When you’re confident you’ve found a trustworthy site and you’re ready to buy:
- Check the description of the product, price — including delivery costs, currency and taxes — and warranty details. Good shopping sites should give you the opportunity to confirm or reject your order before you pay for it.
- Choose a payment method — credit card, cheque, money order, Bpay etc. In most cases it’s safest to pay by credit card — Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club and America Express all have chargeback schemes and won’t hold you liable for undelivered goods or unauthorised transactions. Check the exact terms and conditions of your credit card as schemes can vary, however.
- Confirm the site has a secure checkout— Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) software is the most common technology used to secure shopping sites. It encrypts or scrambles your personal information as it travels over the web.
When you move to a secure web page, you might see a pop-up dialogue box — click OK if you’re happy to proceed.
If you don’t get the pop-up, you can tell if a website has secure shopping facilities by looking for a locked padlock on the bottom righthand side of your browser’s status bar or by checking the beginning of the web address — it should begin with https:// instead of the normal http://.
- Look for websites which use 128-bit encryption. You’ll often find this information on the site’s FAQs or ‘About us’ pages.
Other less common security protocols include Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Electronic Transaction (SET). Some sites also offer online authentication services, such as Verified by Visa and MasterCard’s SecureCode, which verify your identity through your bank before processing the transaction. In other cases you may also have the option of paying over the phone or by fax.
- Check where your details will be stored later — some online businesses store them on a secure server or destroy them once the transaction has been processed.
Delivery problems are one of the most common complaints reported by online shoppers — your purchase may take weeks to turn up, arrive damaged or not arrive at all.
As a precaution, try to make sure your item is in stock and check the expected delivery time before completing your transaction. Most good retailers will notify you via email when your order has been received as well as when the item has been shipped or if there are problems or hold-ups.
If your item doesn’t arrive on time, contact the retailer to check the status of your order and, if you’re planning to cancel it, find out whether they’ve already charged you for the purchase — some companies process your payment even before the item has been shipped. You should be entitled to a refund.
If your product never arrives, put your complaint in writing and try contacting the retailer more directly — by telephone or in person if necessary. Have the details of your order handy and remember, you’re entitled to a refund. If problems continue, file a complaint with the department of fair trading or consumer protection in your state or territory and inform your credit card provider.