When shopping on the Internet there are many things to consider, following are some guidelines to keep your experiences a positive one.
Shop online, or brick and mortar!
Many people shop at brick and mortar stores because they feel shipping charges only raise their total cost, however, unless you live in a high density populous like a major city, most often shipping charges cost less than the gasoline required to travel to and back from a brick and mortar store, especially when looking for bargains, which would probably require a stop off at more than two stores for price comparison, and even then when you find the best price, (even if you researched your favorite stores online) you run the risk of a fuel expense only to find your item not in stock, so by the time you actually come home with your item, your fuel expense was probably greater than most fast shipping costs would be. There is also the consideration of time, I live in a rural area where the nearest grocery store is about 12 miles away, and the discount big box retail stores, over 15 miles away, with an average speed limit of 50 mph, it would take approximately 20-25 minutes travel in each direction, around 20 more minutes to identify and locate the specific item(s) in the store, then there is the line at the check out area, depending what time of day/evening you go, it could be as little as 5 minutes and up to 30, as I have waited in check out lines at big box retail stores, so online shopping is not only green, ecologically, but you get more than an hour and a half of your life freed up to do other more desirable activities!
Is it safe to shop online?
Many people still hold on to the idea that online shopping is very risky, however with the implementation of a number of encryption techniques, your personal, and credit card information, is quite secure, but should you still feel a measure of insecurity inputting your credit card information at a website, there are additional steps you can take to insure zero liability on your part. Most credit cards offer a zero liability rider on their cards for any fraudulent charges if you pay a small monthly fee, usually after a 30 – 90 day free trial, in which case any charges that show up on your statement that are not your authorized purchases, will be unconditionally credited back to your card, and an investigation will most likely ensue to try to prevent a recurrence.
Once you get past the apprehension of credit card fraud, there are a number of practices that will ensure a positive experience.
Is the lowest price the best deal?
When price comparing different e-commerce stores there are some things to consider, is the item brand new, refurbished, re-packed, a factory second, or even the name brand that is stated, these are all important factors to consider when comparing prices, and many sites will state what grade of merchandise they carry if it is good for business, for instance, I have seen prices for a specific digital camera range from $99.95 to $279.95 for the exact same camera and the msrp was $229.00, so I ask myself, why so high, or so low, if I choose the lowest price am I getting what I would get if I paid the high price? Well obviously the highest price is not one’s first choice, but here are some answers, the higher prices might be due to a poor choice of wholesaler or distributor, or a lack of buying power due to low volume sales, or a high overhead that needs to be considered by the merchant, or maybe they are also brick and mortar store and do not want to severely undercut the prices in the actual store with their online prices. Now when evaluating low prices consider buying American made, because there are a number of foreign manufacturers that produce cheap knock offs of the original, which are available at much lower prices than their American counterparts, also check the item listing for very small,(fine print) or similar colored text (almost invisible), stating that it is either refurbished or a factory second, and when buying branded items make sure the item picture reflects the advertised brand name, and is not an inferior knock off, this happens most when shopping for accessories like picture cards, removable mass storage devices, and other types of digital media, and similar accessories.
Something else to look out for is the price of shipping, and the geographical location of merchant, for instance, compare the shipping charges for the same item on a few sites, that are located in the same area, if one price is much higher, they might be advertising a low price but make it up in the way of a handling charge added to the shipping charge, also if you narrowed down your choice of sites to just a few, then buy from the one geographically close, which will minimize the shipping charge, an example would be if you live in California, and your narrowed down sites are located in New York, Dallas, and Seattle, the lowest shipping charges would likely be from Seattle, now if there is a site also in California, you might still consider the Seattle site to save on sales tax, provided the company does not also have a physical store in California as well, because then they will also be required to charge sales tax, on the positive side, some merchants might show extremely low prices on items that have been discontinued by the manufacturer, and the merchants want to move excess inventory before they lose their profit margin all together, so checking with the manufacturer, if the item is current, will explain such a low price, or they might be a “wholesale to the public” type merchant with tremendous buying power, and warehouse space in which case the savings are passed to you, another explanation for low prices can be the use of drop shippers, and warehouse co-ops, which reduces the overhead for online merchants because they do not need to tie up thousands of dollars in inventory to make minimums, and the expense to house that inventory, all of which can contribute to lower prices, along with being in a very competitive retail venue.
Feedback and ratings!
There are many opportunities to give feedback or rate your experience with a site. What do you choose, a highly rated store with higher prices, or a store with little or no rating with lower prices, well I for one have many times, passed on offering a rating, by not responding to the email sent, just because of the lack of time, so these should be considered on the lighter side, for instance, a high number of ratings may not all be positive, or they might have lost sight of a customers value because business is so good they no longer feel the need to go the extra mile to make or keep a satisfied customer, on the other hand, no ratings at all might only mean it is a reasonably new store and has not received the customer count of the big guys, but my thought is this, give the little guy a shot, in their pursuit of sales they are more likely to go the extra mile to win over a customer, and possibly offer an incentive to return to them for future purchases.
How to search for your purchase!
I would recommend getting as much information about a product or products from the original manufacturer’s website, they usually offer the most comprehensive information about their products and usually a suggested retail price, but generally do not sell direct, but instead provide a list of sites you can purchase from, with that said, consider this, after visiting the manufacturer’s site you probably made the decision as to which product model you want to purchase, when doing a search engine search, include the make and model in your search query, rather then a general search term like “fish finder” or “digital camera” this will accomplish a few things, first it will reduce the number of results, and make the results you do get the most relevant, then search engines usually, under these circumstances, will provide a “price compare” link, for instance Google will provide Froogle results, or a Yahoo! Search might provide a Yahoo! Shopping link to a price compared list of possible merchants, and then there are the links like Shopzilla, Price grabber, Next tag, or shop.com, to name a few, these links all provide easy access to price comparing, but be advised that many of these results are “sponsored” which means merchants paid to show up in that search result, and may not be the only relevant sites to choose from!
Where do I go to shop for many items?
Many e-commerce sites are pretty specialized, in as much as they offer a comprehensive selection of the type of merchandise they specialize in, a metal detector store for metal detectors and accessories, or a camera store for digital cameras, picture cards, and batteries, etcetera. Although these stores often have the most competitive prices they might not be your best choice when shopping for many different items, that’s where your Internet department stores might be a better choice, and I will tell you why, if you were to buy a metal detector for your Nephew, and a digital camera for your Mom, and a GPS fish finder for your Dad, and a paintball gun for your Brother, and some jewelry for your Niece, buying these items each from a different store will not be as cost efficient as taking some time to find a department type store that has all these different items for offer, even if their prices are a little bit higher, because all the shipping will be calculated by the total weight of the order, not rounding up each item to the next whole pound as when purchased from separate stores.
May all your Internet shopping experiences be positive ones!