Tips for Safe Online Shopping

tips for safe online shopping

Online shopping has brought people and companies a fantastic way to engage with each other, and to break the language and countries (even continents) barriers. Still, it has provided cyber criminals a new way to scam people. Hence you must know some tips to have a safe online shopping experience.

Since it was "invented" online shopping has been a great help for anyone who has access to the Internet. Not to mention it created a whole new and affordable way for companies of all sizes to sell their products - locally, nationally and even internationally.


History of Online Shopping

The first online transaction processing was created by IBM for American Airlines. It gave access to all travel agents to information about the tickets, as well as the possibility to reserve tickets. This was in the 1960s.

The online shopping world developed side by side with the development of the Internet. It started being considered as an alternative shopping channel from 1994. It competed with teleshopping and door-to-door selling.

One of the first object to be sold online was the famous singer Sting's album. After that, many generic products started to "pop-up" on the new market - they were easy to sell, as people knew what was their purpose, how they felt like, and how big they were in real life. For example: wine, flowers, chocolate etc.

Another fun thing was that back then men were the ones who created the online audience; in comparison with today, when women are the ones who buy the most (at least in some parts of the globe).

Let's also note the first appearance of the the colossus Amazon - in 1995, along with eBay.

I bet that nowadays, people would have a quite difficult time if online shopping was to disappear. Especially when you can now buy even groceries, and there are services which allow you to "ask" a delivery man to bring you whatever you want (you place the order on the website, then he goes to buy it for you and brings it).


Perks of Online Shopping

What has online shopping brought us, the Internet users and customers? Well, there are quite a few things that are worth mentioning - global sales, ease of access, deals, birthday gifts and so on. Let's discuss a bit about each one of them.

Flexibility

Most e-commerce websites offer you the possibility of free exchange when you buy a size that doesn't fit you; some big companies offer this perk for free. They understand that it can be slightly challenging to find your best fit online, especially if you're buying from a new brand or a new type of clothing.

In this way, companies are trying to keep their online sales up - helping their customers in every way possible, making their online shopping experience as smooth as it can be. Some don't even have the physical store, so they want to keep you on their website and to gain your trust - they don't want you do go to another website or a physical store to buy what they are offering.

Speaking of sizes, it can happen that in the physical store you won't find the right size; if the store has an online website, you can check there immediately, to see if your size is there. Of course, it can happen the other way around, too.

Return Policy

Each country has its own law regarding the return policy, and each e-commerce store can adopt it as it is, or it can enhance it.

Last time I checked, in Europe at least, if you buy something online, you have a bigger return period comparing to the situation of in store buying. For e-commerce websites there's 30-day return policy, and for physical stores is 14 days return. Of course, this refers to individuals, and not companies (there are different laws for B2B).

This difference is mainly caused by the fact that you can't actually see and feel the product before you buy it. Also, there's the delivery time, which can delay you from returning the product in 14 days. If I remember correctly, there's even an additional specification: in case your delivery time surpasses the 30-day return policy, you are entitled to a bigger period of return.

Still, keep in mind that you should check with the e-commerce website you're buying from, and also with the laws of your country.

Shop anytime you want

Wouldn't you hate it if you were to want something and be stuck to wait for the store to open? I'm sure you'll feel at least frustrated.

Thankfully, the e-commerce websites are open at all times, even if the employees might not be there. You can place an order whenever you want, from wherever you are.

It can also happen that you work a lot, or have a lot of errands to do, so you can't go shopping. You'll arrive at home at 9PM, and that will be the only time when you'd have time to shop - luckily, you can do it from the comfort of your house. Sure, some e-commerce website specify a time-frame when you can place an order for it to be delivered the next day or so, but I don't think this is an inconvenience.

Compare prices and products

If you would buy from a physical store, you wouldn't have that quick possibility to compare the prices between different vendors. Not to mention that in-store, the product might my a bit more expensive, as the company has to pay rent, utilities and all.

