Online shopping is more popular today than ever before. A report from the U.S. Census Bureau found that in the second quarter of 2021, an estimated $222.5 billion was spent in retail e-commerce sales.1 In 2011, for comparison, the estimated total for retail e-commerce sales was $47.5 billion.2
Due in part to new and growing technology, online shopping has become incredibly easy and convenient. It also offers a greater selection than one storefront, opening the doors to products and services that may not be available at a nearby brick-and-mortar store.
While online shopping comes with a number of benefits, there are drawbacks to know about, too. Let’s dive deeper into the pros and cons of shopping online.
Online buying and selling have become important parts of many people’s lives. Virtual stores allow people to shop from the comfort of their homes without the pressure of a salesperson. Online marketplaces provide a new and more convenient venue for exchanging virtually all types of goods and services.
Both businesses and customers have embraced online sales as a cheaper and more convenient way to shop. Still, just like anything associated with the Internet, there are benefits and dangers associated with shopping online. Read on to learn how to protect yourself while you use this handy resource.
- Due to the high cost of college, students and parents rely on the Internet to acquire and sell textbooks at affordable prices.
- Online shopping is a large section of the retail industry.
- Most brick-and-mortar stores offer online shopping via their websites.
- Many stores offer a virtual customer service experience to their customers.
- Buying and selling online can be very convenient and fun, but make sure to protect your financial information when shopping online.
How Does Online Buying Work?
Shopping online is just like heading out to the store. You can often buy the same products online as available in a brick-and-mortar store and can sometimes score better sales.
Finding a Product
When you shop online, you have to start by searching for a product. This can be done by visiting a store’s website, or if you are not aware of any store that has the particular item you are looking for, or you’d like to compare prices between stores, you can always search for the items with a search engine and compare the results.
On major retail websites, companies will have pictures, descriptions, and prices. If a company or individual does not have the means to create a website, some sites like Amazon and Etsy make it possible for them to display products or build their own online stores for a monthly fee.1
Who is responsible when defective products sold through websites cause injuries? Faced with lawsuits about third-party products, Amazon announced that, starting Sept. 1, 2021, if “a defective product sold through Amazon.com causes product damage or personal injury,” it “will directly pay customers for claims under $1,000,” when they can’t reach an agreement with the seller. It also “may step in to pay claims for higher amounts if the seller is unresponsive or rejects a claim we believe to be valid.”2 Amazon is also launching Insurance Accelerator, a product to help their sellers buy insurance.
Other websites like eBay provide an auction format in which sellers can display items for a minimum price, and buyers can bid on these items until the listing ends or the seller chooses to award it to a buyer.3 Most stores also have placed virtual customer service centers on their websites, so you can either call, email, or chat with a live customer service representative if you have questions.
Buying and Receiving the Product
After selecting a product, the webpage usually has a “checkout” option. When you check out, you are often given a list of shipping and payment options. Shipping options include standard, expedited, or overnight shipping. Depending on the shipping company and your location, standard shipping usually takes seven to 21 business days, and expedited shipping can take anywhere from two to six business days.
There are typically various payment options available.
This payment option is just like paying directly from your bank account. If you choose to pay by electronic check, you must enter your routing and account numbers. Once this is done, the amount is taken directly from your bank account.
When you pay by credit card, instead of swiping your card as you would at a brick-and-mortar store, you type the required credit card information into the provided fields. Required information includes your credit card number, expiration date, type of card (Visa, MasterCard, etc.), and verification/security number, usually the last three digits on the back of the card above the signature.
Payment vendors or payment processing companies, such as PayPal, are e-commerce businesses that provide payment exchange services. They allow people to transfer money to one another without sharing financial information safely. Before you purchase through a payment vendor, you’ll need to set up an account first to verify your credit card or financial institution information.
Advantages of Online Trading
There are a lot of benefits gained from buying and selling online. These include the following:
- Convenience: It is very convenient to shop from where you are located.
- Cost savings: With ever-increasing gas prices, shopping online saves you the cost of driving to stores, as well as parking fees. You will also save time by avoiding standing in line, particularly around the holidays, when stores are busy and packed with customers.
- Variety: The Internet provides sellers with unlimited shelf space, so they are more likely to offer a wider variety of products than they would in brick-and-mortar stores.
