As online shoppers and online merchants, there are things we always look for when shopping online. Some are obvious, some you might not think about if the price is right (meaning far lower than elsewhere.)
Here’s our Top Tips (some with links to detailed posts) to avoid running betting “grinched” this holiday season, or any time of the year.
Online shopping can save you lots of time. But no matter how busy you are, make sure that steal of a deal doesn’t turn into a big lump of coal.
Tip One: Know Who’s Getting Your Money!
Amazon is a great example. But, Amazon.com is not one company: it’s like a mall. Amazon’s is the anchor store; the rest: some really great stores, some really bad stores, and lots in between. Which one will you get?
It’s true that Amazon is great at tossing out stores when there are a large number of valid customer complaints. But a lot of damage can occur before Amazon even finds out how bad a store is. You may get your money back, but it may be a big, time-consuming hassle.
Let’s be clear: if a store on Amazon.com rooks you, Amazon almost always will get your money back to you. The question is “When?” Will you get the item, or the funds, back in time for the holiday? Probably not because the complaint resolution process can be long.
Tip 2: Make Sure You Can Contact the Store Easily
Look for an email and/or a phone number. If you can’t get in touch with them before they have your money, what happens if and when things go south?
It’s true that with smaller stores you may have to leave a message. They may be on the line with other customers; they may want to check some information before returning your call to make sure they give the best answers possible.
We never shop at stores that use “Contact Us” forms instead of providing an easily found telephone number and email address. Before making a payment, ask yourself:
- Do you know that the contact form works?
- When the message is read?
- Who reads it?
- If it’s even read at all?
If you have to spend time tracking down the store’s phone or email contact, does the store really want to talk to customers. Stores that do usually put their phone and/or email where it’s easily spotted.
Tip 3: Buying Technology? Making a Large Dollar Purchase? Ask Questions!
If you’re making a large dollar purchase, it doesn’t hurt to call and ask questions before handing over your hard-earned money.
Often, the most-prized gifts involve rapidly changing technology: smart phones, computers, video/computer games, and solar lights. Often the only time to make sure you get what you really need and expect is to ask.
Ever wonder what’s the difference is two similar looking items with very different price tags? Call or email the store and ask. A good store will be glad to help you by explaining the various products you’re considering and help you get the most for your money. The most expensive thing may not be what you want or need.
The best value may or may not be the cheapest option. Regardless: make sure a low price tag isn’t due to poor sales or poor quality. The only way to know often is to call the store. (Want to learn more why buying from stores that specialize in a certain type of products are usually better for consumers than big box stores? Check out this article. It talks about solar lighting specialists, but the same principals hold true for any purchase involving rapidly evolving technology: Why to Buy Solar Lights from Solar Specialists
Tip 4: Does the Deal Seem Too Good to be True?
If you see that one store offering an item far below the price other stores are charging for the same item, ask yourself why.
- Is the store dumping inventory because they are in financial trouble? Will they be around to help with any warranty issues?
- Are you buying an item that looks like the other items, but in fact is an older model with dated technology?
- Is the item used, damaged, or “refurbished?”
- Is the store in good standing with the manufacturer, because if not, your warranty could be at risk.
Yes, there are lots of deals online, especially between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. But if a price is very different than most other stores, there’s a good chance the reason isn’t a good one. (Want to read more about this? Check out: Ignore That Man Behind the Curtain! Make Sure You Know Who You Buy from Online)
Tip 5: Are You Really Safer with PayPal
We’ve used PayPal as a merchant and as a consumer and we’ll be very blunt: we hate PayPal. We’ve never had a problem with PayPal as a merchant, but sure have as consumers including fraudulent charges; one-time purchases that turned into “recurring payments” without our agreement; and well frankly we could write quite a bit about what we hate about PayPal.
First, we don’t like giving anyone both our credit card information AND access to our bank account. PayPal (unlike their old commercials) is one of the view entities that asks for this information. But ask them: how many PayPal employees have access to this information. We have and they refused to answer them.
We know many people like PayPal, and that’s fine. Just make sure you know that unlike most credit card companies or banks, PayPal is not a financial institution and PayPal is not subject to the same financial system rules that protect consumers when you use your credit cards.
Unlike credit card issues and banks, PayPal does not answer to traditional banking or payment regulators. Many consumer rights outlined after the 2008 economic fiasco do not apply to PayPal.
For example, most PayPal transactions are made by electronic transfers through the Automated Clearinghouse (ACH) system. ACH is safe and very convenient, but returns can be tricky. PayPal, unlike credit cards, generally favors merchants over consumers. It’s simple: PayPal often loses money in cases where credit card companies do not.
Bottom Line: You have far more consumer protection when you pay using your credit card than when you use PayPal. (We’ll detail this in a future post.)
If you are happy with PayPal, fine. Just set your primary payment method to be your credit card. And if you plan on disputing a credit card charge from PayPal, tell your bank NOT to pay them. If your credit card company sides with you, PayPal can take the money from your bank unless the bank’s been told by you beforehand not to give your money to PayPal until further notice. (We found this out the hard way.)
Tip 6: Watch Out for Sneaky “Free Shipping” Games
It’s happened to every online shopper. We see products listed for less money, but once we start shopping, some items don’t qualify for free shipping.
Or, “free shipping” only kicks in when the sale hits a certain dollar value. So, we end up buying something we hadn’t planned on to get that free shipping.
Sometimes we see estimated shipping cost, but at checkout see the real shipping cost is much higher.
We hate these bull-shipping games. Stores use them because, unfortunately, they work. They know that once we find the perfect item at a great price and are well into the sale, we don’t always have the time or energy to pull the plug and start over. It’s a gimmick: don’t fall it.
To us: free shipping means free shipping. Period. Not buy extra stuff, sorry, it’s only free shipping the 3rd Wednesday of each month, or whatever malarkey they call “Free Shipping.” (Find out more about out least favorite shipping games, including real examples, with this post: This Season Compare Prices Carefully, Particularly Shipping Costs)
As always, your online safety is largely in your own hands and online shoppers, particularly those shopping on public WiFi using smart phones or tablets. For more information about shopping online safety, here are some other posts we recommend.
- Tips to Stay Safe & Private Online, Particularly When Shopping!
- Use Your Smart Phone Wisely for Mobile Payments!
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