There are browser extensions that instantly compare prices between all the vendors that are available. These extensions even tell you if it's a good price or not (aka should you buy it now, or wait a bit longer); they also show you a graph of prices - when did that vendor had the lowest price and which was it, how did the prices fluctuate and so on.

Also, you're able to compare products, because you can open so many tabs in your browser. Even though you can't compare materials, you can open more types of a shoe, even from different vendors, and compare them all. This comes in handy for furniture, as you can't actually compare them side-by-side, not even in-store.

The comparison works not only for products, but also for services. Just pull out the feature each company offers, and compare them to see which one fits you best, in the most efficient way.

Online Services

The online shopping world doesn't end with buying products - it continues with a tremendous amount of services. From Cloud services, where you can buy virtual space where you can keep your documents, to simply hiring someone to do some errands for you.

Now you can be in one corner of the world, and still be able to send some flowers to your loved one, for their birthday or anniversary. You can directly buy online things, but you can opt for additional services like wrapping, sending a special note or delivering the gift to a specific address.

Not to forget about the utilities and the taxes that you can pay online. In this way, you avoid crowds and you save so much valuable time.

Ratings and Reviews

While in store you can only think about how the product will behave - if it's a good quality or not, online there are ratings and reviews. Salesmen will or will not tell you the truth about their product, while you're in their store and asking if you should buy it.

The advantage of the online shopping world is that you can search for opinions from other customers. It can happen that a specific product doesn't have a review nor a rating, but this can be because of some things:

  1. that product can be found multiple times of the website, because it is being sold by several sellers;
  2. the product has a short life span, meaning it doesn't stay long enough on the website in order to get reviews;
  3. the product is new.

Still, there are tons of reviews out there, and if you don't find one on a specific website, try to find it on another one, or on a forum. This kind of activity makes sense if you want to buy a more expensive product or something that you want to be sure it won't break after a few uses.

And reviews and ratings are available for services, also. There is the website called Capterra, where people are writing their opinion about various companies they bought a service from (for example emailing services or email validation).

Discounts

As the online store is (supposedly) more easy to maintain (in terms of money), companies offer discounts more often, maybe some are even bigger than those you can find in stores.

You can get discount based on your birthday, but not only. Everyone is aware of remarketing, so there can be discounts just because a company wants to make you buy from them - they saw that you browsed their website, and you didn't buy anything, hence they will try to attract you with ads that can contain a discount.

Besides this, there are vouchers you can receive after you first purchase, vouchers if you sign up for the newsletter, and even discounts if you have left you products in the basket. The majority of these aren't available in a physical store.


Tips for a Safe Online Shopping Experience

Considering all of the above, it's no wonder that the online sales have been on the rise. People want comfort, and companies are trying their best to offer them.

But, as I said right from the beginning: the online shopping world not only was created as a new channel for shopping, but it brought along some new ways for cyber criminals to scam people.

On our blog we talked fairly often about the responsibility that you have when you're navigating online. There are some basic tips, or basic knowledge that you have to know not only when sopping online, but in general. And if you know these, it will be easier for you to be safe also when you're shopping online.

  1. Keep your eyes open - for suspicious emails, ads and links. Don't click on anything that seems either dubious, either too good to be true;
  2. Look for the "https" - it's one of the quickest way to make sure that the website is secure. If it's not, it means that it doesn't have a Security Certification, hence it can be a little shady. Of course, there are some websites which are so simple they think they don't need one. It is quite OK to navigate on those, especially if Google doesn't prompt a notification making you think twice. Still, you should never use a non-https website for online payments or to input your email address or other personal information;
  3. Stronger passwords - even if you think that you don't need a strong passwords, because it's a website that you rarely use, I suggest you to think again. Especially if you've created an account, therefore that website has your email address; or, more important, if you're going to use the website to buy things. Strong passwords can be hard to remember, but you can use services like LastPass.
  4. Two-Factor Authentication - whenever you can, two-factor authentication is an option you should choose. It gives you an extra layer of security, besides that strong password you created. Sadly, most online shops don't offer this option - and I think they should, as your credit card data can be saved there.
  5. Public Wi-Fi - this type of connection is one of the least secure one. Even a person with a basic knowledge about some coding, that watches tutorial videos (about hacking a WiFi), can break that connection and see who is connected and what activity he has. That is why you should never use a public Wi-Fi (not even a poorly secured one) for online shopping.

