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    ~   Why shop online?
    ~   How to shop online
    ~   Reducing risks of online shopping
    ~   Alternatives to shopping online
    ~   Online auctions

Why shop online?

Online shopping is mail order shopping with credit cards. It can be useful. You can buy goods that you can't get locally. You can search for items like out-of-print books. You can order food online from supermarkets who will deliver (but you will have to pay for the delivery). You don't have to park.

How to shop online

First read about reducing risks of online shopping.

Then find the right website. You may see it advertised, or someone may recommend it. You can search for a website. It is sensible to use a UK website, and one that looks reputable. You may wish to use a company that you know. If not, you can make your first order a small one, to see what the service is like. Make a note of the web address, in case you want to use the website again, or complain about your order.

The website may be quite complicated and slow to load. You will need to look around the website to find the catalogue of goods. Some websites require you to register, or give them some personal details, before you start. Once you have chosen something, you click to order the item or put it in your shopping basket or trolley or cart. You have not yet bought it. You can go on to pick several items. You should be able to look at what is in your basket, or review your order.

Finally you need to pay! This might be called placing your order, or going to checkout. You will be given a list of what you have ordered, plus any postage and packing costs. You can still abandon the order and the website at this point. You will be asked for your name and address for the delivery, plus possibly your email address. You also must choose how you pay, and give credit or debit card details. Make sure that this webpage is secure. It is a good idea to print the webpage with the order to prove that you've made the order, in case there is a problem later. You will also have to click on a button to submit the order. This is the moment that you have paid, and you cannot go back. Don't click on the button twice, or you may place two orders by mistake!

The company may email you to confirm the order, but not all do.

Your goods will be delivered like ordinary mail order. If you are not in to receive the order, you may have to phone to reschedule it.

Reducing risks of online shopping

  • Choose a reputable company. Look through their website and check that they give a postal address or landline telephone number, for complaints. An email address or mobile phone number is not enough.
  • You can search for the name of a website, not just to find it, but to see if other people have had trouble with it. There have been some cases of outright fraud with ticket sites for concerts. People paid up and never got the tickets!
  • Some websites handle sales for other people. They may quote a 'reputation' for these people. This is built up of feedback from people who have bought from them.
  • Reviews, either within a site or on the web generally, can be useful. However, anyone can post a review, either a malicious person or someone who bought one duff item. Companies could even post their own glowing reviews anonymously! So take them with a pinch of salt.
  • Goods from a UK website are covered by UK consumer law. Other websites are not. Goods from abroad are liable to custom duty, which won't be on their website.
  • When considering the price of goods, remember that postage and packing will be extra. It's not always cheaper because it's on the internet. There are websites which compare prices.
  • You should never type in your credit card number padlock unless it is secure. The web address must begin 'https://' and there should be a closed padlock in the grey bar below the webpage. This means that the credit card number will be encrypted while passing through the internet so other people cannot read it. Never use your credit card details in an email, because emails are not encrypted.
  • Keep a record of what websites you've used, what orders you have placed, and any order reference numbers. It is a good idea to print out and keep the order webpage. Sometimes the company selling the item will send you an email about it. If you rely on that, make sure that you can find the email again, if necessary.
  • Look at your credit card statement at the end of the month to check all transactions. Notify your credit card company immediately if anything looks wrong.
  • Since online shopping use credit or debit cards, it is only for people who can handle non-cash shopping. Credit cards give some consumer protection, but of course you will have to pay interest if you don't clear the debt at the end of the month.
  • Sometimes websites stop working, or you may have problems with your computer. So don't depend completely on the internet for essential items, like food.
Alternatives to shopping online

Some people are nervous of using credit cards online, although a secure site is probably safer than using a credit card over a telephone. However, if you prefer shopping in the real world, you can still use websites to see what's on offer, compare prices and gather information, e.g. estate agents will list their houses for sale and rent on their websites.
Some websites allow you to use their site to set up the order without filling in credit card details. You can then print off the order, and send it to them by post, with a cheque.
If you have found a item like an out-of-print book on the web, you can email the shop to reserve it, and ask for the price. Then you can send the cheque and they will send you the book.
Some companies may allow you to order the goods by email, and then will invoice you on delivery. Not all companies will do this, so check. Do not give your credit card details in an email, it is not secure.
There are exchange organisations where you can give stuff and get stuff for free, as a form of recycling.

Online Auctions

eBay is an online action site. You can be either a buyer or a seller. You need to register to use it. If you wish to buy, then search for the item you want. You are told the current bid and how long the auction will last. You give your bid. Other people may bid against you. If you are successful, you are notified by email. You pay the seller, either by cheque, or Paypal, an online method of payment, and the seller sends you the item. Please note that it is a transaction between you and the seller - eBay just provides the auction facilities. To make it safer, eBay gives a history of the seller's use of eBay, so you can see if there have been problems in the past. If someone accepts payment and doesn't send the goods, then eBay will eject them, but of course that buyer will have lost the money! Do not bid an amount that you would be unhappy to lose.

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