Steps To Avoid The Pitfalls of Shopping Online

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.

Product Review is one site I use quite often, another is Trust Pilot. Entering the name of the online store followed by ”review” will also generally garner a number of useful results.

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.

Bottom Line

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.

Cheers… Jim

6 thoughts on “Steps To Avoid The Pitfalls of Shopping Online”

  1. Hi Jim,
    My on-line dealings are similar to yours, including PayPal, and to date every transaction, product description etc; has proceeded without disappointment.

    The gullible people will always blame someone else for their own failing when a transaction creates a loss of product and money.
    $2,990,550.00 was REPORTED in 2017 for being ‘diddled’ using on-line buying, and that figure is drastically increasing every year.


  2. Jonathan Skrine

    I’m in the Uk and being housebound buy everything online.

    I’ve recently been using AliExpress and am very impressed with the way in which they handle problems. It’s like ebay but far more on the side of the buyer. Delivery times vary from unbelievably fast to 60 days. BUT the prices are worth the wait.

    Ebay UK varies considerably from seller to seller. There is often a question on their surveys asking if I would recommend ebay to a friend – my answer is usually NO. unless people can scan feedback for problems they should go elsewhere – I would never buy from a seller with a feedback score of less than 98% Maybe different countries have different standards?

    Amazon is getting just as bad as ebay. Not just Amazon marketplace but Amazon itself has become a don’t care box shifter.

    Facebook Marketplace should be treated with extreme caution There is no payment method and Cash on collection is the only way to go.

    Many established bricks and mortar stores have websites and combine online sales with their usual service and customer care.

    Just to end – Always pay by a traceable means and through an intermediary such as Paypal or AliExpress. NEVER use Western union or cash you may as well give your money away.

    Our consumer’s association Which is carrying out a campaign to stop fraudulent feedback and reviews for online sales – none of the sellers seem to be in favour of this bit of regulation which says a lot for them.

    1. Hey Jonathan,

      It’s very easy to dissect feedback for each vendor on eBay here. Click on the number adjacent to the vendor’s name under “seller information” and you can then separate feedback into Positive, Neutral, and Negative over the previous 1 month, 6 months, and 12 months.

      We have a similar problem here with online stores posting their own 5 star reviews. However, most of the sites that collate user reviews for online stores usually include an option for “proof of purchase” whereby the reviewer uploads an official receipt or invoice and those reviews are marked accordingly… as a verified customer. This helps sort out the chaff from the wheat.

      Cheers… Jim

  3. I’m not a great fan of online shopping but it’s becoming more of a necessity in this modern age. My personal preference is Amazon over eBay. Somehow eBay’s prices exceed Amazon’s on nearly everything I search for.

    Regarding bad experiences, I once bought two laptop batteries, a Dell and a Lenovo. The Dell did not work, and the Lenovo did not fit although the listing specifically had my model number under it. I do not live in the United States, so online purchases often have to be sent to a forwarder in Miami, or to friends or relatives in the hope that someone travelling soon would bring it on the flight. Returning those two batteries would then have been more of the same, on the reverse journey, but Amazon sent me a refund cheque although I don’t think the items ever reached them.

    1. Hey Tony,

      That so weird because it’s exactly the opposite here (in Australia). Amazon is comparatively new here and I was so looking forward to Amazon Australia opening up but their prices are invariably more expensive than any other online option. Consequently, I have never purchased anything through Amazon.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top


Get great content like this delivered to your inbox!

It's free, convenient, and delivered right to your inbox! We do not spam and we will not share your address. Period!