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Online shopping; Tips & tricks

January 21, 2017

Something non-horse related for a change. The CHOICE website shared an interesting article with us regarding online shopping a while back. I thought I’d share with you some of the highlights of this article, the Do’s and Don’ts of online shopping if you like.

Shopping online can find you a bargain, with top-selling items costing far less than if you'd bought them in a local bricks and mortar store. So it's no wonder that online shopping is on the increase, but despite its popularity there are still some hazards that savvy shoppers can avoid. Our guide to online shopping will help the novice internet buyer, and probably give experienced online shopaholics a few extra tips as well.

Can you trust the retailer?

Safe online shopping is all about doing your homework. If you've never shopped online, start with recommendations from family and friends, and always try to find out as much as possible about the company before you hand over your credit card details.

If something goes wrong with your transaction, the more information you have, the better off you'll be. Look for the business's address, phone number and ABN (Australian Business Number) if it's a local site. This tells you it's a bona fide business.

Payment options

We usually recommend paying by credit card when you're shopping online. It's a widely accepted payment method and you shouldn't be liable for unauthorised or fraudulent transactions made with a credit card. The rising concern about online fraud, however, suggests it's not an entirely safe option. So what are the other options?

Third party payment options

If you're dead set against keying in your credit card details every time you shop online, a third-party payment service may suit you. These facilities act as an intermediary between you and the merchant so you don't have to disclose your details to sellers. The drawbacks, however, may include registration fees, transaction charges and a limited number of participating websites.

PayPal is an online payment service owned by eBay that allows you to send money to anyone (as long as they have an email address) via the internet. You register with PayPal to set up an account that's linked to your credit card or nominated bank account. To pay for items, you log in to your PayPal account and enter the email address of the recipient and the amount. PayPal then sends an email notification to the recipient, who logs into their PayPal account and checks that the money's arrived. It's one of the safest ways to pay for goods, particularly if you use online auction services.

Checking out

When you're confident you've found a trustworthy site and you're ready to buy, follow these steps.

  • Check the description of the product, price — including delivery costs, currency and taxes — and warranty details. Good shopping sites should give you the opportunity to confirm or reject your order before you pay for it.
  • Choose a payment method — credit card, cheque, money order, PayPal etc. In most cases it's safest to pay by credit card because they won't hold you liable for undelivered goods or unauthorised transactions.
  • Confirm the site has a secure checkout— Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) software is the most common technology used to secure shopping sites. It encrypts or scrambles your personal information as it travels over the web. When you move to a secure web page, you might see a pop-up box that says "click OK if you're happy to proceed". If you don't get the pop-up, you can tell if a website has secure shopping facilities by looking for a locked padlock on the browser's status bar.
  • Use encryption. Check to see that the website uses at least 128-bit encryption. You'll often find this information on the site's FAQs or 'About us' page. Other less common security protocols include Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Electronic Transaction (SET).
  • Check if and where your details will be stored later — some online businesses store them on a secure server or destroy them once the transaction has been processed.

Delivery problems

Delivery problems are one of the most common complaints reported by online shoppers, with goods taking weeks to turn up, arriving damaged or not getting to you at all.

As a precaution, try to make sure your item is in stock and check the expected delivery time before completing your transaction. Most good retailers will notify you via email when your order's been received, as well as when the item is shipped or if there are problems or hold-ups.

  • Late delivery. If your item doesn't arrive on time, contact the retailer to check the status of your order and, if you're planning to cancel it, find out whether they've already charged you for the purchase – some companies process your payment even before the item's been shipped. You should be entitled to a refund.
  • No delivery. If your product never arrives, put your complaint in writing and try contacting the retailer more directly, by phone or in person if possible. Have the details of your order handy and remember that you're entitled to a refund. If problems continue, file a complaint with the department of fair trading or consumer protection in your state or territory and inform your credit card provider.

Read the fine print

While standard consumer rights apply to most items bought online (except through auctions), it can be difficult to achieve redress in the virtual world. Taking precautions early on can save you hassle down the track.

Before buying, check all the terms and conditions including:

  • delivery costs
  • if your item's in stock
  • whether you're entitled to refunds or repairs
  • if the company accepts returns and cancellations
  • Find out how a company handles complaints or disputes. Reputable online retailers often have processes to solve problems quickly. If you're not confident there's a clear procedure to follow, look for another retailer.

Maintaining your privacy

It pays to check the privacy policy of all websites you visit, even those that aren't shopping sites. Many websites collect information about you and your surfing habits using cookies – small files that store information such as your IP address (the number that's used to identify your computer on the internet) and the login name and password you use for that site.

Keeping track

For the same reasons you keep receipts and invoices in the real world, it's important to keep track of online transactions. A good website should send you an email confirmation of your transaction, as well as provide the opportunity to print your order.

Hope this helps new customers feel safe and protected when using our online shop!

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