For better or worse, the holiday season is upon us. We’re kidding, of course, we love the holiday season as much as anyone. The giving and receiving of gifts, a reasonable excuse to eat, drink and be merry, and a little bit of time away from work to play with all the recently released tech toys, make this hands-down one of the best times of the year.
And when we talk about gift giving and receiving, Santa Claus notwithstanding, what we’re talking about is shopping. More specifically, and you’ll have figured this out the moment you read the title of this article, what we’re talking about is online shopping. So, what are we waiting for, something tells us you have some questions you’d like answered.
What is online shopping?
What a great place to start! Online shopping, which has been around a lot longer than you might release, but only really started to rival offline shopping over the past decade, is exactly what it purports to be: the buying and selling of products and services through the medium of the internet. It is a type of shopping that can be done virtually everywhere and with the click of a few buttons. As with all things internet-related, online shopping turns the virtual into the tangible.
How do I shop online?
The good news is, for the uninitiated, it couldn’t be much easier to start shopping. All you really need is a device such as a laptop, tablet or smartphone and a connection to the internet. Given that you are reading this article on the Geeks2U website, we’re confident you have all of this covered. Your internet connection can be home Wi-Fi or mobile data, both serve the same purpose.
Of course, there is the matter of paying for whatever goods or services you purchase online, which means you are going to need a credit or debit card or have a payment system like PayPal, Afterpay or Zip Pay linked to your bank account. Some online sellers (think eBay, Etsy etc.) do accept bank transfers and other methods but if you’re just starting out it is probably better to avoid these methods.
Can I do my grocery shopping online?
You absolutely can shop for groceries online, and with this time of year being more than a little busy, we’d say it’s a brilliant option. All the big-name supermarkets – Coles, Woolworths, IGA – now offer a shop online option, with your virtual shopping cart manifesting as real-life groceries delivered right to your door.
Whether you are time-poor or just looking to give your feet a bit of a rest after a long day, the convenience of scrolling a website and clicking a button or two is a lot easier than pushing a shopping trolley with unpredictable handling up and down supermarket aisles for close to an hour, if not longer.
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What tips do you have for online shopping?
All right, that’s a pretty good overview, we think you’ll agree, but speaking of grocery shopping, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this article with our top 10 tips for online shoppers:
1. Check the URL
Always, and we can’t stress this one enough, always make sure that the website URL (that’s the text in the address bar) starts with https:// – this means that it’s secure and significantly reduces the chances of something going wrong during the transaction. Also, for the more visually stimulated amongst us, there should be a padlock icon next to the URL.
2. Sign up to their mailing list
If you think you are going to be using certain sites a lot, it makes sense to sign up instead of checking out as a guest every time. Not only will this make it easier to keep track of your order details, but it will also allow you to add products to a wish list and save multiple addresses that will auto-populate when you check out (pay attention here too, you don’t want your children’s Christmas presents winding up under someone else’s tree!).
3. Create strong passwords
Make sure you are using passwords that are difficult (preferably, impossible) to guess. Whatever site you’re creating an account for will prompt you to include numbers, symbols and a mix of upper- and lower-case letters – follow this advice Change your passwords from time to time. You can even use a reputable password manager to help you keep track of the different passwords you may have for different sites and to keep your accounts extra safe.
4. Double check the model numbers
When searching the web, whether on Google or a store’s website, be as specific as possible and pay close attention to the product descriptions and, where applicable, model numbers.
This is of particular importance when purchasing technology; you might you’ve found the right item right up until it is delivered to your home, only to be disappointed when you open that package.
Likewise, when purchasing clothing, it’s a very good idea to triple-check the size and the colour you’ve added to your cart. In fact, let’s just go ahead and recommend you pay close attention to your cart whenever you check out to make sure you haven’t accidentally mixed something up along the way.
5. Don’t always trust inventory levels
Just because an item is marked as “In Stock” doesn’t necessarily mean a product is actually in stock. This is especially true during busy shopping periods like Black Friday/Cyber Monday, Christmas and Boxing Day.
If the product is something you have your heart set on, and if you have the time and energy, it’s a good idea to call the retailer to confirm before placing your order. Real-time inventory systems are notoriously unreliable. Otherwise, you might just have to accept that your order may be cancelled or delayed due to stock issues.
Also, familiarise yourself with the company’s terms and conditions regarding stock issues and, while you’re at it, their returns policy, just in case. Online shopping is a “the more you know” sort of experience.
6. Patience is a virtue
Be prepared as best you can for another issue that pops up during busy periods: slow websites. High traffic can cause some websites to slow to a crawl, delaying your check-out process and giving your error pages when you try to check out or pay. You don’t want your order going through more than once (unless you do, we guess?) so be patient, check your email for a confirmation message and your bank account to see if the transaction was processed correctly.
7. Be prepared with your details
Also, with regards to both inventory and the speed of checkout at busy times, if the product you’re looking to purchase is limited, collectable or highly desirable in any way, that is to say, it is likely to sell out quickly, be prepared with everything you need for a quick checkout. Have your payment details at the ready and make sure you know exactly what you want – the size, the colour and how many – before the product is listed, but also be prepared for a little bit of disappointment.
