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Do you have tips for shopping online this season?

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A

Cyber shopping can give new meaning to convenience and choice. It is especially tempting to beat the crowds of the holiday shopping season. But before you visit your favorite stores on the Web, take a few precautions to help make your cyber shopping experience safe and satisfying.

* Think security, starting with your connection and your browser. Use a secure browser that complies with industry standards. You can tell if you are entering your personal information on a secure page of a web site if:
* A notice pops up on the screen alerting you to that fact;
* You see a closed lock or unbroken key in the bottom corner of your screen; or
* The first letters of the Internet address of the page you are viewing change to “https.”

If you still do not feel comfortable providing your credit card number online, many sellers allow you to either call or fax it to them.

* If the seller is unfamiliar, read more about the company, often found in a section on the website called “About Us.” Or you can ask the company to send you information.
* Be cautious if you are asked to supply personal information such as your Social Security number. Personal information is rarely needed to conduct cyber transactions and if requested, it should raise a red flag indicating not to do business with the site or to investigate the company.
* See if the seller has any reliable endorsement logos or seals on its homepage, such as the one from the Better Business Bureau. (Of course this is only an indication of the seller’s reputability, not a guarantee.)
* To see how other consumers rated the shopping experience at many online stores, check http://BizRate.com.
* Check the methods and prices for shipping. A low sale price may no longer be a bargain after adding on high shipping charges. Also look for information about shipping time.
* Find out about warranties and service especially if you are purchasing electronic equipment or appliances.
* Check the cancellation and return policy. It’s generally the seller's decision whether to allow cancellations or returns. If the policy is to offer credits instead of refunds, consider whether there would be anything else that you or the person for whom you're buying a gift would want. Even though some cybershops have brick and mortar stores, the shop’s policy may be that returned merchandise has to be returned to the cybershop. *Read the seller’s privacy policy so you understand how information about you may be used. “Opt-out” of additional mailings if you don’t want to receive e-mail or other offers.

Some consumers are fearful about shopping online because they are afraid that their credit card will be stolen. The chances that your credit card will be misused are very remote, particularly if you transmit your number to the merchant in a secure manner. Most merchants use secure web sites, where your personal information is encrypted or scrambled, so it cannot be easily intercepted. Do not send your credit card number by e-mail as opposed to a secure order form. E-mails are not secure.

To help make sure you receive the right merchandise at the price you want, be sure to:

* Understand if the product is new, used or reconditioned.
* Compare the price of the product you are considering at a variety of online stores by using several shopping comparison sites.
* Check if the product is in stock or how long a wait there is.
* After entering your order, check that the quantity and the total price, including shipping and any taxes, is correct. An extra keystroke can get you 10 shirts instead of one.
* Make sure any special discounts offered or coupons used are properly deducted from your total before you finalize the order.
* Print a copy of your order confirmation screen, and check your email for any further confirmation.
* For more information about shopping online, visit www.safeshopping.org and www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/online/payments.htm

Posted on 11 Dec 2000

Karen Biers
Entrepreneurship/Home-Based Business Specialist

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