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The holidays have become big business for online shopping so many online retailers have started offering deals comparable or better than their in-store counterparts. While shopping online can be a great way to score a deal and avoid the crowds, there are still a lot of dishonest sites on the web. To have the best shopping experience, you should make sure that the website you are buying from is reputable and that your personal information is secure. If you’re not sure what to look for when trying to discern if a website is safe to shop, we’ve put together a list of ten things to keep in mind when buying online.
Even if a company is safe to shop from, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get a deal. Lots of people get taken in with flashy advertising and don’t think before they click on the purchase button. To avoid spending too much money or buying what you don’t really need or want, take some time to do some research you buy. If you already have an idea of what you want, check out a few websites and take note of the prices of the items you want, that way when a holiday “sale” comes around you can compare prices and see if you are actually getting a deal.
If you are going to be sharing private, personal information such as your address and credit card number with a company, make sure that your information is protected by only shopping from secure websites. How do you know a site is secure? When entering in your credit card information, there are two signs to look for. The first thing to look for is an address that has an https: prefix in the URL bar. The ‘s’ in the https: signifies that the website is secure and your information will remain private. Many websites also have a closed lock symbol in their address bar to show that their website is secure.
Third parties that look out for the interests of consumers often give their seal of approval to companies that have lived up to or abided by their standards. These seals of approval show that these companies have a good online reputation. The seals are usually given in the form of website badges. When looking for these badges on a website, make sure you click on them and that the link takes you to the organization’s webpage, as some companies steal the image in order to come across as legitimate. Organizations with seals that are often used and can be trusted include The Better Business Bureau (BBB), VeriSign, Truste and BizRate.
Looking over reviews from well known third party review sites can give you a good indication of the type of experience you will receive if you order from them. The overall score is important, but also look at specific reviews, both good and bad. A good company can still get some negative reviews – mistakes happen - but if you see a large number of negative reviews that use words like scam or rip-off you should exercise caution. When reading negative reviews, look to see if the company has gotten in touch to rectify or explain the problem. If something does go wrong with your order, you’ll want to know they will clear up the issue quickly.
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly being used by retailers as a way to easily reach out to their customers. Check and see if the company you’re thinking of buying from has an account and if they do, poke around and see what people are saying about them. Often customers post feedback about their experiences, both good and the bad.
A good rule of thumb when trying to find out if a company is legitimate is to see if they reveal their physical location, with a real address – either retail locations or a head office location. The company should be easy to contact by email and preferably also with a telephone number. Be aware that if you choose a live chat option for customer assistance, you may be chatting with a robot, so make sure that your questions are fully answered and it’s best to document the chat. Be wary of companies that can only be reached via contact form.
Reputable online retailers should make it easy for you to find information on their return policy. Make sure the policy terms are clearly started and that you find them acceptable. The company should also clearly state the shipping charges and any other extra fees (like taxes, handling fees etc.) before your purchased is complete. The price shown before you click confirm should match the price on your order confirmation page.
Credit cards are the safest way to pay for online transactions. Paying by this method leaves a record with the credit card company and protects you against unauthorized charges on your account. Make sure to check your credit card statements regularly to ensure there are no odd charges on your account. Consider getting a credit card that you use only for online purchases; this will make it easier to spot fraudulent charges.
After you have made the purchase, take a screen shot or print off the confirmation page details in case an issue arises. If something goes wrong with the order, having proper records will make it easier to resolve the problem. Once the delivery arrives, inspect it immediately to ensure your order is correct, complete, and that there is no damage. If something is wrong, take photos as evidence and contact the company as soon as possible.
Shopping online is a great way to save time and avoid the long lines at the cash register. Now that you know what to be aware of when shopping online, you’ll hopefully have a great holiday shopping experience and who knows, you may never have to step foot in another retail store again! Happy Shopping.
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