About buying and selling used books and stuff online. Plus my adventures and random thoughts.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Top Ten Mistakes Online Buyers Make

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

The Internet can be a scary place to shop, but despite the rising number of complaints, people are doing more and more shopping online. Christmas is coming, and surveys show about forty percent of shoppers will make at least one purchase online this year. So what are common pitfalls of online shopping and how can you avoid them?

1.) Ignoring feedback. Feedback ratings for most sellers on Amazon, eBay, and similar venues are prominently displayed, and you ignore them at your peril. A score of 80% may sound good, but it means one in five buyers who left feedback was unhappy. You may need to spend a little more money, but go with a seller rated 95% or better and avoid the hassles of returns, claims, and slow or no refunds.

2.) Not reading the return policy or terms of service. No one reads policies, right? After all, they are more boring than reading the dictionary. So sellers count on this when they write the policies, which are often crafted to give the merchant all the advantages and the buyer none. Know if returns are permitted, and if so, who pays for shipping, you or the seller? Restocking fees of 20% are common; you might want to know how much the “100% satisfaction guarantee” will actually cost should you need to return a purchase.

3.) Not reading condition notes. Third party sellers usually offer lower prices on Amazon and elsewhere. Each item sold on Amazon, Half.com, and e-Bay includes a description that, when ignored, can cause you a nasty surprise. For example, there is the Amazon seller who sells his “new” books with this condition note, “Only a few ink marks on twenty or thirty pages, and underlining on less than 50 pages.”

4.) Choosing standard shipping. Need that gift next week? Must have that book when class starts on Tuesday? Select the “expedited shipping” option when you check out. Standard shipping takes up to twenty-one business days—that means twenty-one Monday through Friday days: when you add in Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, standard shipping can take six weeks.

5.) Using feedback to communicate with seller. If you are unhappy with your online purchase, tell the seller before posting any negative comments—send an e-mail explaining the problem. Reputable sellers, with good feedback, want to protect their feedback ratings. If you give a negative feedback before the seller fixes your issue, you take away a big incentive from the seller, who now has no reason to try to help you.

6.) Paying High Shipping Costs. It’s really easy to find things online which are cheaper but sometimes you’ll pay the difference in inflated shipping and handling fees. This is especially true when making a purchase from a small retailer or via an online auction sites. (Amazon always charges the same flat rates for the same items; one flat fee for books, another for DVDs, etc.)

7.) Wrong Shipping Destination. Many sites will remember previous locations where you had items shipped. Usually, they’ll remember the last location used so don’t be tempted by One-Click purchases. Your item will be shipped to the last person who received a present from you. (By the way, the “ZIP plus

8.) Buying from startups. Everyone has to start somewhere, but do you want to be the one to take a chance on an unknown? Amazon puts a “just launched” icon next to a new seller’s name when they are just starting out. That new seller could well be a responsible, serious person committed to making a business out of the online sales game—or they could be a totally unscrupulous thief, looking to scam you. With no track record, how can you tell? If you feel lucky, click on “buy.”

9.) Rushing the buy. Everything online is faster, right? Well, you do save time by not having to drive to the mall and stand around waiting for a surly cashier on in a long line, but rushing your purchase can be a big mistake. Spend some time with your online merchant; read product reviews and be sure you know what you are getting and from whom. Time invested before you click “buy now” will save time if it keeps you from making a bad purchase.

10.) Not leaving feedback. Got a bargain and happy about it? Or mad at being ripped off? Share with others by leaving appropriate feedback—see number one above.

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