5 Tips to Make Sure You Are Buying from a Safe Online Retailer (Before Your Credit Card Number Goes In)

Online-shopping-girl-illustrationWe’ve all had that sick-to-our-stomach feeling after we put our credit card information in and clicked send.  Ugh… can I really get a pair of skis, 400 square feet of granite flooring, or a pair rain boots for my kid for THAT price? Does the name expertoverstockamazon.com seem fishy to anyone else? These gut feelings should not be ignored just because you really want the item.

The first rule is so easy it doesn’t belong in my Top 5 list. Buy from retailers you already know. If you cannot do that, and sometimes you can’t, try these tips. Remember, do ALL 5 of the tips suggested below not just one or two and if one or two come back negative, find your item at a different retailer. Don’t take the chance.

1.       Contact Information.  Look for explicit customer service contact information (not just contact us) including street address and telephone number. Check that street address is real with mapping software, and make sure the phone number’s area code makes sense for the street address.  Call the number, if it’s an answering service that takes customer service calls for lots of retailers, ask questions about your specific retailer like when you can speak to an actual employee if you’re not satisfied. Be polite, but it never hurts to check.

2.       Look for reviews. Type the name of your retailer (not the item) and the word ‘reviews’ into your search engine. Check sites like yelp, tripadvisor, resellerratings and google user reviews. Read at least 10 retailer reviews (no older than 12 months). You’re looking for trends. Trends are when 8 reviewers said they could not get human for customer service, a refund or waited 6 months to then be told they were out of stock. Read good and bad reviews and see if the retailer is complimented on the same thing someone else criticized them on. It might have been an isolated incident or an employee who’s gone now.

3.        Look for https ://.  I’m not an html-er, but I do know that when you are entering your credit card info on a website, the URL in your browser should start with https:// not http://. The ‘s’ stands for secure ‘secure sockets layer’ and it means your credit card info is secure. Any retailer worth his or her salt will have this. Run away if you don’t see it.

4.       Returns Policy. Look for CLEAR directions and policy (terms) on returns and complaints. Read the returns policy and the terms of service completely. If you cannot find it easily or there isn’t one, that’s a bad sign. If the returns policy is subjective, meaning the retailer can decide if the return is ‘valid’ or if it will take items back, stay away. Retailers that offer free returns, simple policies, phone numbers with humans answering them, printed postage labels are usually a good sign.

5.         Know a good deal when you see it. This seems like advice your grandparents would give you, but if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Know the range of reasonable prices at which retailers are offering your item. Double check that there are no hidden fees in “shipping and handling. Shifty retailers might double the shipping to make back money on a sale price.  They should have a shipping fees estimator. Some retailers advertise merchandise at a certain price and then they cannot fill the order at that price. You get a refund weeks or months later. Meanwhile, you don’t have your item and you may have missed a good price elsewhere.