If you are like many folks, procrastinating in your holiday shopping is as much of a tradition as pumpkin pie or a tree. In the past, we had to fight for parking, bundle-up and hope the store we chose first had almost everything we needed.
Thankfully, most of us no longer live in that world. With the proliferation of the internet, online shopping has become mainstream – why fight the traffic and possibly Mother Nature when you can just search online for what you want and have it shipped to your door? It’s a siren-call almost no one can resist.
Unfortunately, as with everything, it’s never that simple. The traditional method of shopping brought risks, as well – pickpockets, parking-lot muggers, and dishonest store clerks are among the most obvious. Now that shopping has moved into the digital world those crooks are still around, they just look different. Here are some tips to help you get what you want this holiday season and not a headache.
1) Make sure you are buying from a legitimate site
There are folks out there who spend their days finding common mis-spellings of websites in the hopes of catching you un-aware. At the least, you might find yourself at one of those directory sites. Running a good anti-spyware program should help you eliminate anything that might download. At worst, you could be making a purchase from a website that will be the one getting presents – on your dime. Your best bet is to stick with big-name and well-known sites such as Amazon, Buy.com and Overstock.com. The big box store websites should be safe, as well, and often offer sales and/or merchandise that can only be found online.
If you do find a spectacular deal at a store you’ve never heard of, the best step you can take before you whip-out the credit card is to call their contact number. Can you reach someone? Do they have a tech-support or customer service option? It always applies, even online: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
2) Make sure your purchase is secure
Three little letters are very important to you when purchasing online – SSL. Secure Socket Layer is the encryption used to make sure no one can hijack your credit card information when you send it to a merchant for processing. Whenever you are putting in your credit card number or other personal information, make sure the webpage you are on starts with “https://” The “S” stands for secure! Verisign is one of the leading names in protection – somewhere on the website it may mention encryption. If there is no Verisign, Comodo or logo from another company mentioning SSL encryption and you feel uncomfortable about the website, it might be a good idea to call the company before making a purchase.
3) Make sure you understand the process
Any legitimate website should have their customer policies spelled-out for you. Before you purchase, arm yourself with information you may need – what is their return policy? Can you get merchandise repaired? What is the warranty? How/when do they offer refunds? Your entire shopping experience will go more smoothly if you know what to expect at every step.
A final note – when it comes to electronics/equipment, beware super-low prices partnered with out-of-stock merchandise. Many unscrupulous websites will advertise a popular gadget or model at a vastly discounted price, then when you visit it’s ‘out of stock’. This may seem reasonable since it’s so cheap, everyone’s bought one, right? Wrong. Often, they don’t even sell it and by getting you to the site they hope you’ll just settle for something else OR they will take your order and you’ll probably never see the merchandise.