How to shop online Safer & Cheaper than offline

Shopping → Tips & Advice

  • Author Inga Mikhlyn
  • Published July 5, 2007
  • Word count 1,592

From personal 6-year experience of Internet shopping AND

running an on-line business, we assure you that 99.9% of horror

stories about on-line credit card fraud are completely obsolete.

These rumors have been mostly born at the Stone Age of Internet

era, and today are plain wrong, because security technologies

have drastically improved.

And now, avoiding on-line shopping is kind of like trying to get your

food by buying meat directly from a butcher, bread from a bakery,

milk from a milkman and fish from a fisherman, each of whom is

located in a different end of your city.

The bottom line is - you can and should shop on-line for many

products, if you value your time, money and safety.

You surely understand why you can save plenty of time this way.

But you may still be wondering how prices on the Internet might

be cheaper than in traditional stores, and how it can be safer

to buy on-line.

It's simple. First, there is A LOT of competition on-line.

Merchants will simply go out of business, if they don't offer

the best prices they can. Because their competitors are only

ONE CLICK AWAY!

Second - most on-line stores operate ONLY as mail order

businesses. It's a huge advantage for you as a client, because

they don't pay expensive store rent, and often keep very little

inventory. So, they can and do invest the "spare" money into

offering better prices.

At the bottom of this email, you'll also learn how to get the

best deal by comparing prices of mainstream products. It takes

one click of your mouse button to compare prices in tens

of on-line stores, and also see their "customer satisfaction history".

And now, let's talk about security, and using credit cards

for shopping.

There is ONE common feature to all cases of credit card fraud.

If your credit card number is visible to human beings - it's NOT

safe. That's why many people, at least once, have been victims of

credit card fraud. Overcharging by credit card, or a classic case

of stolen credit card number in place such as a restaurant,

supermarket or gas station.

The rule is simple. The more people CAN SEE your credit card number,

the more chance that eventually it will be stolen. And as you may

have already guessed, they mostly get stolen not by sophisticated

computer hackers, but by regular thieves. Employees on drugs, etc.

The best issue about on-line shopping is that almost all normal

on-line stores charge you automatically, at the very second

you click on "Confirm Order" button. No one actually SEES your

credit card details in this case.

In the majority of on-line stores everything is so automated, that

only their credit card processor and your bank can actually view

your entire credit card number. Often even store owners are unable

to see the entire credit card number. Only its last 4 digits.

Also, all decent stores without exception use 128 bit SSL

encryption. So at the moment your information is being transmitted

over the Internet to credit card processor, it's strongly encrypted

and nearly impossible to "hack". And who would bother, when

there are easier, OFF-LINE methods, to steal credit card info?

That's why smart on-line shopping is actually Safer than buying

in regular stores.

And now you're welcome to read a set of very simple rules

one shall follow when shopping on-line. Use them, and we wish you

to become a huge fan of on-line shopping! It can save you

plenty of time and money.

  1. Buy from reputable sellers:

This is the BEST rule to follow, that almost replaces the

others. Because when you buy from a reputable business with

lots of happy customers, clearly it will cherish it's

reputation above all, and take all possible and impossible

measures to protect your personal information. It will also

make sure that you receive exactly what you have ordered,

in the promised time-frame.

A great way to check the reputation of an on-line store is to

read it's guest book, or any other alternative "public place"

where existing customers share their experience. Take a few

minutes to read these feedbacks. If there are plenty of

great recent comments from customers and subscribers, and

you feel they're real - it's a very good sign.

The vast majority of good online stores have a guest book,

AND/OR use a 3-rd party store feedback services like

BizRate, e-PublicEye, Better Business Bureau, Trust-E,

e-Opinions etc. Yet, there are some good online stores that

just didn't guess to offer such "evaluation" feature to

their potential customers. You may still do some great

shopping there. Just be sure to follow all next rules

carefully.

  1. Buy from stores that "look like a well-maintained,

fully functioning business":

First, take a look at the site. Forget the stupid idea about

not judging by appearance. Appearance is important, because

a good business person would never allow his storefront to

scare away customers. It doesn't need to be a piece of art from

a designer's point of view. But if the site is absolutely

uncomfortable for navigation, or just looks like a 10 year

old kid's masterpiece - STAY AWAY from that store.

Another great indication is the language used to describe

everything - from products to help section. All texts should

'read' like they've been written by a normal, literate person -

not an obvious senior school dropout.

If half of the web site images or pages aren't loading, it's

also a big sign saying "NEVER BUY HERE". Of course, we're

not talking about temporary ISP problems that every site

faces once in a few months. But if a store looks neglected -

it's a bad place for shopping.

  1. Make sure that you can contact the store. A contact form or

email address must be listed. A decent store will also list

the company address.

Also, if you've emailed a relevant question about a product,

ordering procedure or shipping, and the merchant doesn't

respond within 2 business days - it may be wiser to order

somewhere else. But keep in mind - we've noticed that really

large stores often don't answer their emails at all. It does not

necessarily mean that you will experience any problem with

their products or delivery. But still, it may be wise to buy

from smaller merchants, and benefit from better service.

  1. Most "safe shopping" instructions say that one should

read each store's Privacy Policy and other documentation, to

ensure that they respect your privacy and don't sell or

share your information. In theory, this is very legitimate

advice. But personally we never read all these papers,

because from our experience, no business in it's right mind

shares it's customers info with anyone. If everything else

looks good, we rush to order, without wasting time on

reading endless legal papers. Usually just check that

these pages exist. But you may think in a different way, and

read these documents more carefully.

  1. Take a look at the return policy. For tangible items, a

normal store that stands behind it's products would offer at

least a 30 days m-oney b-ack g-uarantee. Of course, for software

products all sales are usually final, for understandable

reason. In this case, appropriate guarantee for technical

support is more than enough. Also, if a company sells

software - see if there is a downloadable Demo version.

Many companies offer 15 to 30-day demos and evaluation

freebies, to let you see the level of their software products.

Like our free designs archive.

  1. Be sure to check that product delivery information is

clearly stated, and fits your time-frame needs. Some shops

even gift wrap, so if you want to mail a gift directly to

a recipient - consider buying from a merchant that offers

gift-wrapping.

  1. Of course, price is important. And for most mainstream

products, like electronics, you can easily compare prices

from multiple on-line stores with a single click of a button.

There are many sites offering price comparisons. Personally

we use the good old Froogle.com (it's a division of

Google). Try it. You'd love it. Of course, avoid being too

greedy. It's a good idea to pay a few extra dollars and

purchase an item from a store with a great reputation, even if

the same item is available from a worse store at a slightly

lower price. Avoid unrated stores whenever possible, and RUN

AWAY from ones with bad ratings...

  1. If you've come as far as to the page where you enter your

credit card number - MAKE SURE that the order form is SECURE:

You should see a picture of yellow lock on the bottom right

hand side of your screen. This lock symbol means that the order

form uses SSL encryption, making it impossible for hackers

to steal your credit card information. Another way is to

check the web address of the order form. It should begin with

"https".

ALWAYS, ALWAYS send credit card information over the

Internet ONLY using a s-ecure o-rder f-orm. Never send credit

card information by email, or using NON-encrypted forms.

  1. If your order was processed successfully, you should

understand this at once. First, you should be redirected to

some kind of "Thank You" page, telling you that the order

was processed. Second, you should receive a payment receipt by

email almost instantly.

If you don't receive email notification, it is possible that

your email box just didn't let that message inside your

mailbox, thinking that it's "spam". Yet, make sure that

everything is OK by contacting the store to verify that they

received your order successfully.

Good luck!

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