Some helpful tips for evaluating online vendors
By offering Web-surfers the ultimate in convenience, online shopping continues to increase in popularity. Almost everything you can buy in the real world is now available for purchase online, from CDs to diamond rings to cars.
With more online stores opening each day, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to determine where you should shop. Which vendors can you trust? Does it matter from where you order your books? Do you simply purchase your items from the online store offering the lowest price?
Surely, price is an important factor any time you go shopping – but when shopping online, there are several other factors to consider. It is these factors, my friend, that I’m going to share with you today.
Is it easy for you to contact customer service? Some online stores are notorious for providing poor customer service. If you have a question about your product, a store policy, or service issues, you want to make sure you can contact someone who can help. Does the vendor provide a direct phone number on the Web site? When you call that number, are you routed directly to voicemail?
Some stores offer direct online help, which can be incredibly useful. Online help usually comes in the form of a chat window, allowing you to communicate directly with a store representative from the Web site.
Keep in mind that an online vendor’s size or brand-name is no guarantee of quality customer service. Small mom-and-pop stores can offer impeccable service while large chain stores may take days or weeks to reply to inquiries.
Shipping and return
What are the vendor’s shipping and return policies? Many trustworthy online vendors will post their shipping and return policies on their Web sites. If you can’t find these policies, see if you can call the store and learn about them (see point above). Will your item be replaced if it is damaged during the delivery process? How soon after you order will your item ship? Different online stores offer different policies. Make yourself aware of these policies before you buy.
Is the vendor’s online order form secure? You never want to provide any credit card information over the Web unless you’re ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE that the form you’re using is secure.
“How do I tell if the form page is secure, eRin?” you cry.
“Easy as cake,” I reply. Simply look at the bottom of your browser screen. Do you see a small locked padlock? This image verifies that your credit card number and personal data will be encrypted before it’s transferred to the vendor. In other words, don’t worry, your information is safe. Depending on the computer and browser you use, this lock can appear in either the left or right bottom corner.
Oh! And always, always, always remember: NEVER send your credit card information to anyone via e-mail. It’s not safe; it’s not secure.
Lastly, find out what other consumers have to say about the vendor. One site that specializes in helping consumers learn about online vendors is http://www.bizrate.com. Once you arrive at Bizrate, head over to the store ratings section and learn about others’ experiences. Is there a long list of horror stories? Do most people appear satisfied?
A second Web site offering valuable customer opinions on vendors is http://www.epinions.com. Head over to the Epinions site, type the name of your vendor into the search box, select “online stores and services” from the category drop down box, and hit “search.” Note: This site is a great resource for learning about others’ opinions on pretty much anything – not just online stores. Have fun researching and exploring here!
Learning to evaluate online vendors will allow you to become a more savvy Internet user, provide you with the confidence you need to shop online, and help you avoid trouble.
Based in Frisco, eRin pheiL
is the primary creative force behind timeforcake (www.timeforcake. com). She can be reached via phone at (970) 668-0709 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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