Ah, the joys of online shopping — skip the crowds, shop whenever you want, avoid the parking space nightmares and forget running here and there to find the best prices. It’s no surprise that Canadian consumers spend billions of dollars online each year.
However, there are potential disadvantages to this convenience, like poor customer service, shipping costs and additional fees. As online shopping continues to grow in popularity, fraud and identify theft are also on the rise — costing consumers a hefty chunk of change and time.
Here’s how to dodge the hassles when you hit the online stores.
1. Update your software.
Your computer’s firewall, internet browser, anti-virus and anti-spyware programs offer some protection against the viruses and other malware you might encounter, but you’ll need to keep them current with the latest updates and patches. (Not sure if you need to update? Look under the “Help” menu for an item that says “Check for updates”.) You might want to run your anti-virus and anti-spyware scans a little more often this time of year.
2. Shop from a trusted computer.
Experts agree that it’s best to avoid internet cafes and kiosks in public places when you’re placing an order because someone could be “listening in” on your connection, or they could retrieve the information you’ve sent. Stick to your home computer where you control the settings and the security of the connection.
5. Guard your privacy.
6. Read (and save) the contracts.
7. Know exactly what you’re buying.
Take a close look at the picture and read through the accompanying product information so you’ll know what you’re ordering. Read through the product specifications, measurements, guarantees, warranties, certificates of authenticity/approval and options for materials and colours. Before you pay, carefully review your order information to ensure it’s correct.
And don’t forget to measure, especially if you’re buying clothing or shoes. Sizes differ from company to company so double check with the sizing charts for accuracy.
9. Beware additional costs.
The price you see may be cheaper than in the store — but don’t forget to factor in taxes, shipping and handling charges, gift wrapping and any other applicable charges. If you’re shopping in an international store, watch out for currency exchange rates and fees on your credit card, not to mention duty or tariffs when the package crosses the border.
10. Understand the cancellation and return policies.
Uh oh… you changed your mind or your package arrived damaged. Before you order, make sure you understand how to cancel an order and return items — particularly if there are time constraints or conditions that apply. If you don’t live near the store (or there isn’t a store available), then you may have to pay out of pocket for travel, return shipping costs or “restocking fees”.
What if the recipient wants to return or exchange your gift? The good news is that many sites offer special return policies for items ordered before Christmas — but they may have to be marked as gifts when the order is placed in order to qualify.
12. Be aware of warranties.
Did you know that if you buy an item from an international store the warranty might not be honoured here at home? Experts say to be especially careful when it comes to warranties and policies regarding damaged or defective goods if they’re ordered outside the country.
13. Check up on customer service (before you need it).
Most sites offer “self serve” help, but if you prefer to talk to a real person you’ll need to dig a little deeper. Find out what you can about what customer service is offered — like how to contact a representative (e.g. online chat, email or phone) and how long you can expect to wait for a response (e.g. 24 hours for an email request).
14. Keep order confirmations.
Online shopping is a business transaction, and your order confirmation is proof that you paid. Make sure to print, file or backup any order confirmation emails you receive and keep them for future reference.
15. Don’t respond to spam and phishing scams.
To protect yourself, delete any suspicious emails, don’t open attachments and avoid clicking on links. Also, beware of emails claiming there’s a problem with your order or your account — they could be phishing scams. When in doubt, look up the company’s phone number through an independent source (like the phone book) and call their customer service department to straighten out any issues.
Another email safety tip: don’t use it to send personal or financial information. Typically, email doesn’t have built-in security protection like encryption, and it can be intercepted.
Finally, when you’re through take a moment to clear your cache to get rid of any cookies, passwords and webform information stored on your browser.