Shopping online is becoming an established part of our daily life. However, it can still worry you if you don’t know all about how it works; why your choice of website will make a difference; and the safety measures installed by all good suppliers. If you find yourself worried about security on the internet and the safety of online shopping then read on now to put your mind at rest.
What is online shopping?
Online shopping is like using a catalogue to shop. However, instead of a paper copy of in your hands, you use an electronic, interactive version online that allows you to view different pictures of your product, read comments left by users and watch video reviews. Some products even have 3D models that you can rotate and move around to get a better feel for what the actual item will be like in real life!
How do I stay safe when shopping online?
Online shopping may seem like a chancy or fly-by-night operation – After all, how do you even know you can trust a site? Will it take your money and never be heard from again? Will they steal your credit card details?
We’re not going to lie to you – these things do happen and it is really sad when it does. However, after years of online shopping, the process has become firmly embedded in culture and the technology, security and legislation has moved forward alongside it: making online shopping an established and provably trust-worthy way of getting your bits and pieces without fighting the crowds in town!
The best thing to do is to use established merchants or sites run by shops on the high street. Even these giants will have the very occasional security leak but, on the whole, day in and day out, millions of shoppers get their products safely, quickly and conveniently.
Where should I shop online?
We’ve chosen to affiliate with Amazon.com, Ebuyer.com, Play.com and JohnLewis.co.uk because we trust them and we know they will give you a great customer experience. We’ve listed 10 good reasons why you can put your trust in our affiliates to safely take your money and deliver your items - just like a high-street shop.
This is likely to be your fundamental concern when shopping online. After all, handing your credit card details over to a faceless electronic mechanism may not come naturally or easily to you! There are two reasons you’ll want to use the bigger sites for your shopping; the level of trust experienced by thousands of customers and the security technology that will stop identity theft.
When you shop with the big online shops, their reviews prove they are trustworthy. Thousands of people leave their mark to confirm that the site is one you can trust to take your money safely and deliver your products without issue. With the smaller sites, you won’t be able to see this level of proof. In the worst-case scenario, they’ll take your money and never deliver, leaving you out of pocket and with little information to pursue them legally. The bigger names can’t get away with this kind of behaviour and they wouldn’t try it anyway!
Online shopping is made secure by the use of SSL and TLS technology. We’ve been using it globally for a long time now and it’s a well-established form of internet protection. Secure Sockets Layer protection and Transport Layer Security protection act as a secure channel between your computer and your online shopping merchant. It’s a complicated process but here’s how it roughly works:
- The first and most important step is for your computer to ensure that the site you are shopping at is actually what it says it is. It sends a ‘hello’ to the online shopping computer and won’t progress unless it receives a certified ‘hello’ back.
- It then secures and encrypts the connection, takes your card details, encrypts them, transfers the data, de-encrypts it at the other end, completes the transaction and closes the session.
This technology makes online shopping very secure. People won’t be able to electronically eavesdrop easily and learn your bank details, nor your log-in information. Sadly, smaller companies won’t be able to afford the very best of cutting-edge security, nor will they be able to afford to employ teams of people to constantly monitor and improve their systems.
The convenience of online shopping cannot be overstated. You get to do your shopping from the comfort of your armchair, bed, dining-table or on your mobile at the pub! You don’t have to make a special trip into town; you don’t have to talk to the well-meaning but ultimately annoying sales assistants forced to ask you if you’re ‘finding everything you’re looking for today?’; and you don’t have to heave a loaded trolley around a crammed supermarket, lug your bags into the boot and then lug them out again at home into the kitchen.
You can also compare your shopping choices. Visiting 5 shops to ensure you’re getting the best price could take hours in real life. Online, it’s a matter of minutes. You can even find other websites that do the searching and comparing for you and then present a simple and tidy list for making your choice!
Another crucial and empowering reasoning that online shopping is so valuable is the accessibility it brings to those with ill health or physical differences. Before online shopping, you would have to either work very hard to get around, rely on a neighbour or have a member of support staff to assist you. With online shopping, you can do your own shopping yourself. Even if your health profile means that you struggle to read the screen or type, there are a myriad of accessibility programs out there that can convert text-to-speech and speech-to-text, change the background colour of sites to help with legibility or provide an electronic ‘magnifying glass’ that you can hover over text to make it nice and big.
