Do you remember the first time you purchased something online? I do and I remember feeling a bit wary about the whole process. Would I get my item? Was my financial information secure? What if my item arrived damaged? Isn’t it just easier to drive to a brick and mortar store and buy it there? Actually, most items can be purchased less expensively online and with a few precautions taken, you can assure a smooth, safe transaction.
I have had very few bad online buying experiences and have made a lot of purchases from people I will never meet. As the online marketplace has matured, companies like Ebay and Amazon have developed policies to help buyers feel comfortable when making a purchase. It is important to make sure you are following all guidelines established to protect your purchase.
If you are buying from an individual seller, take the time to check their feedback. Both companies only allow feedback after a purchase, so you will see real feedback from real buyers. Don’t necessarily expect perfection, but always ask about negative feedback, especially if you see the same complaint made by different buyers.
You can also find individual sellers in market places like Etsy, DeviantArt and Red Bubble. I have purchased from sellers at all three with no problem. Again, check seller feedback. It is a lot more difficult to check feedback on someone selling from their own website. They may have reviews printed or testimonials, but you have no way of knowing if they are real. In this situation, Google can be your best friend. Run a search on the website name and see if anything pops up.
Always make sure the beginning of the web address begins with https, not http. The “s” signifies that you are on a secure server. This helps protect your personal and financial information. If for any reason you feel you entered information into an unsecured server, do not wait to see if something bad happens. Go ahead and change your password for your bank account or credit card. If you used a debit card it may be worth calling the bank and letting them know what happened so they can flag the account to watch for suspicious activity.
Financial theft isn’t the only reason to use a secure server. Think about all the information you give over the internet when making a purchase. Thieves have everything they need short of your social security number to steal your identity. In the long run, this is far worse than emptying your bank account once. They can put you in debt that can wind up costing thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to clear from your record.
It doesn’t matter where you buy, you need to know the return policy before you make your purchase. On sites like Ebay and Etsy where many different sellers come to sell their goods, each seller can have a different return policy and some do not accept returns at all. Others will accept returns, yet charge a restocking fee of 10-30% of the item’s cost. Don’t think you can negotiate after the fact. Know what you can and can’t do up front.
What happens if the seller doesn’t take returns and the item isn’t as described? One way to protect yourself from fraud is to make your purchases with a credit card or through Paypal. Check the policy of your card, or the bank issuing your card, to see how much of your purchase price is protected if you do not receive the item, or if the item you do receive is substantially different from the one you purchased. You can’t get your money back for buyer’s remorse. The bank will investigate before permanently returning your funds, so use this method only in the event of fraud or misrepresentation.
If the company you are buying from allows returns, the next thing you need to check is who picks up the tab for shipping.
Whether dealing with an established retailer’s online store or a seller on Etsy, check to see if they offer a variety of shipping methods and if they have a long wait prior to shipping. I once made a purchase on Ebay prior to double checking just to find out it took this particular seller two weeks to send out packages and it was stated so in the seller’s store. It’s a good thing I wasn’t in a rush for the item.
How many shipping methods does the seller offer? Know before you buy. For low cost items, the shipping can sometimes cost more than the item. Is the seller willing to send regular mail, or do they require Priority or other more expensive methods? Remember, boxes and packing materials are expensive. Large retailers have this worked into the cost. Small sellers may require fixed shipping methods through USPS where they get their boxes free of charge. There is nothing wrong with this, but make sure you know before you buy.
Another thing to know up front prior to pushing the buy button is who picks up the return shipping tab if you must return the item. Large retailers often include a return shipping tag in with the item. Sites like Amazon will set up returns through UPS after you submit your reason for return on their site. They pick up the tab if it was their mistake or if the item has been damaged or does not work.
I have had to return two items this week. One was through Amazon and the UPS carrier is coming to my home today to pick it up. The other was through a wholesale company that sent me the wrong item. It was an inexpensive item and their fault, but they didn’t want to go to the expense of shipping it back to their warehouse, so they simply sent me the correct item without any hassle or expense. I knew the return policies of both companies prior to making my purchases and love the fact that I didn’t spend one dime in gas to make the initial purchases or to make the item exchanges. It took much less time as well.
One way to avoid making mistakes when buying online is to not be in a rush to make your purchase. Take your time and research the product you are buying, the sellers offering it and their shipping and return policies. Pay attention to the page your are on prior to entering your personal information. Is it secure?
If you are buying an item that has a warranty, is the item still under warranty? Is it used? Does the warranty require the item be purchased from a certified dealer? Is the seller a certified dealer? Is this really the best price, or are there other company’s selling the same item that may have better return and shipping terms?
Take the time to ask yourself these questions prior to making your purchase. You may just wind up saving yourself money and trouble in the long run.