Shopping online buying guide

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


Make sure you ask the following questions when buying online.

Who am I dealing with?

Information about the trader should be clear. You should have either email or phone contact details, and be able to check on its reliability.

How much is it going to cost me?

The price should be clearly displayed and include all costs -- look for information about delivery charges, taxes and currency conversion.

What am I buying?

You should be able to easily identify the product. This is especially important online because you often can't see the goods themselves.

Is there stock available?

Stock availability should be clearly displayed.

What delivery methods are available? Are there different options for delivery methods and prices? Will they deliver to my country?

You should be provided with information about options and prices for different delivery methods.

How do I know when I've confirmed my order?

There should be a clearly defined ordering process for you to follow. You should also receive a receipt of the order, either by email or in the post.

How can I pay for my purchase?

Payment options available should be clearly displayed. Expect the majority to accept credit card, with some stores accepting non-internet payment, debit card or Cash On Delivery.

What personal information are they asking for? What will they do with it?

Only information needed for purchase should be requested. If you're asked for personal information, there should be an explanation of how the information will be used, and who it will be given to.

Where can I complain if something goes wrong?

Contact the online store by phone. If your calls are ignored, write a letter outlining the issue and what will resolve the matter, for example request a refund or replacement product. If you don't get a reply, get advice from your local fair trading/consumer affairs authority.

How long will it take to get my goods?

Check for a stated target time for delivery, and that you'll receive an email to tell you when it's been dispatched.

I've got my goods, now what?

Your purchase should arrive in good condition, with an invoice and an explanation of how to return the product.

When do I pay?

Your account shouldn't be debited before you receive the goods. The amount you pay should be that stated when you ordered, with allowances for any currency conversion.

What if I don't like the product, or it's faulty?

The returns procedure should be easy to follow, with clear indications of the steps involved, and who to contact if the returns procedure fails.

How much is it going to cost to return goods?

Any extra costs should be specified in the returns policy, so check before you finalise your purchase. There should be no additional costs involved in returning goods other than those specified.

Can I get a refund?

Most of the time, there should be no problems obtaining a refund. It should be just like regular shopping, provided you have the physical address of the trader. It's a lot harder to chase up a virtual shop through Consumer Affairs. There are also some legal questions which may make getting a refund more complicated if you shop overseas.

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