Saturday, April 17, 2010

Safe online shopping - for buyers

From many years I'm addicted to the on-line shopping. I buy almost everything over the internet and sell from time to time. I had also a chance to see on-line shopping from the other side - by working in a claims department for one of the biggest on-line company. I don't always have time or eagerness for window shopping and internet allows me to buy while drinking tea in a comfortable chair. Of course I cannot try anything on before I pay for it but I know my measurements and usually make no mistakes. I buy for myself, gifts for my family and friends. In this article I'll show the on-line shopping from the buyer perspective. Next time - from the seller's. I also want to write other article in this subject. 
The most important rule when you buy on-line is:

If it's too good to be true, it usually isn't.  

Yes, you can find a great bargains but you really need to have a common sense. If you're not sure about something - you need to ask, ask, ask. A seller who doesn't respond to your questions or does it after a long time will be the same or worse if there is any problem with the purchased item. Every on-line shop should have a system of making complaints. You need to familiarise yourself with it BEFORE you buy anything. You also need to read the item's description. It may be obvious for most of you but believe me - I've heard a lot of complaints from people who didn't actually read the description until the got the item ordered on-line. I would advise you to be careful with the description like: 'I don't know anything about this item, I don't guarantee that it's working or not, I cannot test it so I'm selling without any guarantee', etc. - in such instance the item is usually damaged and will not ever work. Very often the sellers hide the item's fault behind such descriptions. And because you bought it knowing that there's no guarantee - you cannot later complain. I'm also suspicious when the picture is foggy the description says that the item is 'sold as is'. If there's just a catalogue picture - I ask for more to make sure that the seller really has the item and what is it's condition (especially when it's described as used).

If the item is damaged or not as described - don't try to fix or amend it. You need to contact the seller immediately and inform them about the issue. If you used eBay or PayPal - you can open official dispute/claim with the seller. And here you need to remember about reading the user agreement. It's very clearly stated there what is and what isn't covered by their insurance. If you haven't read the terms and conditions - it's your own fault. If you paid via credit card - you can always make a chargeback. Finally, if you cannot resolve the issue directly with the seller or via mediator, you can take legal steps and take the seller to the court.
When you buy from a website - please check if there's contact details and address of the company. Again - if there's any way to open complaint, and before you buy - if you're happy with the shipping costs. You won't have to pay a customs charges if you buy from EU country. But there's huge possibility that you will if it's from overseas, especially US. You also need to protect your computer. Do you have anti-virus software installed? Did you visit any suspicious website? Did you get any email asking you for financial details and did you open any attachments or clicked at any links in such emails?

Your rights as a buyer can be different in other countries. You may have to send the item back to the seller at your own cost. If I have any doubts about the seller - I google it and check on-line forums if there are any comments from other buyers. In 99.9 % I pay via PayPal. There are many negative opinions about it but for me it's the most convenient way to pay. Remember to not share your passwords and PIN with anybody and not use the same for every occasion. 
If you have any issue with a cross-border transactions you can ask for help at European Consumer Centres Network.  
I hope I didn't discourage anybody from on-line shopping. The most important is a common sense and reading the terms and conditions before purchase. We can safe a lot of time and nerves. A lot of companies open their own website to be able to reach even more customers. They very often sell items at lower prices. I love getting all the packages from around the world. It's like opening x-mas gifts...

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