In recent years, online shopping has exploded in popularity. We can buy just about anything online from books to airline tickets to groceries to houses to the latest fashions. While the experience of going to a brick-and-mortar store appeals to some, it is becoming apparent that inventories in our favorite stores are down and many are expanding their online presence or going out of business.
There are pros and cons to shopping online. To become an astute online shopper, start by asking and answering the following questions before you order from a new site.
Your Online Shopper’s Checklist
- Are the descriptions clear enough to know what you’re ordering?
- Are the prices competitive with other online and retail stores?
- Does the store have the products in stock? Does it offer a firm shipping date?
- Does the store display reviews from customers who have bought and used the item?
- Does the store have a good reputation?
- Can you ask questions about your order?
- Does the store use a shipping method that allows you to track the shipment?
- How can you return unsatisfactory goods?
*Source: The Internet for Dummies: A Wiley Brand
What are the key advantages to shopping online?
As an online shopper, you will be able to:
- Convenience: Shop online any day or time of the week from the comfort of your own home. You can avoid the hassles of driving to the store during limited hours, paying for gas, finding a place to park, fighting through large crowds, waiting in lines to check out, and dealing with overly eager salespeople.
- Prices: Access better pricing options. Via the internet, you can easily search and choose from hundreds of vendors for the best quality and prices. Many online stores sell products at lower prices because of the lack of money spent on overhead.
- Better Selection: Choose from a wide variety of online products at affordable prices. If you can’t find what you want from one online store, you can easily go on to the next.
- Consumer Reviews: Make an informed purchase by reading the consumer reviews. Most online products include a consumer rating followed by written reviews. When you read these reviews, focus on the number of reviews and the comments made by the other consumers. Be critical as you read. Limited reviews suggest an insufficient pool, and some reviews may be made up to encourage you to buy the product.
- Sales Pressure: Avoid the pressures that often come from aggressive salespeople in your local stores. This may increase your ability to buy something you really want and need – free from unsolicted advice.
- Discounts: Get deep discounts, rewards, and even cash back on your purchases. Many stores are encouraging people to shop online and offer amazing incentives to keep you as a customer.
What are the cautions to online shopping?
As an online shopper, you will experience the following limitations:
- Sizes & Quality: If you are considering an online purchase, you don’t have the ability to try on the item or physically inspect its quality. This can become particularly tricky with clothing.
- Return Policy: Restocking and shipping costs are often charged when you return an online purchase. In addition, it will include carving out time for you to repack and mail the unwanted item. Finally, there will be a delay in receiving your refund.
- Availability: Most major stores indicate the availability of your online order at the time of purchase; however, there are some exceptions. Items ordered online may pop up as back ordered days after the order was placed.
- Shipping Costs: Some major companies are using “free shipping” as an incentive for you to purchase online. However, in many cases, you will have to pay addition cost for shipping which is added into your total during the “check out” process.
- Immediate Help: Unlike the face-to-face interactions in your local store, online shopping loses that personal touch. In general, it may be hard or next to impossible to have your questions or concerns answered in an online platform.
- Privacy and Security: As an online shopper, it can be difficult to tell if a site is a legitimate retail store or a “fake” site. Whenever you shop online, always check the URL and the official trademark next to the official site. In addition, make sure that your computer has strong virus/spyware protection and a good internet connection. Be very hesitant to purchase from online stores just because their websites look professional. In most cases, stick to the stores you know are reputable such as Amazon or any of your major retail stores like J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Target, Best Buy, or Bed Bath and Beyond.
To have a successful experience, be an informed shopper when you purchase online. If you fully understand the pros and cons, online shopping can be an outstanding way to augment your access to quality items at affordable prices.
Written by: Patricia K. Flanigan, Smart Strategies for Successful Living
Patricia K. Flanigan has worked in higher education for over 28 years. She holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of La Verne as well as a M.A. in Latin American Studies and B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before retiring and moving to Idaho in 2015, she served as the dean of online education and learning resources at Saddleback College, a large community college in Southern California. She currently consults in higher education, volunteers for AARP, writes for a local magazine, and serves as an Affiliate Faculty member at Boise State University and on the Board for LEARN Idaho. Since February 2017, she has been the founding director for Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a community-based website designed to promote quality aging. As an educator, her focus is to inspire others to live and age well.