Online Shopping Guide for Older Adults
Shopping Online has become more common – if not the norm – in recent years. But buying from the internet can be a little daunting, especially for those who did not grow up in the internet culture. It could even be dangerous. Unfortunately, due to the current pandemic, a lot of us have no choice but to buy online. It may be too dangerous to go to a store or they may have reduced hours of operations. But shopping online can be done safely, if you follow a few guidelines.
Below are a few things to keep in mind when you plan on shopping online, so that you, and your wallet, can be safe.
When it comes to buying online, you will usually have to pay a couple of dollars extra for shipping. Occasionally you will have free shipping. And occasionally, you will have the exact opposite – pricey shipping.
Some sellers, especially on third-party sites like eBay, (Wish.com is best known for this practice) will list items, for example an item that is valued at 10$, for ridiculously low prices, say, 1$. Thinking this is an amazing price, the customer adds the item to their cart, goes to check out – only to find their shipping cost is 20$. Suddenly, this item that was supposed to cost 1$ and some extra for shipping, no more than 5$, surely, is costing 21$! This practice isn't necessarily a scam but it is something to watch out for, as it aims to pull you in with too good to be true prices, get you invested, and have you believe that the shipping cost is an unavoidable expense and that somehow, you might still get a good deal. This is rarely the case. Shipping and handling is where sellers often pull out extra cash from their customers. Be on the lookout if the delivery price seems too steep!
Another practice to look out for regarding shipping is that of delivery time. Since a lot of sellers online are international, it can often seem understandable that shipping your item to you from China, India, or Japan may take a long time. But there may be other issues at play – many retailers won't accept a returned item if enough time has passed, or if the item never shows up at all, or shows up months after you ordered it. The seller can simply point to their “long” delivery times and ask for your patience. Often, the hope is that you'll forget you bought the item so that by the time that 2 month long shipping journey was supposed to end, your item is still not there, and the “sellers” got away with your money. This isn't to say all long-term shipping is suspicious. But if there are other warning flags, it may be best to pass shopping from that store.
Counterfeit and Fake items:
This is an issue that has existed long before the internet; flea shops and markets have been creating fake copies of brand name items and passing them off as the real thing. But with the advent of the internet, this practice has become an epidemic. Unlike a physical store, you can't inspect the item to tell if it's real. In fact, the only inspection you can do is by looking at the photos provided by the seller – which are often pulled straight from the real brand's website! When you're buying items, (for example, a set of paints from Michael's) you should try to go to the main retailer first. If you find the same set of paints at some store online you've never heard of, from a seller you don't recognize, promising the same exact paints for a lower price or on a large discount, it is likely a counterfeit item. You will still receive those paints, but they may be old, deficient items, or swapped with other ingredients.
Retailer or retailer platform?
Take this advice from a recovering online shopaholic – buying from the retailer is better than buying from sellers on a platform. A retailer's website, like that of Michael's, is an extension of the physical store. When you buy paints on that website, you can be sure you are buying the same items you'd get in a physical store. And if there are any issues, you can often go to the store to talk to an employee to sort it out. Most importantly, the retailer's brand is on the line if their own website sells shady products.
A platform for retailers is not a store, but a market. Amazon, eBay, Etsy, all of those websites do not sell anything (most of the time). What they do is allow individual sellers to advertise on their platform and charge fees of those sellers. If you're buying a set of paints from eBay, you're not buying from eBay, but from someone operating without a worry for brand reputation. And if you get those paints and find they are not good, you can't ask eBay for a refund, you have to speak to that seller and try to work it out with them, if they even allow returns and refunds. Occasionally you will be able to escalate issues to the platform, but often you will be turned back and told to “work it out” with the individual seller.
If possible, always buy from the original website that is backed by the brand and its reputation.
Hopefully those few tips will help you stay safe while shopping online!
Written by Aleksandra Bator