copy of terms, conditions, warranties, item description, company information, even confirming e-mails, and save them with your records of your purchase.
The total cost
Make sure you know the total cost of your planned purchase. Does the advertised price include delivery, insurance and handling costs? Do you need to convert the price to Australian dollars? Are there any taxes or duties? Once you know the total cost, ask yourself if you are still getting value for money - compare prices.
While shopping online, you do have to pay shipping charges on most sites. If you manage to get free shipping, that’s a bonus! Some sites have lower shipping charges than others. This is particularly important when you are shopping internationally. You may find that the amazing bargain you hunted down using all the clever tricks we taught you above is not a bargain at all after you pay the shipping. Don’t be fooled by slogans “FREE SHIPPING”. On international sites it most likely applies to domestic shipping only.
On most websites the shipping charges are calculated during the checkout process. It could save you a lot of time and disappointment if you check the shipping charges before that stage. Look for tabs or links with the word “shipping”. They are not always easy to find. Sometimes they are hidden in Terms and Conditions. And be absolutely sure that that shipping price applies to freight to Australia.
If that fails and you cannot find information about shipping (it does happen), go to check out, but only as far as to see the shipping costs. DO NOT put your credit card details or click Pay Now unless you are absolutely sure you want to buy the item. If you still can't see the shipping charges at that point - back out, you don't want to buy from that kind of a website.
Multiple Shipping Discount
Some sites offer a shipping discount in case you purchase multiple items. Once again, you can contact them and find out from the customer service of that website if they offer any such discount.
Don’t get caught in the hype of cheap prices! This is the trap I see people fall into most often. Often shoppers have no idea how much they paid for shipping and therefore what the total cost was. For example: if you bought 2 pairs of shoes at $30 each and the shipping was $20, they are no longer $30 pairs of shoes, they are now $40 each!
If the shipping costs push the price up unreasonably – go to another site or buy retail. Alternatively, get together with some friends and share the shipping costs on those websites where the delivery is capped at a certain price.
In Australia you only need to pay GST on items over $1000 imported from overseas. So, as long as you are under you are sweet.
Keep an eye open for discount coupons either listed on the seller’s website itself, or elsewhere on the internet. Americans are crazy for coupons, you are sure to find some for US based websites. Most coupons are highlighted on the seller’s homepage. In case you are looking for third party coupons for the seller, you can do a search online for coupons.
We often save you the trouble of looking by posting discount coupons/vouchers in Lets Go Shopping section of our website, particularly in Women’s and Men’s fashion.
Online auction websites are gaining in popularity. eBay is one such online marketplace which is a great way to source and get the lowest prices on almost anything under the sun. In many cases, if the product you are interested in is not available locally, you will find it on eBay. eBay works like a well-oiled machine, it has perfected its processes and security over time. It is important however to check the feedback of the seller you are interested in buying from. Seller feedback does not lie. Neither does buyer feedback, so be sure you always do the right thing so that the sellers will want to deal with you.
Always consider shipping costs when bidding on eBay. It can considerable add to the purchase price.
There are other auction websites to consider. Greysonline.com.au is one we use extensively and it is a good one. However, beware of extra charges on sites other than eBay. You can expect to pay around 15% buyers’ premium on top of the price of the item and delivery charge.
By the way, the statement above about not getting caught in the hype of cheap prices is very much relevant to auction websites. Just because it’s on eBay doesn’t mean it’s cheaper. Do your homework first.
Keep it safe and secure (KISS)
We don’t mean to scare you and in 99% of cases the world wide web is a safe place, provided you do some research and use your common sense. We all have to embrace it and have some trust in the system. However, it is important to take some precautionary measures to make sure that you don’t fall into the 1% of unlucky campers.
The good news about that is, if there’s fraudulent usage, the banks and credit card companies will usually give your money back, it’s just the stress and inconvenience of having to do it.
So, here we go:
Every time you buy online, be just as vigilant as you would when you shop and use money in the 'real world'. In particular:
Use secure websites with lock icons and site seals
If a web site is safe, Microsoft Internet Explorer displays a padlock icon in the lower-right corner of your browser window.
Use strong passwords
At least eight characters long, including a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Don't pick everyday words, family member names or birthdates.
Change and use different passwords
You should change your online account passwords regularly and have keep unique passwords for each of your online accounts.
Don't just give out your information to anyone
Don't share your personally identifiable information (PII) freely online - this is any information that can be used to uniquely identify, contact or locate a single person.
Use a well protected computer
Make sure you use a computer that has the most up-to-date internet security software. And regularly update your software using online tools to verify the source and safety of the applications.
Use a secure payment method
For example, PayPal guarantees that you never have to share your personal bank details with anyone when shopping online. Some serious on-line shoppers actually get a separate credit card for shopping on-line only. That way they keep their own money separately and it’s less hassle to cancel the card in case of any fraudulent activity.
Don't wait for your bill to come at the end of the month. Go online regularly and look at electronic statements for your credit and debit card. Make sure you don't see any charges you are not familiar with, even originating from sites like PayPal. If you do see something wrong, jump on the phone to address the matter quickly. In the case of credit cards, don't pay the bill until you know all your charges are accurate.
Stay at Home
Do we really have to tell you it's a bad idea to use a public computer to make purchases? If you do, just remember to log out every time you use a public terminal, even if you were just checking e-mail.
But what about using your own laptop to shop while you're out? It's one thing to hand over a credit card to get swiped at the checkout, but when you have to enter the number and expiration date on a Web site while sitting in a public cafe, you're giving an over-the-shoulder snooper plenty of time to see the goods. At the very least, think like a gangster: sit in the back, facing the door.
Count the Cards
Gift Cards are the most requested holiday gift every year. Stick to the source when you buy one; scammers like to auction off gift cards on sites like eBay with little or no funds on them upon arrival.
Where to shop
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