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Online Shopping Tips

Why shop online?

Though shopping in local B&M (Brick and Mortar) stores do have its advantages. You can look at and try the actual product before you buy; you can get it the day you buy it, easy return, and the chances of being cheated at B&M stores are not so big because most of them are reputable authorized dealers of the products they carry.

But recently, online shopping has been more and more popular. Most people choose it because it is:

  • Simple: Get online and starting shopping. You can easily go to 50 stores in one hour. When you find the right one, add to cart and place your order. As simple as a few clicks and you are done. No driving, no waiting for sales person, no hassle.
  • More info: You can compare prices, find best deals, check feature listing and search product shopping guides and reviews online. Just go to google and thousands of resourceful sites are under your fingertips. Some may be misleading, but read over 10 of them and you can get a pretty good idea on what you need to know. You can make your own decision with right knowledge, not just according to what the sales person say.
  • Cheaper, No Sales Tax: Mostly onlines stores offer lower prices partly because they spend less to run the store. Also, order the stuff from outside your state and no sale tax will be charged. It is a big saving if you buy something expensive.

Choose a good online store

Shopping online can be dangerous. The fact that you can't go to the actual store and can't see the actual product gives the fraud activity a lot of space. Basicly, anyone with Internet connection can open a store, list some product names on it, collect your money and never ship the product to you. So how to get the online deals and avoid being cheated at the same time? The simplest way is

Shop at a famous store or a store w/ local locations. There are many repuatable big online retailers such as Amazon, Dell, Overstock, etc. The fact that they are big alone means more people use them and trust them with their money. They are trustworthy and seldom make mistakes. And most of them offer free return, better customer support and cheaper shipping. Or try online stores that have the B&M store, or better yet, have the B&M store near you. Best Buy, Circuit City, Office Depot, Staples are some examples.

But sometimes the big stores just don't have the product you need, or the price is too high. In cases that you have to buy from a store you don't already know, take these precautions:

The Look - if the site looks unprofessional and has thousands of flashing banners and lousy texts on it, don't ever order from them.

The available information - looking for return policies, customer service numbers (if they can only be reached by e-mail, go away), shipping methods and charge, warranty information ... basicly everything you need to know when there is a problem. If some of these information are hard to find or simply not available, don't do business with them.

Corporate clients - if they have a corporate/Government clients listing, it is probably more trustworthy.

Check the Address Information - Always check for the physical address of an online company before you order. No P.O. boxes. No international addresses including Canada. No New York addresses (because it is notorious for fraud). If possible, also verify them with Better Business Bureau. If there is any mismatch or they are trying to hide it from you, go away.

Things to check before you order

Do they stock the products Ask if they have a physical warehouse to stock the products they sale. If not, be careful because they may drop ship the product from distributors and have no control over the shipping, return and replacement process. Yahoo, Lycos and eBay online stores are some examples of these kind. Always try to buy the product from a dealer that buys directly from the manufacturer and stock the inventory. These dealers usually offer 30-day guaranteed replacement policy for defective units and better wantanty.

Double check the warranty information

Free shipping is not always good Most people will feel better ordering from a online store with free shipping because there will be no hiden cost. But it is not always good. Some stores just use it to make you feel good -- they either just add the shipping cost to the price or ship the item as cheap as possible - which usually means slower and more problematic shipping process. If you are ordering an expensive item online and want to get it fast and intact, don't just go for the free shipping. After all, for expensive items, shipping is much less than the sale tax you saved by buying online.

Order with the right card

Price Matching or BVG cards: Don't just go for the cash rebate, try using a credit card with Best Value Garantee (BVG). With a BVG card, if you find a lower price in print within 60 days, you can file a claim with the credit card company to get the price difference back. You can find ads with low prices in form of store flyers, or ads in some magazines. Using select AMEX cards, you are covered for up to $250 per covered item, up to $1000 per year. It is particularly useful when you are buying a computer/electronics product because the price of these products are forever dropping.

Find a listing of some credit cards with BVG or cash rebate here

Getting Rebate

If the product comes with a rebate, be sure to get the rebate form when you order.

Hints for submitting rebates:

  • Keep a copy of receipts, UPC codes and rebate forms.

  • Record the date you sent out the rebate form, and, if applicable, write down the serial number of the product.

  • Usually you should receive your rebate check in 10 weeks. If not, call the rebate center. Usually the number is available on the rebate form.

  • You may find a fax machine very useful.

Some useful sites for online rebate status:

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