It seems like only a few years ago, when shopping online was akin to the wild, wild West – limited to use by those with true grit and an adventurous spirit. And, is it any wonder? With so few stores set up to sell their items through the Internet, who among us had the time to waste, when we could just as easily do our shopping at the "brick and mortar" equivalents. This left this new frontier mainly to those in pursuit of those items not readily found in stores at that time, the exotic: Persian rugs, rare books, and other collectibles. Years ago, if you told someone you had no qualms about shopping online, that you willingly provided your credit card information to anonymous customer service reps free floating in cyber space, most figured your credit probably wasn't all that great to begin with.
Those very "brick and mortar" stores, which had once declared online shopping a fad, an endeavor doomed to go the way of pogo sticks and drive-in theaters, have had to bow down and acknowledge the success of industry giants like: Amazon. com and ebay. These same naysayers, which now credit their online enterprises with providing the lion's share of their revenues, will do whatever's necessary to encourage customers to shop online, advertising their largest discounts through their website; with these discounts often considerably greater than the ones offered by their mail order catalogs and landlocked sites.
Not Your Mom and Pop's Online Rug Shop
Today's online shopping isn't limited to exotic Persian rugs anymore. It's comprised of stores selling everything from: hardware, clothing, magazines and carpeting to gourmet food, cigars and tires. Then you also have your Bombaycompany.com, Kmart.com, EthanAllen.com, Snan.com – all, heavy hitters when it comes to supplying decor for the home or office. Any viable enterprise once found only on Main Street USA, is now sure to be represented by hundreds, and sometimes thousands of comparable cyber space online storefronts.
Everyone: college students, grandmothers, teachers, dancers – even rug rats as young as seven – can be found navigating and shopping Internet sites with ease and confidence. But as with all new technologies, knowing what to do, along with those things that shouldn't be attempted, will help insure all your online shopping experiences are great ones.
A Few Cyber Highway Rules to Keep You on Course
Be a Savvy Consumer
- Make yourself familiar with any site your plan to shop from. If you've never heard of the store, then find someone who has. Call the number listed under: Contact Us. Look the company up on the Better Business Bureau's site to see if anyone's registered a recent complaint against the site.
- Guard your privacy. Don't give out personal information to just anyone who emails you. So often, when we visit sites, we are asked to register with our email address, it only days later (sometimes even soon), when you begin receiving bogus emails asking for additional information, such as your credit card account number. It's a ruse. Often, they've gotten enough information from your initial registration at their site to make your think that you've done business with them in the past.
- Place your online orders only on secured web servers. These web addresses always begin with https while unsecured web pages begin with http. Get into the habit of looking for sites whose addresses begin with this when shopping online. Depending on your web browser, these sites may also be denoted by a small lock seen in the lower corner of your computer screen. This lock should always be in the closed position, never the open position.
- Don't use obvious passwords. Try not to use the same password for different sites. One of the keys to keeping your online information out of the hands of others, is to always keep them guessing. If your nickname is Tigger, although easy for you to remember, it's also fairly easy for someone else to figure out too.
Their Your Rights, Know Them
- If you possible, use the same method of payment for all your online transactions. This will make it easy on you when the statement comes in. This allows you to easily distinguish authorized payments from nonauthorized payments.
- Understand the return and refund policies of the company. You may not want to do a lot of business with an online store providing only a store credit on returns, especially if you thought you were purchasing an Oriental rug for the living room, but it turns out to be a rug better suited to a child's room.
- Take a minute or two to carefully read the fine print before you hit the "I read and I agree" button. The company puts these caveats in fine print for a reason.
- Don't assume a 3-5 day delivery date is standard business practice. Most sites offer express shipping at a higher charge than regular UPS. Read the shipping policy before placing an order.
- Know what warranties you are being offered on the products you purchase from the site. Most online stores selling appliances and electronics are more than happy to sell you their extended warranty. But do you need it? Find out what's covered under the manufacturer's warranty, then decided whether or not that's enough coverage.
Let's Make a Deal
- There's no reason not to compare prices, especially when it only a matter of mouse clicks. If you know what the competition is offering, then you're in a much better position to get the best price. Many sites will be meet or better the competition's best price, if asked to.
- Lookout for hidden fees. These costs account for the majority of shipping and handling fees accessed by online shopping sites. Check to see if these fees seem reasonable for item you are thinking of purchasing.
- Order early for special occasions like Mother's Day, Christmas, and birthdays. It's a special day, and receiving the item on time helps insure it remains this way.
Know Where You've Been
- Keep good track of dates, amounts spent, and description of the items purchased from the sites you've visited.
- Keep all your online receipts and website page printouts. This will make it that much easier to check what's delivered against what you actually ordered online.
But most importantly, if an online shopping site looks as if it might not be on the up and up, don't chance it. Whether their selling bamboo rugs or Waterford crystal, it's certainly not worth risking your good name and credit to find out for sure.
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