10 tips to becoming a successful online shopper

Published by Johanna Gornitzki on 03 December 2008.
Last updated on 24 November 2014

Laptop and present

The internet is the new high street, with increasing numbers of people going online in search of bargains, unusual purchases or just a wider choice of goods.

But while gifts are likely to be cheaper online, a shopping trip in cyberworld could turn out to be an expensive one if you don't know how to find the best deal or how to protect yourself from fraudsters.

To guide you along the way here are our top 10 tips on how to become a successful online shopper.

1. Finding the best deal

Shopping online can save you both time and money as long as you know how to do it. Price comparison sites such as kelkoo.co.uk, pricerunner.co.uk and twenga.com compares prices and can help you find the cheapest deal online.

Remember, if saving money is a priority for you then check the way these websites sort or rank the products. For example, kelkoo.co.uk automatically ranks products according to their 'popularity'. It is, therefore, up to you to change your view to price descending or

Multiple search engines such as google and yahoo can also help you find what you're looking for.

Be aware of the fact that most comparison sites might search the whole web for some items while they only search a limited number of sites for others. The tip is therefore to use several comparison sites to make sure you really get the best deal possible.

Before you hit the checkout button you also need to check if there are any charges hidden in the smallprint. Delivery charges for example could rack up your total bill quite considerably if you're ordering several items from several different websites. Pricerunner.co.uk allows you to search for products including or excluding the delivery cost.

2. Make money while spending

If you're cash strapped but still have to spend a fair few quid on gifts it could be worth checking out cashback websites.

The work similar top comparison websites but they will offer you cashback (this is usually a share of the commission the cashback site will get from the retailer you purchased your items from) – this usually amounts to 10% to 20% - on any purchases you make.

Topcashback.co.uk and cashbackkings.com are two sites offering cashback on any purchases.

3. Check details and availability of product

Before making a purchase don't forget to check essentials like size and colour. It might sound obvious but only glancing at a picture of the item you wish to buy and forget to read the description next to it is an easy mistake to make.

For electrical products, check general features such as adaptability, charging methods, additional add-ons required and region specifics. The last thing you want is to buy a gift which turns out to be non-compatible in the UK.

4. Only use trusted websites

Many people are put off shopping online because of a perception it isn't safe. When shopping online, make sure you only use recommended secure websites and try to stick to well-known brands or high-street names such as amazon.co.uk or play.com.

If you want to use a website you haven't been to before look for the padlock symbol and check that the internet address starts with HTTPS (the 'S' stands for secure) to make sure the site is safe. Also consider using sites that are members of the Internet Shopping Is Safe (ISIS) trustmark scheme - look out for the ISIS logo.

Five ways to stay safe when shopping online

5. Beware of links

When shopping online, you should always enter the address manually rather than follow links. This is particularly important if you've received an email with a link attached to it.

Typing the full URL into the address bar (for example, www.moneywise.co.uk) will protect you from phishing, a fraud technique where fake websites are set up to try and tempt you to enter sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details.

Often these sites masquerade as trustworthy entities, such as banks or big high street retailers.

6. Know your rights

Once you've made your purchase hopefully you should just be able to sit back and wait for its arrival. However, sometimes things go missing, the wrong item is sent or there's a fault with the thing you've ordered. If anything goes wrong, the first thing to do is to contact the seller and in the majority of cases, a reputable online retailer will try to sort out your problem as soon as possible.

If that doesn't yield any results, you could consult Consumer Direct (08454 04 05 06), a telephone and online consumer advice service operated by the Office of Fair Trading.

To make sure you're not going to lose your statutory rights, check your goods as soon as they arrive as your rights to refunds, repairs and replacements may depend on how quickly you act.

Michele Shambrook, operations manager for Consumer Direct, says: "Consumers have additional rights when shopping online, which in most cases allow you to change your mind and cancel your order for up to seven working days after delivery so check your order when it arrives.

"If you decide to cancel, online retailers are obliged to refund the full cost plus the original delivery charge, although you may have to pay the cost of return."

7. Steer clear of non-EU sites

In theory if a foreign retailer sells to a British buyer, then UK law still applies. But unfortunately, in practice it can be difficult to apply legal action over long distances, so always be extra careful when ordering something from abroad – if possible try to steer clear of any non-EU sites unless they have been personally recommended to you.

8. Consider using a credit card

For any purchases over £100 consider using a credit card when paying for it. This is because any products above that amount (but below £30,000) would be covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, which means in the event of a problem you will be able to claim your money back from your credit card company.

If you have a Visa Debit you will also have access to free security schemes (called Verified by Visa) that should add another layer of security. Read more about how paying by Visa Debit.

See top credit cards available to you today

9. Keep all correspondence

It is important to save all your online transactions including receipts, order confirmations, correspondence and reference numbers should something go wrong. The more records that you have of a transaction, the more weight your arguments will have if a problem does occur.

10. Don't delay

Last but not least, try to do your online shopping in good time. Shambrook says: "The law says that, unless otherwise agreed, online retailers have 30 days to deliver your goods but if you need them to arrive before a certain time, for example Christmas, make sure this is guaranteed by the retailer. The best way to avoid disappointment is to do your shopping early."

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