Get the Most from Your Online Holiday Shopping

Are you one of those folks hoping to avoid crowded malls by doing most of your holiday shopping online this year? But you're concerned about late deliveries or other potential problems? Good! It pays to be careful wherever you're shopping. You still need to know where to buy, what you're buying, and to keep good records. As you shop online, the following are some tips to help ensure that you'll have a happy and safe shopping experience, get your gifts in time for the holidays, and know how to resolve problems that may come up.

  • Know who you're doing business with. Do you recognize the name of the online retailer or know its reputation? In many cases, your favorite "bricks and mortar" retailer probably operates a web site offering similar products or services. Do you have any friends or family members who have used the same company and if they were satisfied? While visiting the web site, be sure to note whether the company indicates its physical address and phone number (not just an e-mail address) in case you need to contact them. Check out their privacy policy-will your name be sold to others? And look for sellers who participate in programs that encourage good business practices such as those sponsored by the Better Business Bureau.

  • Get all the details before you buy. When comparison-shopping, check with several online retailers. When checking prices, be sure to calculate the full cost of the transaction, including the total price of the item and applicable shipping and handling charges. Be sure to note the delivery time. If you're asking for express shipping, verify the shipping method to be used and any extra charges. Sellers are required to ship items as promised within 30 days after the order date, when no specific date is promised. Be sure to read the complete item description, warranty information, return policy, and what you should do if there's a problem.

  • Print and save proof of the transaction. You might need to refer to these if you have a question or a problem later on. Be sure to keep the item description, promised delivery dates, and charges. In many cases, the retailer will assign some sort of a transaction number to your purchase. Archive and print any e-mails the retailer may send you regarding the transaction

  • Use your credit card. It's the safest way to pay. It gives you legal rights to dispute charges for goods or services that were never ordered, never received, or misrepresented. If you'd rather not use your credit card, in some cases online retailers may offer an "electronic cash" option which is a form of electronic currency that can be purchased and downloaded to your computer, similar to "having money on account." In other cases, your credit card issuer might issue a "single use" credit card number that allows you to use your credit card without using your real account number, protecting it from hackers or dishonest employees of the retailer.

  • Be wary of post office boxes and sellers in other countries. It may be difficult to find the seller to resolve a problem later.

  • Make sure you are clear on what you are buying. Watch for words like "refurbished," "reconditioned," "close-out," or "discontinued."

For more information regarding secure online shopping:

    The Federal Trade Commission has some helpful electronic pamphlets on their site, including a guide to e-payments, information on electronic banking, and a guide to Internet auctions.

    Check out OnGuard Online, a government-run site that will explain how to secure your computer and personal information, as well as show you how to guard against Internet fraud.

Information Courtesy of:

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Action
Federal Citizen Information Center

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