Shopping online buying guide

With a few precautions, shopping on the internet can be a safe and enjoyable experience.
Learn more
  • Updated:10 Jan 2007


Shopping cart in computer

In brief

By checking an online shop’s terms and conditions, privacy policy, complaints procedures, and whether or not it has a secure checkout, you can minimise the risks of online shopping.

  • If you have problems, being able to contact the retailer is crucial, so always note down the phone number and physical address of an online store before buying.
    Use our Checklist to help avoid hassles when buying online.
  • There’s no doubt online shopping has its risks — it’s hard to know when a company’s trustworthy, you could pay for goods that never arrive, and who knows what happens to the personal information you provide before you buy? But with some simple precautions, shopping online can be relatively trouble-free

Please note: this information was current as of January 2007 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

Where to shop online?

There are different sorts of online stores — each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Online auctions

Online auctions are popular places for trading goods. Almost everything you could possibly think of is for sale, whether you want to sell or buy goods. Register as a user, then away you go.

  • Prices can be much cheaper. Can obtain hard to get items. Can often get "past history" of users to evaluate honesty and trading. For more information read our eBay auctions article.
  • Vendors may not be willing to ship overseas. Vendors are registered with the auction house but aren't official businesses, so risk is higher


Similar to newspaper classifieds.

  • Can locate hard to get or used items. May get good discounts.
  • Traders history is hard to evaluate, so risks are higher.

Comparison sites

Online shopping centres, these gather a number of shopping destinations together in one location.

  • Many stores to choose from and navigating between shops is simplified.
  • May be moved between sites without being told, advertising may determine what sites are available as destinations.


Online outlets for small or large stores and manufacturers.

  • Buying direct from the retailer/producer. Often a lot of information available.
  • May not get the best deal.


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