Shopping online is a quick, convenient way to get what you need. Plus, it’s fun to discover new brands, small-time craftspeople or local businesses you might not find at a typical shopping mall department store. At the same time, with so many opportunities to buy online, it’s becoming more and more tricky to know what platforms and sellers to trust. A cool product or fantastic deal might be a scam—but there are plenty of ways to protect yourself when making online purchases. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for a stress-free internet shopping experience.
Trust Your Gut
If something looks off with a webpage—strange font, unprofessional language, confusing navigation, fuzzy pictures—it could indicate a malicious seller or at the very least, a seller who isn’t prioritizing the security of your data. Be especially wary if your computer or browser issues a warning that the website isn’t trustworthy or that your data safety isn’t guaranteed. Some people dismiss these warnings and keep browsing, but closing out the page is always the safest move.
Read Outside Seller Reviews
Many online sellers post positive customer reviews on their webpage. Keep in mind that these reviews may have been filtered by the seller to only share positive experiences. If you’re buying from a new seller for the first time, hop off their webpage and Google the name of the seller. Third-party websites like Trustpilot or the Better Business Bureau may offer a more accurate source of reviews for the online seller, to help you decide if you wish to make a purchase.
Use Different Passwords
You might need to create a new account if you’re visiting this seller’s page for the first time. Avoid using the same password you use on other accounts—no repeating your email password, or the password you use to log into online banking. That way, there’s less chance that if a hack should occur, your important details would get into the wrong hands. Automatically generated passwords are an easy solution, or you can get a password manager to make things more secure and simple.
Choose a Secure Payment Method
When it’s time to pay, trustworthy online shopping platforms should offer a variety of payment methods—from credit cards, to bank transfer, to third-party services like Venmo or PayPal. Aim to pay with a method that doesn’t reveal your credit card details, whether that’s a third-party app or a virtual credit card. If the online shopping site insists on taking your credit card information, without offering an alternative service, proceed with caution. It could be a red flag that your data security is at risk.
Check the Return Policy
The flipside to the convenience of online shopping is that you can’t see or try on a product before you buy. Before hitting the “pay” button, read the return policy with a fine-toothed comb. Who is responsible for postage if you need to return the item? How far is the nearest drop-off site? What’s the cost of making a return? And, keep in mind that some second-hand websites or social media shopping platforms offer very limited ability to return a product—so think carefully before you buy.
Even if you are browsing a well-known retailer and confident that your data is safe, it’s still possible to make a wrong decision online. Internet ads are designed to make shoppers feel as though a great deal is about to slip from their hands, which can quickly lead to impulse buys. If you see a ticking clock on the site or get a pop-up with big letters announcing a time limit, consider shopping around before you make a purchase. These types of deals are often available even after closing the browser, so it could be better to check in again later with a clear head.
The world of programmatic advertising means you are constantly seeing ads customized around your recent online and mobile search history—but that doesn’t mean these ads are giving you the best prices, or even the best product options. Before purchasing a product you saw in an ad, shop around for similar product and see what’s out there. Another strategy is to put an item you like in your cart, and wait. Often, after a few days, the company will send you an email reminding you about the item and offering a discount if you complete the purchase.