Smart Online Shopping

If you’re like me and millions of other Americans, you are doing more of your shopping online these days. There are many reasons more people are shopping online today. People want to avoid the crowds at the mall, find lower prices, have the convenience of 24 hour shopping and find a wider selection. There are some pitfalls and drawbacks to online shopping but these can be avoided if you’re a smart online shopper.

You have an idea of a product you want to buy. You go to one of the big 3 search engines online, Google, Yahoo and MSN, to do some research. Or perhaps you use one of the many comparison shopping sites to find a store that carries the product you are looking for. Now that you’ve found the store and the product at the price you’re happy with, what’s next?

First, take a look at the store contact information. Do they have a toll free number you can call and talk to a real person if any problems arise? Perhaps they are a very small or new operation, if they don’t have a toll free number, do they at least have a regular telephone number to call? The very least a store should have is an e-mail address where you can contact them. If all you find for contact information is a web form to fill out, leave quickly!

Second, take a look at the return policy of the store you’re considering. Sometimes the store owners make this more difficult than it should be. If you don’t see a button on the main page saying, Return Policy, look for an info page. A reputable store will give you at least 30 days in which to return your purchase for a full refund of the purchase price. Don’t expect the shipping cost to be refunded. The merchant has already paid that amount to the shipping company. Look out for stores that shorten the return time to 7 or 10 days. Many of these also have a restock fee that they charge. If you return an item to them, the restock fee can range from 10 to 30% or higher. You should never have to pay a restock fee.

Third, take a look at the stores privacy policy. They should never share the information you give them when making a purchase with any 3rd party. If you have any questions or something isn’t clear up to this point, call the store. You should expect to talk to a real person during business hours and after hours you should be able to leave a message and they should return your call the next day. If you contact them via e-mail, they should reply within 24 hours. If you have any trouble contacting the store before a sale, you can be assured that they won’t be easily reached after a sale. So it’s time to find another merchant.

One of my pet peeves is unsolicited e-mails from online stores where I’ve made a purchase. If they send newsletters or sale notices they should have an opt in signup. If you didn’t sign up for any promotional material to be e-mailed to you, you should never be contacted by them, unless it regards a problem with your order being completed and shipped. Personally, when I receive unsolicited e-mail from a store where I’ve made a purchase, I contact them. I tell them to take me off their contact list and that I will never do business with them again. If enough of us do this, maybe they’ll take the hint.

There are many reputable companies, both large and small, online. You can buy great products at low prices and receive wonderful service. Just keep your eyes open for the few bad actors online who try to take advantage of you.

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