Buy from known websites

One of the first rules regarding safety while online shopping, is buying products from websites that you know of. If you see a deal somewhere, that takes you to a website that seems poorly created or simply sketchy, don't buy from it.

There are a few key points that you should look for in order to determine whether that website is legit or not:

  1. Terms & Conditions
  2. Address
  3. Policies
  4. Payment software

Make sure the website is secure

As I mentioned above, a secured website is the safest. Make sure that the website has that "https", not the "http"; you can even see a padlock right in front of the URL.

In case you stumble upon a website that has great deals, but the security part is non-existent, you should close that website and find another one. It's not worth the risk of having you data stolen, or paying for something that doesn't even exist; that credit card can be used further along, you losing more money (in case the card doesn't need a password for any payment).

New website = Read the Terms & Conditions

If you found a new website that is secure and all, but it's still new for you, there is one thing you can do: carefully read the Terms & Conditions page or any other policies. Inform yourself about the return, about the company and about everything that you can. If all of the things sound right to you, then you can go ahead and splurge.

There's one more thing you can do. Most of the times, in the Terms & Conditions section there should be written the actual company that manages the website. You can verify that company online: check their profits, their net value, and see how it's doing. In case the company is on the verge of bankruptcy, then you can think twice if you are willing to risk; the products might not be sent to you, even though they will not be in the position of stealing your money (if you pay for the products and the products are no longer in stock, they are obligated to refund you).

Use a card online for Online Shopping

To keep things even more secure, you can have a debit card designated for online shopping. Whenever you want to make a purchase, transfer the exact sum there, and pay for the order. In this way, you'll be sure that no one will be able to charge you more.

And I said debit instead of credit, as the credit card has a spending limit, while the debit card work on "how much money do you have, that's how much you can spend".

There is also another solution that is quite new on the market. Revolut is a service that offers you a physical card and a virtual one. They don't work as a bank - I'm not that prepared to give you the exact details about them. What I know is that it is an extremely useful service, because you can transfer the exact sum you need, keeping your bank cards safe.

Also, for a subscription, you can opt for a disposable virtual card - once you use the card, it will no longer be available; another one will be created. This is useful for online shopping, when you want to make sure you're not being charged more; it also comes in handy regarding trials and subscription. The possible disadvantage is related to refunds - will they be possible? I didn't find enough information regarding this.

Your own computer or smartphone

It is best to use your own computer or smartphone if you're shopping online. Don't go to the library or an Internet Cafe (if they still exist). You'll never know what software is installed there, software that can trace your activity and your personal data.

On the smartphone you can either opt for shopping through the browser, or through an app. There are so many e-commerce websites that are also offering a smartphone app - easier to use; actually it can be safer.

Only secured Wi-Fis

I mentioned this above, but I will emphasise on it: online shopping is safe only when made through a secured Wi-Fi connection. It shouldn't even cross your mind to make purchases while connected to a poorly secured Wi-Fi or, worse, a public one. In case you really need to buy something, use your smartphone, connected to data and maybe even use the website's app.

Use a VPN

It can happen that you don't have enough data in order to connect to the Internet and buy something. You might be traveling or simply don't have the possibility. In this case, if the only connection available is the Wi-Fi from the hotel/restaurant/shop, you must use a VPN.

It will protect your online shopping experience and your whole browsing time. Here's how it works:

Let's not forget that it will help you get better deals:

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