In the mid- to late-nineties, online shopping was typically viewed as an intriguing concept but one fraught with unknowns. Today, searching for deals and shopping for clothes, toys, and even food on the Internet is becoming more commonplace. Consider the following statistics:
• 58 percent of Americans turn to the Internet to research products and services they are considering purchasing, up from 49 percent in 2004.
• 46 percent of Americans have downloaded a shopping-related mobile application.
• 79 percent of European Internet-connected consumers planned to purchase products or services via the Internet (PDF) in 2010.
• One-third of global online consumers say they do the majority of their Internet shopping with online-only retailers (PDF) like Amazon.com.
While these statistics don’t necessarily mean that everyone should turn to the Internet to do more of their shopping, they do point out the continuing trend of consumers increasingly shopping online. Even U.S. online holiday shopping is seeing a boost in numbers this year. And with holiday shopping in full swing for many people around the world, now’s a great time to share a few online shopping tips, especially for those new to the endeavor.
1. Ensure that the online business you’re considering is reputable. Here are a few things you should look for according to Learn the Net:
• Does the vendor have an established history?
• Does the vendor have thorough contact information which includes a phone number, e-mail address, and a street address, not just a post office box?
• Does the vendor have a clear return and refund policy posted?
• Does the vendor belong to organizations such as the Better Business Bureau Online or TRUSTe?
2. As an extension of number two, consider looking for online reviews of vendors, especially if they’re not well known to you. There are several tools online to view vendor ratings, including Google Shopping’s vendor ratings. However, Google doesn’t make it very straightforward to search for a particular seller. One potential tool in your online shopping arsenal is a new site Consumerazzi.net, which has a handy search tool to help you find online store ratings from three ratings sites, with more apparently on the way.
3. Consider using a credit card for online purchases in lieu of a debit card or online money transfer business like PayPal. You have more considerable protection using a credit card online versus a debit card. And while PayPal certainly touts some protections, it has a contentious history filled with consumer complaints.
4. If you plan on making a one-time purchase with an online vendor, you may be able to avoid creating a full account and/or saving your credit card information with the vendor. For example, I recently found a great Black Friday deal on a camera at Crutchfield.com. I was pleased that I wasn’t forced to create an account on their website to make the purchase; I most likely won’t be a regular shopper there. Some online vendors do force you to create an account, however. Even then you may still have the option to not save your credit card information. Look for a check box or something indicating such an option.
5. Get familiar with useful online shopping tools to help you find the best deals. And wow, there sure are a lot of them. Here are a few that stand out:
• Slickdeals: a social, user-driven website where users “share information in order to make the best shopping decisions.” Typically includes discounts and sales found by other users on retailer websites.
• Bizrate: one of the most popular comparison shopping sites. Compare prices and leave feedback for sellers. Finding store ratings for a particular vendor can be a bit of a chore, however.
• Woot: similarly social like Slickdeals, Woot takes a unique stance on presenting deals, namely by spotlighting and selling only one item per day. It’s definitely not a practical tool for power shoppers looking for good deals on many different items, but Woot does frequently offer good value on what it spotlights.
• RetailMeNot: both a deal-hunting and coupon-providing site for the savvy shopper. Many online retailers offer a place to insert a coupon code for additional savings on an order. This is a good place to potentially find some.
Photo via Gareth Saunders, Flickr Creative Commons