Online shopping is one of the most convenient ways to make purchases, especially when our time is so limited by work, school and family obligations. However, eRetail also invites us to dive deep into ‘Buyer Beware’ territory, where sharks are often hidden below the surface. While there is no way to guarantee a satisfactory buying experience, there are ways to help minimize the chances of being ripped off.
Bait and Switch
It is easy for anyone to hang out a cyber-shingle and start an online business these days; it costs hardly any money for startup, and new, advanced web tools mean that site owners rarely have to have any technical knowledge to open up shop. This also means, in part, that many online merchants take short cuts, like using generic photos of their online catalogs instead of actual product photos, and many drop-shippers use the same wholesaler, but have little control over inventory.
Online retail giants that host eMerchants have reliable ratings systems for consumers that help expose genuine merchants from scam-artists.
Digging for Details
There is an old saying that the devil is in the details, and that is especially true when you are shopping online. Unless the eShop also has a physical location that is near you, you usually have to rely solely on electronic information, both visual and in text, about the product. Look at the photo of any items you are considering. Does the website provide the means for zooming in on details? Do the photos appear to be stock photos of generic items?
Before you purchase anything online, check into the shop’s policies about returns and substitutions. Many websites will carry a disclaimer, often in small letters, about their rights and obligations toward the consumer.
It is wise to check out the methods of contact with the company. Are you able to access them only via email or are there multiple modes of contact, like live customer service reps and toll-free numbers, which are accessible around the clock? You can also do a company search to check for feedback from other customers and find out about their experience with a particular company before you shop. Pay special attention to how long it takes to resolve customer disputes and the manner of how they get resolved. Beware of on-site testimonials or of reviews that are identical, but posted on several different review sites.
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