8. Be wary of online shopping scams
If a product or service, or the price of said product or service, seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stay vigilant when straying from the path of established and trusted brands like Officeworks, Kmart, Big W etc. Don’t automatically trust ads that purport to be from these brands, watch out for unsolicited emails, be wary of sites that ask for money via bank transfer or digital/electronic currencies and as mentioned above, do your research on the store and their policies.
Why is online shopping better than traditional shopping?
Firstly, let’s agree that what we mean when we say “traditional shopping” is the kind of shopping where you walk into a “brick and mortar” store, browse the goods on display, make your selection and take that selection to the counter where the sales assistant or cashier will take your money and send you on your way. There are other kinds of shopping (does anyone remember ordering over the phone via catalogue), but these days it is pretty much a two-horse race.
There are quite a lot of benefits to online shopping, especially when contrasted with the kind of shopping we outlined above. Some of these benefits are obvious, some not so obvious, but all things considered, the totality of these benefits has made online shopping not only a viable option but often and increasingly, the preferred method of exchanging your hard-earned cash for goods and services.
Here is a quick, and by no means exhaustive, list of what we here at Geeks2U consider the most convincing “pros” when it comes to online shopping.
With one or two situational exceptions, shopping online is much more time efficient than shopping in-store. Navigating to the website of your store of choice is certainly quicker than driving to a physical location and it can be done 24/7. You can do it from home, from work, in the car (passengers only, thank you), at the gym and basically anywhere you think of. Not only that, but you can also shop online while doing something else – preparing a meal, watching television or running on the treadmill to name but a few. It is the ultimate in multitasking.
Speaking of choice, they don’t call it the world wide web for nothing. Shopping online gives you a huge range of options without the hassle of going from one location to another. On top of that, online shopping gives you access to goods and services from other countries. Sure, the shipping costs and timeframes might make ordering something internationally a last resort, but the opportunity is there.
Setting aside the issue of shipping costs for a moment, shopping online lets you scour the entire globe in search of the best price for the particular goods or services you are looking for. This puts the power back in the hands of the consumer and the onus on retailers to establish competitive prices if they want to make a sale. Keep an eye out for websites with price match guarantees if you want to get the best deals.
Crowds (or lack thereof)
A handful of the Geeks here remember a time when, the day after Christmas, mum or dad would wake you up ridiculously early, hustle you into the car and drive to the nearest shopping centre hoping to make the most of the Boxing Day Sales before the crowds arrived.
The problem was, every other Tom, Dick and Harry has the same idea as your family, so it was just as busy as ever. This just isn’t a problem when shopping online. And, with the lack of crowds comes an increase in privacy. This means that you won’t have to worry about running into someone you know, someone who might not be so good at keeping a secret, while you’re trying to purchase a surprise anniversary present for your significant other.
What dangers exist with online shopping?
Real or perceived, we need to acknowledge that there are some dangers and other drawbacks involved with shopping online. We’re going to take this opportunity to discuss these dangers, if for no other reason than to arm you with the knowledge you need to feel comfortable shopping online, and possibly clear up a few misconceptions you may have about the process.
Once again, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but we do think it gives you a good overview of what you need to know and what you need to look out for.
This is the big one and it’s not going away any time soon. Many people have feelings ranging from slight concern to vehement opposition to sharing any of their personal details on the internet. This is understandable but it is also one of those situations where the more you educate yourself on the potential risks and how to mitigate them, the more comfortable you will feel.
Fraud, identity theft and scams are all real threats, but if you’re careful, you thoroughly read everything you should read and you don’t share any unnecessary information, chances are good that your purchase will proceed without a hitch.
What we’re referring to here are the occasionally misleading available stock levels that all eCommerce sites have to deal with from time to time. If you’re in a store and you see a product, chances are pretty good that you will be able to buy that product.
Sure, the exact colour or size you want might not be available, but you can always ask a sales assistant and get that clarified right away. When you shop online, the screen might tell you that what you want is available only for you to receive an email or a call 10 minutes after your order is placed telling you that the inventory was wrong, and they don’t have the one you want.
More and more people choosing to do their shopping using their laptop or mobile phone and from the comfort of their own homes means that there are more and more parcels being shipped across the country and internationally. Mail and courier services are better than ever but as quickly as they can work, they still have to deal with the realities of time, distance and volume. This means that you could face an agonisingly long wait for that special something for that special someone to be delivered, something you definitely don’t want if the purchase is time critical.
This one is unavoidable, unfortunately. When you order online there is no opportunity to pick up a product, try it on if it is an item of clothing, or get a close look at it if it is something where the aesthetics are going to be key to your choice. Robust returns policies can mitigate a part of the disadvantage here, but the lack of tactile interaction is a persistent “con” when it comes to shopping online.
You may have been doing much of your shopping online for years and have plenty of your own hints and tips, which we think is brilliant. Then again, you might be brand new to the world of eCommerce (that’s just a fancy way of saying online shopping) or only considering dipping your toes in those waters.
If so, we hope you’ve found this article useful. As accredited Geeks, we are duty-bound to extol the virtues of anything involving technology and the internet, but if you’re still unsure feel free to read through some of our other articles or get in contact.
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