The busyness of the holidays and now Covid-19 might be causing you to do more online shopping than usual this year. With the explosion of websites and online stores in the last two years, the market is over-saturated. The options of websites to shop from can be overwhelming, especially if you are trying to shop small even from your computer. If you are like me, I hesitate to give Amazon any more market share than it already has, so this year, I have been intentional about shopping directly from the brand rather than going through Amazon. In this blog post, I will share some of the things I do when shopping online to ensure a positive experience.
- Don’t get fooled by a bogus website: This time of year scammers abound, and consumers really do need to be aware of some of the common ways to spot a bogus website. Did you know that the “s” in “https” means “secure.” Just looking at the website address in your browser window can tell you a lot. Google, for example, will put a padlock in front of the website address to let you know it is secure (see the picture above.) You can click on the padlock to see more information about the website’s security. Also, the website name can give you a clue as well. Scammers often try to mimic a brand name with just a few changes like substituting one letter such as “AmazOn.com.” Additionally, at the bottom of a website, you should find some logos that indicate it is secure. These include DigiCert, Verisign, or Symantec, as examples. If you click on these logos, you should be re-directed to a site talking about the website’s security. If it takes you somewhere else, beware. Lastly, scammers often come from countries where English is a second language. if you notice a lot of grammar and spelling errors, you might want to use the other tips I have shared here to validate the legitimacy of the website
- Read the website return policies: Some websites have ridiculous return policies that are too short and charge re-stocking fees. The intention is to make it so difficult to return that you just give up and keep an item you don’t really want. If you are buying clothing, as an example, a website should offer a 30 day return window. The policy should be easy to find and understand.
- Know the last day to have your item shipped and still have it arrive before Christmas. Right now, the typical shipping time is taking about a week. That means that time is running out to get your packages in the mail if you don’t want to pay 2 day priority shipping rates. As I did my own Christmas shopping this year, I noticed just about every site warned of shipping delays. This year especially, it is important not to wait too long. Also, keep in mind, some businesses close on certain days, so if you order it Saturday night, it might not be shipped until Monday morning, even if you choose 2 day priority shipping. The business hours and days should be clearly listed on the website so you can verify days it is open.
- Don’t hesitate to call the business: I remember one year, I was buying a gift for my husband from a well known brand. I was shopping online and just didn’t feel confident about the fit from the description. I called the business to get more information. As I was talking to the representative, it was obvious he really had no idea how the item fit. The benefit of shopping small for the holidays is that when you call the business, you are much more likely to get the owner or an employee who knows the brands they are selling as well as how they fit. You can get crucial information by taking this extra step. I know in my stores, we go out of our way to help customers over the phone including measuring the item, trying it on ourselves, and suggesting other items that will pair well and complete the purchase. I have had more than one sale that included exchanging pictures back and forth on my cell phone to help a customer feel secure about the purchase. It is something a small business can offer you that a large brand cannot.
- Does the website offer a payment plan?: Let’s face it, payment plans give us more buying power. Nowadays, it is common for websites to offer them. My website, as an example, uses Sezzle which breaks the total purchase price up into 4 easy, interest free, installments. You still get your purchase shipped the day you order it, but you can pay the balance in installments, which is easier on your budget.
- Use PayPal or a virtual credit card number: As someone who has been unfortunate enough to have my credit cards compromised several times during past holiday seasons, this year I am trying some new methods to keep my accounts secure. I am using either PayPal or virtual credit card numbers that my credit card company supplies me automatically when I am making an online order. This happens via an extension that I added to my browser. The benefit of these virtual credit card numbers is that they are not my actual account number and can only be used once. It has given me a much more secure feeling about shopping online this year.
- Use those promo codes: Pay attention to the header on the website which is the space above the picture as well as the slideshow at the top. Any deals the retailer is offering should be listed there. Most offers come in the form of a promo code that you enter on the checkout screen. You can also install extensions on your browser that will search for promo codes automatically. Capital One has just come out with one of those tools. They are very helpful and have saved me money on various purchases that I didn’t even know were on sale.
- Beware of overly high freight and fees: Unfortunately, some businesses play games with consumers. Some retailers make up for a low listed price and undercutting competitors by adding the loss into their shipping and handling rates. I have been burned before by choosing the lowest listed price for an item only to discover that the merchant added exorbitant freight and “handling” charges at the end of the sale, wasting my time and making me frustrated. If you live in the same town as the store you made your purchase from, you can usually choose a free in store pick up option that saves you from having to pay freight. Now during the pandemic, most stores are also providing contactless pickup options as well. My boutique, as an example, has a handy alley where we receive our freight deliveries. We have turned this into an alley way pick up option where customers just pull up and wait in their cars for us to bring their purchases out to them.
- Organize your emails: Once you’ve made your online purchase, the borage of emails begins. You will usually receive an order confirmation email and then various shipping notification emails. When you are buying more than one package at a time from various websites, the emails can get a bit overwhelming. What I do for myself is create a folder in my email inbox entitled “Christmas.” I then move all of those emails into that folder. If a package doesn’t arrive or has an issue, I can easily go and find all the order and tracking info I need. If everything ships okay, then when Christmas is over, I just delete the whole file. It is a snap and makes managing the emails so much easier.
Following these tips will help make your holiday shopping not only safe but also successful. After all, online shopping is supposed to make this season easier, not more difficult. If you’d like to get more information on this topic, you can watch me in a live video discussing it tonight around 6 p.m. MST. I do weekly Wednesday Night Wardrobing videos that offer tips and tricks in our VIP Facebook Group called Fashion Crossroads Fashionistas. To watch, join the group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/fashioncrossroadsinc.