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Shopping Safely Online

Learn how to shop safely online, including how to make a purchase, how to buy and sell on eBay, and how to buy and sell on Craigslist.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

In this chapter, you discover how and where to shop online.

  • Making a Purchase Online
  • How to Shop Safely Online
  • Buying and Selling on eBay
  • Buying and Selling on Craigslist

One of the most popular uses of the Internet for users of all ages is online shopping. Shopping online is especially practical for shoppers for whom real-world shopping can be inconvenient, at best. Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to shop from your computer or tablet screen than it is to drive to and traipse through the local mall.

These days, online shopping is a viable alternative to shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. Almost every major retailer today has an online storefront, offering a similar, if not expanded, selection to what you find on their physical store shelves. And there are plenty of bargains to be had online, too—if you know where to look.

Making a Purchase Online

If you’ve never shopped online before, you’re probably wondering just what to expect. Shopping over the Internet is actually easy; all you need is your computer and a credit card—and an Internet connection, of course.

The online shopping experience is similar from retailer to retailer. You typically go through a multiple-step process that proceeds from discovery to ordering to checkout and payment. We examine each of these steps separately.

Discover Online Retailers

The first step in online shopping is finding where you want to shop. Most major retailers, such as Home Depot (www.homedepot.com), Macy’s (www.macys.com), Michaels (www.michaels.com), Staples (www.staples.com), Target (www.target.com), and Walmart (www.walmart.com), have their own websites you can use to shop online. Most catalog merchants, such as Chadwicks of Boston (www.chadwicks.com), Coldwater Creek (www.coldwatercreek.com), Lands’ End (www.landsend.com), and L.L.Bean (www.llbean.com), also have their own websites for online ordering.

In addition, many online-only retailers offer a variety of merchandise. These are companies without physical stores; they conduct all their business online and then ship merchandise directly to buyers. These range from smaller niche retailers to larger full-service sites, such as Amazon.com (www.amazon.com) and Overstock.com (www.overstock.com).

In short, you should find no shortage of places to shop online. If worse comes to worst, you can use Google or Bing to search for merchants that sell the specific items in which you’re interested.

Search or Browse for Merchandise

After you’ve determined where to shop, you need to browse through different product categories on that site or use the site’s search feature to find a specific product.

Browsing product categories online is similar to browsing through the departments of a retail store. You typically click a link to access a major product category and then click further links to view subcategories within the main category. For example, the main category might be Clothing; the subcategories might be Men’s, Women’s, and Children’s clothing. If you click the Men’s link, you might see a list of further subcategories: Outerwear, Shirts, Pants, and the like. Just keep clicking until you reach the type of item that you’re looking for.

Searching for products is often a faster way to find what you’re looking for if you have something specific in mind. For example, if you’re looking for a women’s leather jacket, you can enter the words women’s leather jacket into the site’s search box and get a list of specific items that match those criteria.

The only problem with searching is that you might not know exactly what it is you’re looking for; if this describes your situation, you’re probably better off browsing. But if you do know what you want—and you don’t want to deal with lots of irrelevant items—then searching is the faster option.

Examine the Product

Whether you browse or search, you’ll probably end up looking at a list of different products on a web page. These listings typically feature one-line descriptions of each item—in most cases, not nearly enough information for you to make an informed purchase.

The thing to do now is to click the link for the item you’re particularly interested in. This should display a dedicated product page, complete with a picture and full description of the item. This is where you can read more about the item you selected. Some product pages include different views of the item, pictures of the item in different colors, links to additional information, and maybe even a list of optional accessories that go along with the item. Many sites also offer customer reviews of their products—although you’ll need to sort the more useful reviews from the rest.

If you like what you see, you can proceed to the ordering stage. If you want to look at other items, just click your browser’s Back button to return to the larger product listing.

Make a Purchase


Somewhere on each product description page should be a button labeled Purchase, Buy Now, Add to Cart, Add to Bag, or something similar. This is how you make the actual purchase: by clicking that “buy” button. You don’t order the product just by looking at the product description; you have to manually click the “buy” button to place your order.

When you click the “buy” button, that particular item is added to your shopping cart. That’s right, the online retailer provides you with a virtual shopping cart that functions just like a real-world shopping cart. Each item you choose to purchase is added to your virtual shopping cart.

After you’ve ordered a product and placed it in your shopping cart, you can choose to shop for other products on that site or proceed to the site’s checkout. It’s important to note that when you place an item in your shopping cart, you haven’t actually completed the purchase yet. You can keep shopping (and adding more items to your shopping cart) as long as you want.

You can even decide to abandon your shopping cart and not purchase anything at this time. All you have to do is leave the website, and you won’t be charged for anything. It’s the equivalent of leaving your shopping cart at a real-world retailer and walking out the front door; you don’t actually buy anything until you walk through the checkout line. (Although, with some sites, the items remain in your shopping cart—so they’ll be there waiting for you the next time you shop!)

Check Out and Pay

To finalize your purchase, you have to visit the store’s checkout. This is like the checkout line at a traditional retail store; you take your virtual shopping cart through the checkout, get your purchases totaled, and then pay for what you’re buying.

The checkout at an online retailer typically consists of one or more web pages with forms you have to fill out. If you’ve visited the retailer before, the site might remember some of your personal information from your previous visit. Otherwise, you have to enter your name, address, and phone number, as well as the address you want to ship the merchandise to (if that’s different from your billing address). You also have to pay for the merchandise, typically by entering a credit card number.

The checkout provides one last opportunity for you to change your order. You can delete items you decide not to buy or change quantities on any item. At some merchants you can even opt to have your items gift-wrapped and sent to someone as a present. You should be able to find all these options somewhere in the checkout process.

You might also have the option of selecting different types of shipping for your order. Many merchants offer both regular and expedited shipping—the latter for an additional charge.

Another option at some retailers is to group all items for reduced shipping cost. (The alternative is to ship items individually as they become available.) Grouping items is attractive cost-wise, but you can get burned if one of the items is out of stock or not yet available; you could end up waiting weeks or months for those items that could have been shipped immediately.

After you’ve entered all the appropriate information, you’re asked to place your order. This typically means clicking a button that says Place Your Order or something similar. You might even see a second screen asking you whether you really want to place your order, just in case you have second thoughts.

After you place your order, you see a confirmation screen, typically displaying your order number. Write down this number or print this page; you need to refer to this number if you have to contact customer service. Most online merchants also send you a confirmation message, including this same information, via email.

That’s all there is to it. You shop, examine the product, place an order, proceed to checkout, and pay. It’s that easy!

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