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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 22 October, 2014

Everything you should know before shopping online

Before you purchase anything, you should take a number of precautions first to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Image: Shutterstock

WITH THE SALES now underway, more of us will be taking to the web as well as the streets when searching for a bargain.

Since online shopping is now worth €4.1 billion here, more and more retailers have embraced the web to sell goods and that’s great for both buyers and sellers.

However, while shopping online is easier to do, the risks involved are different. While it’s now safer than ever, it’s better to take a number of precautions first before you purchase anything.

Know who you’re buying from

When you’re dealing with an outlet that you’re not entirely familiar with, it pays to do a little bit of research first. Search for reviews, find out what people have said about it, and look for details about the retailer you’re dealing with. Anyone selling goods online must provide specific details such as:

- Their identity and address.
- Description and price, including any taxes, of the item you want to order.
- Delivery costs (if there are any).
- Information on how to cancel the order, if you can cancel it.
- How long the offer or price remains valid for.
- Confirmation letter or email about your order.
- A geographical address where you can send complaints to (A PO box number on its own is unreliable and is usually a sign that you shouldn’t trust the retailer).
- Details of any guarantees or after-sales services.

Knowing who you’re dealing with exactly is important if any problems arise. Chances are if you come across an offer that’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Only shop on secure sites

For obvious reasons, you want to make sure the site you’re shopping on is secure since you don’t want your details to be out in the open. The easiest way of checking this is through the URL address used on your browser.

If the checkout page URL begins with https://, and has a padlock icon beside it, then you’re shopping on a secure connection. If it doesn’t, then it’s best to stay away.

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Don’t save information on sites

Practically every online retailer out there gives you the option to create an account and save your info so that you don’t have to enter in your details the next time you purchase. While it’s handy, it’s better to avoid doing this because if a site ends up getting hacked, your details are under risk.

In the case of smartphones and tablets, this is just as important if more than one person uses them. The chances of someone paying for apps, music, movies or in-app purchases is higher than you would expect so sign out of your account first before you hand your smartphone over to someone.

Use different passwords for different sites

Relating to the last point, sometimes you will have to log in to a site, but don’t use the same password for every site.

It’s recommended that your passwords are at least seven characters in it, and should include a capital letter and a number or symbol to make it harder to crack.

Use a credit card if possible

While the majority of retailers accept debit cards, it’s better and safer to use a credit card when shopping online. If you can use a disposable credit card, that’s even better.

The main reason is that by their very nature, credit cards provide protection against fraud. If you use a credit card, your bank will help you out since it’s their funds that were used. Paying through debit card means you’re practically on your own if you have to resolve a payment issue.

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(Image: Shutterstock)

Know your rights

Even though you’re shopping online, you still have the same rights on the web as you do on the high street. Before you purchase something, you should check the guarantee first so you know how many days you have if you wish to make a return.

An important thing to remember is that from the date you’ve purchased something online, it’s covered by a cooling off period of at least seven working days. Before the end of this period, you can cancel the order and return it and get a refund. This cooling off period only applies to EU-based sites.

If you cancel an order because you changed your mind, you will have to pay the cost of returning it. If the goods are faulty, then you won’t have to.

If the seller doesn’t provide you with the required information under distance selling, this can be extended to three months.

Just remember that certain items such as customised or perishable goods aren’t covered by the cooling off period. This also includes any services which have already begun, with your consent, before the end of the cooling off period.

Read: The beginners’ guide to using a smartphone >

Read: Smartphone users are 33% more likely to fall victim to identity fraud >

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