3 Tips for Online Shopping
by J’Nel Wright
These days, when a grandchild comes at you with a list of obscure birthday wishes, there’s only one thing you can do: Say “Bring it here” and then sit down in front of your computer. On-line shopping has brought the retail world to our fingertips with comprehensive and convenient shopping that taps into products from all over the world. But along with being crowned “Number One Grandparent” for tracking down the evasive Iron Man smartphone that doubles as a remote control robot, there are risks to shopping on-line, and it’s important to protect yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, on-line shopping is a great resource for people of all ages. But when I venture into the virtual world of retail, here are three things that ensure I don’t lose my shorts in the process.
Both VISA and MasterCard offer cards preloaded with a variety of denominations, making on-line shopping easy and risk-free since the buyer doesn’t have to input bank information to complete the transaction. When shopping, look for the padlock in the URL bar on your favorite e-commerce websites to ensure a secure site. “Only shop on sites that take secure payment methods, such as credit cards and PayPal, as they likely give you buyer protection just in case there’s a dispute,” says Marc Saltzman of USA Today.
As on-line stores like Amazon, Walmart, and eBay expand their on-line marketplace platforms, the actual origin of a product may not be so clear. For example, when a recently bought power pack arrived defective, I quickly discovered that my purchase was made using Walmart’s Marketplace and not Walmart.com. This means I wasn’t protected by Walmart’s return or refund policies. Since the merchant never responded to my e-mails requesting a refund, I was stuck with a faulty device and $60 less money in my wallet.
New studies show this type of shady marketing, along with selling counterfeit products, is getting more popular with on-line sellers. For example, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) tested 47 items purchased from third-party sellers by using popular consumer websites. After testing, 20 of those 47 items were considered counterfeit. And the risks range from clothing, health products, and tools to cosmetics, electronics, and household products.
Remember, sometimes the best deal posted on-line isn’t really the greatest deal. Make a note of the seller and the platform on which the item is being sold. For example, is the item being sold by Amazon or a lesser-known third-party seller? When you purchase an item directly from Walmart or Amazon, at least you know who to contact if something is wrong with the purchase.
In most cases, a merchant will provide great customer service. But sometimes a little extra insurance goes a long way in offering assistance. For a minimal fee, an on-line shipping insurance company will track the package to be sure it is delivered accurately and in good condition. Some companies will even protect consumers against stolen items. “Merchants and major shipping carriers are not always liable for your packages,” said Evan Walker, founder, and CEO of Route, an on-line shipping insurance company. “You need shipping insurance to cover lost, damaged, and stolen goods. That’s where we come in.” What was once a tedious process requiring time and paperwork is now a single click before confirming your on-line purchase. And it offers added comfort that, should something happen to the package, the insurance company will work with the merchant to make things right.
There are few things that feel more empowering than shopping on-line. But that easy-as-Sunday-morning feeling can get heavy if you don’t take precautions. These three simple steps can ensure your on-line shopping experience is as secure and comfortable as the slippers you are wearing right now.
J'Nel Wright is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in topics concerning health and wellness, aging, caregiving, humor, travel and business. Her work has appeared in a variety of regional and national publications. Her educational background includes a bachelor's degree in English and Social Work. She has traveled throughout Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, French Polynesia, Mexico and much of the United States. She is a full time writer.