What to look out for when shopping online

Online shopping is defined as the action or activity of buying goods or services via the Internet. Although it is thriving in other parts of the world, it is only now picking up in South Africa and in 2016 online retail reached 1% of the overall retail figure.  It is hard to believe that the concept has been around since 1979 when Michael Aldrich used a television connected to a phone line.

With a whole new world opening up us, the South African consumer, we need to ensure that we are aware of all the advantages and disadvantages online shopping offers, but most of all be aware of the pitfalls and how to protect ourselves against it.

Follow these easy steps to ensure your online shopping is pleasurable:

  1. Privacy and security of your information
    The security of your information is crucial as it may not affect you immediately, but can have a negative result for years to come.   You will be sharing not only your personal details (name, address and contact number) but also your banking details and this can be disastrous if it gets into the wrong hands.As soon as you browse the website, you need to start checking how legitimate it is.  Click here to see how you can test the credibility of a site.

    Once you’ve established that the site is credible, have a look at the safety of it with regards to payment.  In most cases, the retailer will not handle the payment part themselves but rather hand you over to a safe and secure payment gateway.

    A secured site will use an SSL Certificate, and this will be evident when you look at the URL (name) of the website.  If it begins with “https” instead of “http”, it means the site will secure all your data as it is passed on from your browser to the website’s server. You can also look out for a closed padlock or an unbroken key on the left-hand side of the address bar. The address bar will also be green if you can trust the site. If the padlock is open or the key appears to broken, do not continue, this site is not secure.

    A company needs to go through a validation process to obtain an SSL Certificate.

  1. Validity of the business
    Always check the validity of the company before shopping online.  Have a look at how long they are in business, are they a registered business operating in good faith and do they deliver on their promises of service. This information can usually be checked using their company registration number, their VAT number and their contact information.Not all businesses are successful, and some are forced to close down or go into liquidation. With a shop, it is easy to see that the doors are closed, and no business is conducted. With online shopping, it is not as easy and sadly not always on top of mind once a company does close down. It is possible to complete a transaction although the company seized to trade. It might be a very lengthy and expensive process to get refunded, if at all.
  1. Inclusions and exclusions
    Be aware of what is included in the transaction and what not. Apart from the distinct delivery charges, individual companies may not include Tax/VAT on their displayed prices.  You may also be charged import duties and further delivery charges if the company is not local. Ensure that the product is insured and the onus is on the seller to ensure you accept delivery i.e. they carry the risk up to the point where you take delivery. Some companies may even charge a transaction or administration fee.
  1. Return, exchange and refund policies
    Usually, there is a time limit applicable to returns or exchanges but do not assume that all companies will offer this service at all.  Also be aware of the requirements for an exchange and or return, especially with regards to the costs.  Some companies may charge a handling fee, and others may only provide you with a store credit and not a refund.
  1. Contact information
    Ensure that the firm is easily contactable. This information should be readily available on their site and should include at least one telephone number, an email address and physical address. You never know what could go wrong and when you may need to contact them.

We all work hard for our money and spending it, through shopping, is a crucial part of our daily lives.  We need to ensure that we spend it wisely and always keep a good balance between income and expenses.  Sometimes it is not as easy, and we can quickly lose control of our finances and find ourselves in debt. If you find yourself in this unfortunate position and need help give Debt Rescue a call.  

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