- No pressure: No salesperson is hovering around and pressuring you to purchase in a virtual or online store.
- Easy comparison: Shopping online eliminates the need to wander from store to store comparing prices.
Disadvantages of Online Trading
There are also disadvantages to buying and selling online. These include the following.
Increased Risk of Identity Theft
When paying for your goods online, it can be straightforward for someone to intercept sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, home address, phone, and other account numbers.
If the vendor/seller is fraudulent, they might accept your payment and either refuse to send you your item or send you the wrong or a defective product. Trying to rectify an incorrect order with a vendor through the Internet can be a hassle.
U.S. consumers can report fraud, abuse, and incidents of identity theft with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Protecting Yourself While Shopping Online
Overall, the advantages of shopping online outweigh the disadvantages. That said, it is important to note that while they might be smaller in number, the disadvantages can be a major hardship.
While shopping online, it is essential to protect yourself and your information. Below are some tips that can help you take care of yourself.
Invest in Technology
It is a great idea to install antivirus and anti-phishing programs on your computer. An antivirus program will protect your computer from viruses. An anti-phishing program will attempt to protect you via cybersecurity from illegitimate sites that are designed to look like legitimate sites but actually collect your personal information for illegal activities.
Vendors do not have the right to ask for certain information. If a website requests your Social Security number, it is probably a scam. You will need to research the company requesting the information or exit that site as quickly as possible.
If you are searching for an item using search engines, and you encounter a store or a website you have not heard about, make sure you check the bottom of the pages for an SSL logo.
SSL is a standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. To be able to create an SSL connection, a web server requires an SSL certificate.
Always read shipping policies posted on the seller’s website or beneath the product listing. Some sellers allow you to return an item within a specific period of time, while other vendors never accept returns.
How To Make the Most of Online Shopping
These tips can allow you to enhance your online shopping experience.
Know Which Products To Buy Online
Some items are better to buy online than others because you can find countless consumer reviews, discounts, or other deals pertaining to them. For items you use regularly (such as a laptop, phone charger, luggage, or textbook), the internet may be the best place to compare offers. For things you require to have long-lasting value (like a car) or must get right away (such as groceries), shopping in person may be best.
Before you check out, read reviews on the retailer’s website as well as third-party sites like Google and Facebook. This can help you find out if the retailer is legitimate and whether there may be any potential issues with the product you’re about to invest in. Reviews are beneficial for small businesses, too. Eighty-seven percent of consumers read online reviews of local businesses, according to marketing consultancy BrightLocal’s 2020 Local Consumer Review Survey.6
Some companies have more nuanced review options than others. Clothing rental service Nuuly, for example, lets its customers add photos of themselves wearing products with written reviews, enabling future customers to make empowered, smart purchasing decisions.7
Examine Product Details
If you’re interested in a product, read its description. Make sure you know what it’s made out of, whether it comes with a warranty, available sizes, etc. By doing so, you can avoid unwanted surprises that cost you time, money, and headaches upon arrival.
Money-Saving Tips for Online Shopping
There are many ways to save some money while making online purchases. Consider these tips to improve your online shopping experience.
If you have a specific product in mind, it’s in your best interest to comparison shop, similar to how you would when looking for life insurance. Look at various online stores that offer what you want. Then, compare prices so you can find the best deal.
As you comparison shop, read product descriptions very closely. The FTC recommends looking out for words like “refurbished” or “vintage,” as this could mean a product will arrive at your door in less-than-perfect condition.
Follow Online Retailers on Social Media
Online retailers often promote their sales and discounted items on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels. If you follow some of your favorite companies on social media, you may be one of the first to see and purchase the latest offers.
Use Money-Saving Apps or Plug-Ins
There is no shortage of apps or plug-ins that can allow you to save money online without the hassle. Some examples are Honey, Swagbucks, Capital One Shopping, and Rakuten. You can also look for coupon codes online on sites like RetailMeNot.com and Coupons.com.
The Bottom Line
Buying and selling online can be very convenient and rewarding, but you always have to protect yourself. If a deal looks too good to be true, it usually is. If you don’t feel 100% secure on a particular site, leave it, and find something else.
Also, make sure that your computer is well protected before you begin any transaction that involves sensitive information. Many scams on the Internet can negatively affect your credit score and cost you money, so be proactive in your research to get the most out of shopping online.