Updated on September 5, 2022 by Sarina Tariq
Night time is the favorite time for me to shop – No one to disturb you when you have hundred and one browser windows open and you are comparing all of them with each of them and deciding on one. No kids around to demand they also need anything – something – many things. No one else (read husband and kids) grumbling at the time it takes for the shopping to finish when I should be doing something better – for them!.
Online shopping has truly revolutionized the world – the way we buy has been turned on its head. Doing the rounds in brick and mortar shops is a pastime less indulged. We are buying from the comforts of our home sitting in a night dress instead of digging out the best thing we want from a thousand shops.
But it is not all hunky-dory. There are many pitfalls to online shopping. True, you save time, fuel and energy in online shopping but there are some bad experiences you will face doing that. But there are workarounds as well. This post is about them.
How to shop online wisely – 15 FAQ answered
- How to shop online wisely – 15 FAQ answered
- Did you read the Product description & the reviews?
- Did you check third party Seller profile / review /rating
- Do you know the shop’s Shipping Policy ?
- Do you know their Return policy
- Are you safe doing Online payments?
- Are you happy with the Pricing ?
- Will there be any ‘Hidden’ charges?
- What to do if the Product is late?
- What if you face other Product issues ?
- Are you buying a counterfeit product
- What if the product is not what it should be ?
- What are the Information privacy/safety practices of the shop?
- What to do if the shop has disappeared?
- What is your motivation to shop?
- What is your expectation from online shopping ?
Did you read the Product description & the reviews?
Always read all the reviews you find before buying – some people hesitate, saying there will always be negative reviews and positive reviews and it is pointless to read the reviews and buy anything. But there will be some features of the product we may miss from the product description which we always find in the reviews. At least that is my experience.
Some of the reviews you see may be false – hard to believe. You are really naive if you believe all the reviews are honest. If a product sounds too good to be true by one or two or a similar low number of buyers, be a little cautious.
Some may be sponsored reviews. This is especially true of product review sites – they may have got the item for free and when you get something for free you maybe obliged to write only good things about that thing. Some unscrupulous sites write reviews without having even seen the product.
And do not miss fine points in the product description and then complain that the product did not meet expectations. Realize that online purchase always involves different color perceptions by different people. The photo of the product on the website may have (rare but possible) a different color than the one which came to you.
Did you check third party Seller profile / review /rating
This refers to the small sellers on big sites as well as small websites selling their own products. With Big sites, their reputation presides them.
Other than the product, you also have to vet the seller’s profile and their reputation in the market.
If they consistently have bad reviews for not fulfilling orders correctly, or sending a wrong item, or annoying customers with post-purchase phone calls for reviews (this tops all of the annoyances for me), beware.
Go to a search engine and search for the seller and read other reviews on other websites to check authenticity. Check for reviews regarding shipping, product quality and return policy, claims of being the authorized seller for a manufacturer, do they have a reputation selling counterfeit products etc.
In the case of Amazon, buying things which are fulfilled (processed and shipped) by Amazon is better and safer.
Do not feel lazy to read the shop’s terms and policies.
You can search for reviews of online shops in product review sites, sites like Quora, Reddit, search engines like google.
Check if the website is authentic – it may be one they have made in the last one month or so and may disappear the same way they have come; If this is the case, they may have no footprints on the web. Look at their Facebook profile, About page, Twitter handle, contact details like phone number, customer feedback form etc to see authenticity and age. Check if the company is registered officially.
Do you know the shop’s Shipping Policy ?
Free shipping is the ideal – but this may be a double-edged sword. They may have inflated the price of the product to accommodate the shipping cost. Check if this is how it is.
And when shopping from overseas online stores, there may be hidden costs (tax) that may be more than the product itself. Been there, done that. I have gone to the postoffice to pay tax through my nose for things I definitely shouldn’t have bought.
Most sellers have a minimum order value to get free shipping – this will always be just above what you had in mind to spend – and I always buy some thing extra I never wanted, to be eligible for this free shipping. If you know the shipping fee clearly you may not overspend on things you do not want or even decide to go to a shop and buy. The Uber cost may work out better.
Do you know their Return policy
Check the return policy carefully. Good shops have excellent return policy information. It is for us to read.
Try to find if they have free return. For eg. in Amazon you can return most things within 30 days. “You may return most new, unopened items sold and fulfilled by Amazon within 30 days of delivery for a full refund” says their website. ( so long as you have not worn it outside or removed the tag). But some sellers may not allow inner wear to be returned. Masks can never be returned – Understandably. Verify their policy to be sure.
Some retailers may charge some shipping charges for returns.
In the case of clothes, if they have a hassle free return policy you can then buy a few more extra options and then return what you do not like or what does not fit. This is what many do.
Open the package as soon as you get it so that if the shop has a smaller time window for returns and exchange you can return sooner rather than later.
Are you safe doing Online payments?
There are many modes of payment available today in most shops.
Paying online may seem scary to some. You may hesitate to add your credit card details on sites which are not familiar to you. Providing banking information on the internet is sometimes risky; the information maybe misused (identity theft or fraud).
If you have a small doubt about this, you can opt for Cash on delivery – most stores have this option. This way you know you got the product before you pay.
You have to double check the Payment gateway used – digital wallet authenticity is a big concern. Go only for the reputed ones like pay pal.
A well secured payment gateway or method of payment can protect you from harmful retailer practices- there is PayPal’s buyer protection. PayPal may insure your purchase and if it is not fulfilled you can file a complaint with them and get your money back if the product does not arrive or is not up to your expectations and the company refuses to oblige.
Check if the site is secured, with SSL encryption (https://) as otherwise, you have a risk of losing your card information.
