Online Shopping: 10 Tips to Avoid Getting Burned

The ease of online shopping can be a double-edged sword. You can purchase whatever you want from your computer or smartphone, and have it delivered in days. But if you’re not careful, you could end up with a stack of items you don’t really need. Before you click “buy,” consider these tips for staying safe when buying everything from clothing to cosmetics online:

1. Read product reviews. The Internet has made it possible for anyone to review anything they want, including products sold on sites like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart. If you’re considering making an expensive purchase, see what others have to say about the product first.

2. Check return policies. Some online retailers like Nordstrom and Zappos offer free returns, on certain items and for a limited time period. However, if you want to try something new (a sex toy, perhaps?) be aware that not all stores allow returns for those types of products. Before you hit “confirm,” check out the store’s refund policy and decide whether it works for you. [I chose to list some stores as examples of stores that offer free or easy returns.]

3. Always use an online retailer’s secure site when making purchases. Never submit your credit card numbers to a website that doesn’t start with “HTTPS.” Also keep in mind that some sites encrypt your information when you create an account, but don’t ensure the security of your purchases until you actually complete the order. [I chose to use bold text in this section so readers can easily identify what they need to be careful about when using different online retailers.]

4. Read product descriptions carefully. One of my favorite TV shows is “How It’s Made,” where I learn how many everyday products are made. So when I’m shopping online, I always read the product description thoroughly so I know what items are used for and how they work. Some shoppers aren’t as curious – or informed – when it comes to making expensive purchases on websites like Amazon and eBay.

If you buy something that’s used or refurbished, be aware that the product may not function as promised. Some online retailers will clearly label a product as “used” (and how it functions), but others don’t bother to mention this important detail. As a result, buyers can end up with expensive paperweights unless they ask questions about the item first. [Some readers would probably want to know whether I chose those specific stores as examples of stores that might sell used/refurbished products.]

5. If it seems too good to be true…it probably is. The Internet is full of deals and steals, even on big-ticket items like cars and homes. However, if you see an amazing deal on a brand new TV for $100, question whether the price is legitimate. Unless it’s a one-day sale and you’re willing to risk losing out on your purchase because someone else may snap up your deal first, don’t buy anything online that seems too good to be true.

6. Shop at stores that offer live chat. Although I’m fine with buying items from websites that don’t offer live chat, I prefer doing business with those retailers that do provide this service. That way, if there are any problems with my order, I can use this option as a time-saving alternative to phoning or emailing customer service (although I still contact them via email if necessary).

7. Use a credit card, not a debit card. While this advice isn’t always necessary (especially when shopping at stores that don’t require you to enter your credit card number online), using a credit card can maximize your chances of getting your money back if something goes wrong with your order. Using a debit card may leave you with fewer options if unauthorized charges are made on your account or you get hit with return fees. 

And if you think that your shopping experience needs to be better, check out Walmart.