Nancy Wurtzel

Article Summary:

Buy online safely by following these safety guidelines for credit card use and internet shopping website selection.

How To Buy Online Safely

Over the past decade, online shopping has evolved into an accepted and safe way to buy goods and services.

However, some people are still unsure about how to buy online safely. They are reluctant to submit their credit card and address as they fear their information will be misused or fall into the wrong hands. In their defense, there are lots of email scams and offers that seem “too good to be true.” How do you make sure that a site is safe to use?

First, only do your searching on mainstream search engines.
Delete any incoming mass-marketing emails with links to shopping sites. That site that looks totally legitimate and offers great buys could exist for a few days, taking money from unsuspecting customers, and then simply vanish.

Patronize online businesses that give you their contact information.
If a company won’t post an address or phone number, they probably have something to hide. This information should be accessible on their “Contact” page, or at the bottom of their homepage. If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of a site, pick up the phone and call them to ask questions.

Some sites will also have an “About Us” page that will give a brief history of the company and their business philosophy.

If something just doesn’t “feel right” then it probably isn’t.
As in all parts of life, shopping online is really about using good judgment and common sense. If you get that vague feeling that you shouldn’t buy from an online source, put off the purchase until you can do some homework and find out more about the company. Never allow yourself to be pressured into making a purchase.

How can you find out more information about a site?
Try searching the web for the company’s name or website address and see if you find any negative feedback posted online. You will be surprised at the amount of information readily available in chat rooms or on blogs.

Here are a few more suggestions:

  • Ask Questions: Send the company an email with a question and see how quickly they answer. If you don’t receive an answer within a day or two, then I would proceed with caution. Yes, they could be having an “email problem” but more likely it is a sign of poor customer service.
  • Query Friends: Ask around to see where your friends are spending their money and what sites they recommend.
  • Credit Cards: Using credit cards online is safe if you follow some basic rules. When you enter the shopping cart part of a site, look to make sure that the site changes to a secure location. The secure site will sometimes display a locked icon and the address should appear as an https (with an S) rather than simply http in the address box.
  • Payment Methods: With a check or money order you have little recourse in case an item arrives broken or if the item never arrives at all. Using a credit card will mean that you have the ability to dispute the purchase and as the buyer you will usually prevail. Paypal also has a dispute system, and while the process is resolution-based, it might take longer to resolve. Be advised that you might have to put in more effort on your part to get the matter resolved to your satisfaction.
  • Buying through online auction sites (like eBay) is usually safe as long as you make your purchases through sellers with a proven track record. Look at the seller’s feedback before committing yourself, and then make sure that you can pay through Paypal or via credit card. Pause to think it through if the seller only accepts checks or money orders.
  • Large auction sites like Amazon and eBay have resolution channels that you can use if a purchase doesn’t meet your expectations. However, remember that as a buyer, you will also receive feedback on your actions, so be fair and keep your expectations grounded in reality.

Overall, to ensure your safety, it is important to read the fine print when making an online purchase. If the seller has posted a link to their return policy on their check-out page, then take a minute to read it through.

So what does the return policy indicate? If the product is broken or damaged can it be easily returned? How is it returned? Will you have to pay the shipping? It is normal and customary for the consumer to pay for return shipping if he or she has decided that the item is simply not what they want. However, if the item is damaged, substandard or lacking parts, then the seller should arrange for a carrier to pick it up or reimburse you for returning it.

An exception would be personalized products, which are usually non returnable. Another exception would be certain products that are clearly labeled “non returnable.” Don’t make the mistake and think that this policy won’t apply to you…it does!

Online buyers are rightly concerned about protecting their personal information. Reputable companies should never share or sell your information to a third party. Companies that want you to return as a customer will pledge to keep your information confidential.

In summary, the more you shop online, the more savvy you will become and the more comfortable you will feel about the process. Yes, you may have some online shopping experiences that are frustrating or disappointing, but that happens in everyday life when you make traditional purchases.

Using the internet will allow you to experience the ease of shopping for virtually anything from the comfort of your own home, at any hour of the day. Following these guidelines will allow you to make online purchases safely.

Nancy Wurtzel is the founder and owner of All About Baby, an online store located at www.allbaby.com. All About Baby offers more than 300 personalized and memorable baby gifts for young children. The site also features interesting and helpful child-related content. Ms. Wurtzel has over 25 years of marketing and communications experience. She consults with small businesses seeking to enter the marketplace or grow their existing e-commerce business.

Read all advice by Nancy Wurtzel; Find more Budgeting experts

More advice on Budgeting
» Family Budget Example
» Frugal Budget Basics
» all Budgeting articles