Can you remember the first thing you bought online? Or even the most recent item? Online shopping has become such a part of modern life that it’s hard to recall when it wasn’t an option in our lives. No question, online shopping can be wonderful. The selection is unbounded, and delivery can be fast. But there are also plenty of ways to slip up when ordering online.
Here are some of the most common and costly online shopping mistakes.
1. Paying with a debit card
Using a credit card is safer when shopping online — and in general. Debit cards are more like cash: The minute you check out, money leaves your bank account. More worrisome than that, using those card numbers online leaves you vulnerable to theft and hacking. If someone gets your credit card info and uses it fraudulently, you’re not out any money while your credit card company investigates. But if someone has your debit card info, they might be able to drain your checking account.
Additionally, under federal law, credit card transactions enjoy more protections than debit card transactions.
2. Passing up cash back
It might sound counterintuitive, but in the world of online shopping, there are multiple ways you can get paid for shopping. You can earn:
- Cash rebates by shopping via an app like Ibotta.
- Cash rebates by shopping via cash-back websites such as Rakuten, Drop, TopCashback and Swagbucks Shop.
- Cash back by paying with a cash-back credit card — provided you are paying off your bill in full every month to avoid interest charges.
Of course, you can also take advantage of retailers’ own rewards programs to get more for your money. We detail some of the best in “10 Retailers That Give You Rewards on Every Purchase.”
3. Falling for a fake list price
Don’t be sucked in by a big red slash through a supposed list price, claiming it’s been hugely discounted. One site may be touting an item as 50% off, but where did that original price come from?
Some items don’t have list prices, so the site could have effectively made one up. Or, the site could have inflated the list price to make its discount appear greater than it is. As we reported in “Why You Should Think Twice Before Paying a ‘Sale’ Price,” numerous big-name retailers have been sued for allegedly misleading customers by manipulating list prices. Luckily, it’s easier to find out how good of a deal you are really getting when shopping online than at the mall. Search for an item on other sites and see how the prices compare.
4. Using a public Wi-Fi connection
It’s easy to do: You’re hanging out at a local coffee shop and getting some work done when you suddenly remember you need to order a gift. Hold that thought — and that purchase. You don’t want to transmit sensitive info like retail account passwords and credit card info over a public internet connection.
Take it from Symantec Corp., the company behind Norton anti-virus and other cybersecurity software:
“Sure, shopping doesn’t seem like it involves sensitive data, but making purchases online requires personal information that could include bank account and retailer login credentials. Shopping isn’t something you want to do on an unsecured Wi-Fi network.”
5. Ignoring the return policy
Be sure the site you’re shopping has a clear and generous return policy. In particular, you should know the answers to these questions before buying:
- Under what conditions does the site accept returns?
- How long does the site give you to return an item?
- Will the site provide a paid mailing label, or are return shipping costs on you? Can you return an item to a local store instead of mailing it back?
6. Relying on reviews
Online reviews are a great resource, sure, but would you bite into a sandwich that a random stranger handed you on the street? If not, then why would you spend money based on an opinion of a random stranger?
Reviews can be manipulated. It’s always in someone’s best interests that you fork over your hard-earned cash for a purchase. But websites such as Fakespot and ReviewMeta can help you ferret out fake or suspicious critiques.
These sites use algorithms to analyze reviews, parsing them for signs of phoniness. ReviewMeta only works for Amazon reviews, but Fakespot now analyzes reviews on the sites of other retailers, including Walmart, Best Buy and Sephora.
7. Forgetting to check for a free option
What’s the best deal you can get on any item? How does free sound? One of the beautiful things about online shopping is that the internet makes it easy for motivated sellers and eager buyers to find one another.
Here’s just one example: My daughter has been thinking of taking up piano, so I’ve set up a Facebook Marketplace alert for the word “piano” within 40 miles of my home. Easily a dozen pianos have been offered there over the past few months, and many of them were free to whoever is able to pick them up and safely transport them home. (So far, we haven’t been able to work that out.)