Shopping online

Something you may well use the Internet for is shopping – or rather, you may wish to more if you felt confident to do so.

Shopping online can be extremely convenient but you also are sometimes not so sure as to what you're getting. So there are a few simple things to consider...

Have they got good online reviews?

There are so many online shops out there, if you're looking for something in particular you're very likely to come across sites you've never heard of before. So try searching for their company name online and read about other people's experiences of them. Keep in mind that people report bad experiences more often than good ones but you can often gain a lot of information about a website from a few minutes Googling.

Does the site seem trustworthy?

I know that's a very vague heading, but think about what you'd expect from a shop in a town. Would you go in a shop if it had a broken window or a kicked down door? No. So don't trust a website with lots of broken pages as you click around (or come back later if you think it was a legitimate site just having a few minutes of technical difficulties). Would you trust a shop in town that said it could offer you designer products for a tiny price? Probably not – so stick with the rule of thumb that if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is. Would you think it professional if all the signage in a shop was spelt incorrectly? Not really. So keep this in mind when shopping online – if this was a professional business they'd have made an effort to spell things correctly.

Is the site professionally designed?

This is a tricky one – I have really been surprised by some of the stories I'd heard about of people falling foul of untrustworthy sites – they look so hideous and unprofessional I'm amazed the person reporting them trusted them for one minute in the first place. But I have to remember that if you're not working in the online world every day, then things can just all be a bit of a similar blur. So as a vague point of reference I'd say look for things like neat layouts; pages that don't look messy with different shape blocks all over each other. See if images of products are watermarked with another company name or are blurry, and see if the site seems to have professional branding/some effort of a neat logo.

What's their payment method?

We discussed in secure websites how some shops will collect your credit card details themselves (check for a secure certificate on https://), and some will use specialist 3rd party services such as Google Checkout, Worldpay or Paypal to collect payment details.

On top of this it's also worth considering how you pay. If possible, use a credit card rather than a debit card as your credit card provider may be more likely to cover you if anything should go awry.

Are they a real world entity?

Another thing to check, if it would help put your mind at ease, is whether the shop has a premises so if there was a problem with our order you could – if you really had to – drive to their door and take it back/get your voice heard. There are though, lots of solely online shops that are 100% trustworthy so don't rule them out by default.

I'm very keen on good customer service, so I think a phone number is an important thing to have on a website… although it may be that the online shop you're viewing are managing to offer low prices because they're not having to cover costs of a call centre or someone available to take calls.

Did you get your order reference number?

Once you've placed your order, you're likely to be shown a reference number. This will probably also be emailed to you, but you might want to check your email before you close the web window to make sure this has arrived. Otherwise make a note of the reference number – and the website URL that you bought it from if it's a site you just stumbled across – before you click to another web page.

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