Ensure that you have got any order confirmation email or message after you have paid. It is a good practice to print a copy of your purchase order and confirmation number.
If you have used a credit card to make this purchase, you can always report with your credit card in case of a grievance. You can call up your bank and ask to revoke the transaction and if they find the issue is genuine, they will.
You can also up your safety by using a secure browser. If your browser complies with industry security standards, like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) the information you send over the Internet will be secured and your transaction will be secured too.
Are you happy with the Pricing ?
Do not go for impulse shopping online. That is what offline shops are there for. You should take advantage of coupons, cashback, discount, sale, and reward points – all that the online shops offer (as of now) – all with intelligence and high level planning. Because online shops have less cost storing and displaying inventory in air conditioned premium showrooms and many salespeople to sell their wares they can pass on their advantage in the form of sales discounts etc.
Take advantage of online store sales by waiting for these occasions to buy what you want. Good things come to those who wait and watch for online sales.
Your online store may have a referral program which will give you credits/vouchers for referring others to the store and you can buy more with these credit points. You may get Loyalty points or the store may give you credits for sharing good reviews across social media. You can take advantage of these and get reduced prices.
There will be Tax and hidden charges extra in your bill. So do not get too enamored of something before seeing the full price complete with all the charges.
What to do if the Product is late?
Even big-time sellers like Amazon who promise prompt next-day delivery or something faster will still have third-party sellers who have longer shipping times. Verify if that is the case.
Before you begin to panic check if the product is marked ‘in transit’. If it is a logistics problem you will have to coordinate with the courier for faster delivery
Always be vigilant in tracking your order in online shopping – no use looking for it after it is late by one month. Ensure that you have a tracking number. Check your emails (registered email) for any message of a delay from the seller. Ensure that if the product is very late, you get the money refunded.
Maybe it got misplaced by the security of your place and was never told to you. Check your base first before reporting.
Double-check your address, in the online portal. Keep the phone on while the delivery is expected. Maybe the courier people tried to get you but you were “out of coverage”. How do I know? This happens to me always.
What if you face other Product issues ?
Sometimes you may be sent a wrong product or one with missing parts or a completely damaged product. Maybe you got the size wrong. These calls for an exchange, definitely a return.
One other problem is that there is no consistency with sizing among clothing stores. You may get completely unfitting clothing. An option is to order alternate sizes and return the unsuitable size. This way you are left with a good one – not none.
When you buy clothes/fabric/accessories it is difficult to estimate the size so when the product arrives you may discover the print is bigger than what you thought, the length longer on you than on the model etc
Some times clothing or the fabric is damaged or has fold marks or worse, stains. This is tricky as you will have to prove you didn’t make them.
Are you buying a counterfeit product
Fake products are the bad apples in any market. You have to avoid them at all costs. They will ruin all the good apples too. Cheap deals and dirt cheap prizes may point to fake products. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Check out this post on the right ways to spot fake products.
What if the product is not what it should be ?
The picture on the shop’s website looks completely different from what you got in your hands.
Use of Photoshop and other apps to change features, photographic skills that make a lamb look like a tiger have all created products looking like something they are definitely ‘not’. This is duping and you have to return the product and not allow such fraudulent practices.
For this, the most important thing is to open the package as soon as you receive it. This way, you can get to customer care in time before the return window closes and report. They will ask for Photographs if product is damaged – so be prepared, and they will need you to send them immediately.
If the seller is refusing your claims, most countries will have a consumer complaint portal where a consumer can file a complaint against the online seller and get damages and loss returned from the company with compensation. You will have to prepare all documents and collect and present all evidence.
What are the Information privacy/safety practices of the shop?
And another concern is the disposal of packages with your address, phone number etc. You just throw the packets carelessly into the wastebins – do you know who will get access to them. If you are concerned about privacy take care of this too. I know that it sounds like borderline paranoia, but sometimes it is safe to be ‘too careful’.
What to do if the shop has disappeared?
And your money with it. This is a case of high end fraud and it needs to be reported and the fraudulent store brought to book.
You can start by calling up the customer care number and send an email to the company demanding your money back first; Then if they do not respond, start a social media campaign against them mentioning the promoters and if they still do not budge, send legal notice to the company. You will be eligible for compensation along with legal costs if you get your rights.
If you purchased the product using a credit card, you can inform your card issuing bank about the problem and they will send a notice to the owner of the shopping site and they will have to resolve the issue. If the bank finds that your problem is legitimate the bank will refund your amount.
There are organisations like Federal Trade commission, USA (ftc.gov) in most countries to prevent and punish fraud-related complaints in the online marketplace.
What is your motivation to shop?
You shop for adventure and thrill – this is a dangerous scenario. You should be shopping only when you need something – online or offline.
Never forget the reality and get lost in the magical world of shopping. Before you know you would have spent your life saving on things you do not want. There is an obvious thrill in buying things online. A movement of the mouse and they are in the cart. And the next movement or touch and they are at home.
Staying within your means is difficult when faced with all the good things in life in front of you, in our house- they make you forget your dreary life. But only for so long. You will have to return back and pay all the credit card bills.
The option is to set the ‘filter’ on only things you want and in the price range you need, nothing else – this way you would not be tempted to buy things you do not need.
What is your expectation from online shopping ?
Do not think that the model on the shopping website with the perfect figure wearing the correct size clothing that is most probably altered to their fit, will be what you will become after you have got that dress. Such a wrong notion but one I have fallen for multiple times. Be realistic with your expectations and shop right for your bodyshape and fit.
Online buying has many advantages which eclipse the many disadvantages it has. And there are many options for you to circumvent these disadvantages as well, when buying from some unknown place you have not seen with your eyes and never will. You just have to be in a ‘Buyer Beware’ mode to not get duped.
Any other tips from your experience?