Beginner’s Guide to Online Shopping

In recent days people prefer making purchases right on the internet. And it’s not surprising either because of the outright advantages it has to conventional shopping.

The main advantage of online shopping is that it allows people to browse through many items and categories without leaving their seats, to compare the prices of as many shops as they want, and also to order as many items as they can afford without having to worry about how they will transport them, because the online shopping websites offer door delivery of all the items. Moreover, the Internet is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so you don’t have to hurry or worry about finding a parking spot or rush before shop shuts.

People are normally under the impression that online transactions are unsafe. I disagree. Instead, online transactions are the safest – as long as the right precautions and measures are taken. As in every other activity, one must exercise caution when shopping over the internet.

Here’s a brief guide narrating you what you should or shouldn’t take care while making an online purchase of products/services.


Buying through Third Party Service Providers

There are some well known shopping service providers on internet such as eBay, Flipkart, Amazon, Shopclues etc. These sites provide an additional layer of buyer protection. Some of them ensure that the product is delivered within stipulated time, particularly so if it a digital product or download. These sites gather a lot of information about the product and the seller’s reputation. They also have a market place where you can compare different products in the same category and usually have a system to rate and review products. This helps the buyer to make an informed decision while buying.


Search the Internet for more information about merchant/product/service

If you are buying a product or service from a website, then run a search in major search engines if a fraud has been reported about that website or products/services. Simply add ‘scam’ or ‘fraud’ to your search term consisting of the product / service name or the website’s URL. This would fetch you relevant results. If it is a fraud or scam, you will know it immediately.

Then spend some more time reading reviews about them.


Make Pre-sale Enquiries

Normally, websites that are doing legitimate business would display contact information on their websites. This includes physical address, telephone numbers, two or three email ids and maybe a live chat option. If a website doesn’t have any of these options or have a very few, then it is probably a fly-by-night operator or a struggling business. It is always better to make some pre-sale inquiries through telephone, live chat or email. You can ascertain their average response time and service aptitude. Though several scam sites also respond with enthusiasm for pre-sale inquiries, you can smell it if there is inconsistency or excessive sales pitch in their response. You can demand them to clear all your doubts, before making a purchase.
Ask for a free sample (Mostly applicable for digital products)

This is by far the most effective way of detecting scams or ‘just need your money’ products.

Several websites offer 30-day evaluation of their services / products. Some websites offer money-back guarantee. Money-back guarantees often results in a few problems and are not always a good measure of credibility, whereas free sample downloads or 30-day evaluation offers help you to try out their products without any risk. You can try 3 or 4 products for evaluation and compare them, before choosing the appropriate one for you.
The Purchase

Once you have chosen the product you want to purchase, check if that product is sold through any of the 3rd party merchant websites such as eBay, Flipkart, Amazon, Shopclues, Tradus etc. that have secure payment processing. If the product is sold through the seller’s website, go through the various payment options available. If there is an option to pay through any of the 3rd party merchant sites listed above, it is safe to purchase through these sites. If there are no such options and the buyer is accepting credit cards only, then you should verify a few things.

  1. The URL should display https:// instead of http:// while you are filling out forms placing an order.
  2. You should find the logo of any of the SSL certificate providers such as Verisign, Geotrust, Rapid SSL, Comodo etc., somewhere on the order pages.
  3. The site shouldn’t ask for more information than necessary.
  4. Most web browsers support ‘phishing filters’. Turning this option ON will enable the browser to alert you if the selling website is identified for ‘phishing’.
  5. Most important: Read the vendor’s Money-Back Policy, Return Policy and Terms and Conditions very carefully.

Making the Purchase

  • If you haven’t found anything wrong or objectionable with the vendor / website, then you can proceed to purchase the product. But during this process you need to take some more precautions.
  • Close all other programs and browser windows other than the one in which you are making the transaction.
  • Clear all the cookies and temporary files from ‘Internet Options’ in the Control Panel.
  • Turn off automatic updates. Some software programs begin automatic updates without notice. If prompted, postpone such updates and turn off such options till you complete your transaction.
  • If your internet connection is experiencing problems do not initiate a transaction.

All the above steps ensure that transaction gets completed without interruption and browser redirections work well.

  • Always give an email address that works well for you, even if it is not your primary email. Some sellers may have a ‘spammer’ status and their confirmation email may get lost or filtered.
  • Write down all the transaction numbers and codes that are displayed during and after the transaction. Save these pages to your disk or add confirmation pages to your ‘Favorites’ folder.
  • After payment, though not necessary, send them a letter citing all those transaction numbers and codes and inquire about the status of your order.


After the Purchase

It is a good practice if you leave a feedback at forums or blogs about your experience with the products you purchased. It helps others to make good buying decisions. It also helps the seller to improve their products or services. If you are scammed, never forget to report it.

These are a few simple things that can prevent a lot of headaches associated with buying online. You can avoid scams and phishing websites. You can make sure that you will get a good support for your purchased product.

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