I love shopping online, much to my lovely wife’s dismay. I am a self-confessed gadget freak– if it plugs in or runs on batteries, I want one. However, I am very cautious when shopping online, dealing only with reputable vendors, and paying only through PayPal– if the vendor doesn’t offer PayPal as an option, I look elsewhere. I also limit the amount I’m prepared to risk purchasing through an online vendor and do not purchase any big-ticket items online. Period.
I’m guessing most would be shopping online more often during this COVID-19 pandemic than they would normally. While most online retailers give the impression of honesty and integrity, in most cases this isn’t actually put to the test until something goes wrong. Here then are a number of steps you can take to help ensure you’re going to get a fair shake if and when things don’t go to plan.
Check Out Communications & Support Options
Whenever I am looking to purchase an item that’s being sold online, whether it be a single vendor or several vendors, I will send the vendor(s) a message asking a question. It doesn’t matter what the question is, what we are doing here is testing out the speed, goodwill, and informative nature of the vendor’s response. In the case of multiple vendors, the vendor who provides the quickest and best response will generally be the one who gets my business. And any vendor who doesn’t respond within a reasonable period of time or whose response is curt and/or fails to answer the question satisfactorily is immediately scrubbed. After all, if a vendor is going to be tardy and/or elusive when dealing with a sales inquiry, it is almost certain that same vendor will be even slower and less accommodating when dealing with a problem.
I also check out what types of customer support options are provided by the vendor. A telephone contact number is primo but becoming rarer these days. Live chat is also a good option, and I tend to steer clear of vendors who provide only email support which, if/when problems occur, can often turn into a protracted nightmare.
Check Out User Reviews
As I mentioned earlier, there is no real way of knowing how well or poorly a particular online vendor is going to deal with issues relating to a purchase until you go through the experience yourself. That said, there are a number of sites that collate user reviews for online retailers and these reviews will often relate to customer service. What you are looking for in particular are reviews from customers who have experienced some sort of issue with their purchase and, if these reviews are negative in the majority, it will generally provide a good indication of what, or what not, to expect.
I buy a lot of goods through eBay and one of the main reasons is because eBay already has systems in place to rank their vendors. There will often be multiple vendors on eBay selling the exact same item at a very similar price and eBay makes it really easy to choose. First off, I look for the ”Premium” service label and then prioritize via positive Feedback percentage– as close to 100% as possible. I would never, for example, buy from a vendor with a positive feedback percentage under 90%. Using this system, I’ve never experienced any issues with any products bought through eBay.
Warranties And Returns
These are the two areas where brick-and-mortar stores still hold a big advantage over online stores. It’s rare to come across an online vendor who will pay for the goods to be returned, even when said goods are faulty. Make sure to check out the vendor’s returns policy before committing to buy.
As for warranties, I don’t place too much faith in online warranties. By the time you add up the cost of returning the item plus meet the demands of most online vendors — e.g., that the goods must be returned in the exact same packaging — and even possibly have to pay for the replacement or repaired item to be sent back to you, it is often more economical to write the whole thing off to experience. Two words spring to mind here, ”convenience” and ”certainty”, and these are the main reasons I will never purchase big-ticket items online. If I buy said items from a brick-and-mortar store, I know all I have to do is take the faulty item back to that store at any time during the warranty period and there will be no problems with obtaining a replacement or refund. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all online stores.
Always open the package and check the contents as soon as possible after delivery. Most online vendors limit the acceptance of returned goods to a specific time period after delivery, some 14 days, and others up to 30 days. I fell for this trap once when I purchased a new sub-woofer online that was delivered damaged– I’m assuming in transit. I was upgrading my sub-woofer and the existing woofer was still working well so, due entirely to my own laziness, I put the new sub-woofer in the garage, still boxed, and didn’t get ’round to swapping out the old with the new until well past the 30-day limit which was, obviously, when I discovered the damage. I subsequently sent photos of the damage to the vendor but customer support refused to budge. They were well within their rights of course and… lesson learned.
Always use a reputable payment option other than a credit card or bank deposit. As I mentioned earlier, I always pay with PayPal and, if the vendor doesn’t provide that option, I will not buy. If you encounter problems with a vendor, either non-delivery or delivery of a faulty or incorrect item, PayPal will always intercede on your behalf. If you are in the right, PayPal will see to it that you are treated fairly and, in some cases, refund the amount of the original payment back into your PayPal account.
Quality Of Items
Beware of grey goods. Grey goods are items manufactured abroad and imported into the country without the consent of the trademark holder. Grey goods are not counterfeits, as many assume, however, differences may exist between grey goods and those goods produced for a specific country. The importance of these differences depends on the types of goods being purchased. Electrical goods, for example, should always be certified according to the regulations enforced by local authorities. Purchasing grey goods online will also almost certainly void any manufacturer warranty and, if anything does break down, may leave you in a position where there are no spare parts available and no support from local repairers.
Always check brands and model numbers to make sure the products you purchase online are legitimate imports that are supported by the manufacturer warranty, spare parts distributors, and repairers.
Don’t trust the images. Items for sale will often look much better and bigger in images posted on the vendor’s product page. There should always be an item description included on the page which includes dimensions and materials used. Look for that description and, if none is available, do not base your decision on the images alone. Try a different vendor who does include a proper description of the item.
Never buy on price alone. The old saying, ”you get what you pay for”, has been proven over and over. Sure, price is always an important factor but no more important than the quality of customer service or of the item itself. Going through the steps described above will at least limit your chances of being dudded and help ensure that, if things do go wrong, you’re going to receive the response you deserve.