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

06.Read the fine print

While standard consumer rights apply to most items bought over the internet (except goods auctioned online), it can be difficult to achieve redress in the virtual world — taking precautions early on can save you hassle down the track.

Before making a purchase, check all the terms and conditions including:

  • delivery costs
  • if your item’s in stock
  • whether you’re entitled to refunds or repairs
  • if the company accepts returns and cancellations

Find out how a company handles complaints or disputes — reputable online retailers often have processes to solve problems quickly. If you’re not confident there’s a clear procedure to follow, look for another retailer.

Maintaining your privacy

It pays to check the privacy policy of all websites you visit, even those that aren’t shopping sites. Many websites collect information about you and your surfing habits using cookies — small files which store information such as your IP address (the number that’s used to identify your computer on the internet) and the login name and password you use for that site.

If you have to provide personal details in order to access a site or make a purchase, think carefully about the information you give away. In most cases, you don’t have to fill in every field — mandatory ones are usually indicated with an asterick.

In particular, avoid revealing personal information, such as your mother’s maiden name, which can be used in combination with other details to access bank accounts by phone, or your home email address, which can be harvested by spammers.

Always check what the company plans to do with your information — you don’t want your personal details sold to unknown third parties.

If you plan to use your credit card online, check what the company does with your banking details after you’ve made a purchase. To protect your privacy some sites destroy credit card information once an item has been dispatched.

Make sure you have security software on your computer and that it's up-to-date.

Keeping track

For the same reasons you keep receipts and invoices in the real world, it’s important to keep track of online transactions. A good website should send you an email confirmation of your transaction as well as provide the opportunity to print your order. For future reference we recommend keeping a hardcopy record of all correspondence with retailers as well as a copy of the returns policy that’s current at the time of ordering.


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