- Time saving
Another huge benefit to online shopping is the time you save. Rushing out at lunch to make your purchases or dashing like a mad thing between the school run, PTA meeting, dance class and music lesson becomes much simpler. Suddenly, the weekly shop is done at home on your sofa in the evening with a beer without interfering with those crucial logistics between 3.15 and 5pm!
- Range of products
Online shopping also will exponentially increase the range of products you can get hold of. Amazon (to name just one reputable and established online shopping site) has literally millions of products available from all over the world. It wouldn’t be possible to have a traditional physically-present, non-electronic shop that had this many items and such ease of access.
As mentioned before, the bigger sites can have as many as several million shopping options which make your life so much easier when trying to find the product that’s just right for you. You’ll find different colours, sizes, materials and brands galore on the big sites and without the warehouse space, contacts, buying power or web infrastructure to offer market space for individual traders, the smaller sites just can’t offer this kind of choice.
Another important knock-on effect of a smaller catalogue and limited buying power is that traders will sometimes run out of stock. This writer knows a small online business owner and a recent oversight by her business partner meant customers ended up waiting more than 5 weeks for very simple products whilst they were reordered all the way from China – not good!
- Customer service
A good online retailer will also look after you once your transaction is complete. Issues with damage, faults or a need to return or exchange items will be handled swiftly, simply, carefully and with the attention that a respected customer deserves. Good online retailers will have a quick email-based customer services installation with the option to call for the email-shy. Generally, they can offer call centre services outside of the 9-5 work day too – a god-send for workers and parents! If you’re lucky, some websites will even offer you the chance to chat online in real time with a representative right there and then.
- Helping charity and the environment
For the thrifty and eco-conscious out there, some reputable retailers (and we’re really thinking of Amazon here) give you the option to buy your product second-hand. If you’re counting the pennies or want to reuse something previously-loved, take a moment to check the second-hand list. This can also be used to make money back on your old equipment by registering to sell it on to another owner!
Furthermore, you may have noticed that some charitable organisations will have Amazon ‘shops’ on their websites. When you choose to buy a product through this facility, the charity gets money from Amazon. For times like Christmas, when you’re going to be spending quite a bit of money, you can raise money for your favourite charity without any extra effort!
- Convenient trade-ins
Should you be used to selling things online second-hand, you may be familiar with developing a certain level of fatigue with the whole process. Listing the item, conversing with interested parties and waiting for that essential committed buyer can be a pain. Amazon has now rolled out a rather lovely service where, for some items, you can trade them in for an Amazon Gift Card. It’s not the best way to turn a profit but for the sake of convenience, you might be happy to offload a chunk of books via pre-paid postage.
- Cheap, quick deliveries
A further tempting feature of reputable online retailers is the free postage. If you’ve shopped online at all much, you’ll have made the rookie mistake of merrily paying for something cheap, only to find the P&P is through the roof. When you use a larger retailer, they will often offer free postage, low postage or something like Amazon Prime where, for a small monthly fee and amongst many other benefits, postage for your items is nearly always free and with next-day delivery. Smaller sites just can’t offer this kind of fast, low-cost and speedy delivery. Indeed in some cities, Amazon is even able to offer same-day delivery – unthinkable to a smaller company.
- Simple returns and customer care
Another fantastic reason for choosing the bigger sellers is the leverage you and they have when it comes to returns and replacements. Smaller companies just don’t have the stock, worker power or resources to offer the kinds of convenient returns the bigger companies do. Many will even give you free postage stickers for your returns, making any changes to your order a mere issue of time, rather than the best part of a tenner to make sure it gets back safely and quickly. Often, they use courier services too – you might not even have to leave the house to return a product!
Now go and enjoy yourself!
We hope this article has answered your questions and put your mind at rest about shopping online – it’s not as complicated as it can seem, it’s very safe and there’s nothing quite like getting your delicious new purchase delivered right to your door. If you’ve any questions, please don’t hesitate to drop us a comment below and we’ll do our best to help you with any other information you need. In the mean-time, happy shopping!