It’s getting to that time of year where the temperatures are dropping and the quantity of flyers is increasing! Yes, consumers are starting to think about buying Christmas gifts. However, this year you might want to consider shopping online.

Now before I get into the intricacies of this, let me first say “support local”! As a seasonal vendor, you can find me at several locations selling photos/calendars/baked goods, I know how much it means to have a local customer base that appreciates your produce.
However, you might not be able to find that one special thing locally and don’t want to travel for hours in search of it. So your other option is the dreaded online. But, if you take the right precautions, online shopping can open up a whole new world of retail opportunities.

So this article is about the basics of online shopping, what to look out for and what traps to avoid.

Lets start with some beginner security tips:

1.) Always look for the lock symbol in your web browser. This varies from browser to browser, but usually looks like a key or a padlock. This signifies you’re on a secure site and anything you send to the retailer is encrypted (check out my previous article for more details). You can click on the symbol for more details to make sure the site is secure.

2.) Don’t use a public computer, for example those at a library or Internet café. If you do, you risk leaving behind personal or financial details.

3.) Don’t click on spam links to offers that seem too good to be true. For example, if you receive an amazing offer in an email, go direct to that company’s webpage and look for the offer instead of clicking on the link.

4.) Use a credit card rather than a debit card for online purchases, as these tend to offer more buyer protection.

5.) If you have to setup a password to make a purchase, use a unique password you haven’t used on any other sites.

6.) Check your credit card statement to make sure the amount is correct and there are no additional unexpected charges.

7.) Don’t give away too much information. To make a purchase, you’ll have to provide address and payment details. If the site asks for date of birth, inside leg measurement, etc., then walk away.

8.) Always have good antivirus protection and keep it updated. This will protect you from malware that tries to intercept your financial details.

OK, so that’s the scary part over. I hope I haven’t put you off shopping online yet. Now let’s take a look at some of the ways you can play the system to your benefit:

A.) Coupons: many online sites offer coupons to entice new or returning customers. You’d be surprised just how often you can find amazing deals or discounts without much effort. Sites such as www.bargainmoose.ca and www.retailmenot.ca have a Canadian focus and make it really easy to find discounts.

B.) Here’s a sneaky tip: If you’re not in a hurry for an item, create an account with the retailer and add an item to your basket. Then leave it there. Quite often they’ll send you an email a couple of days later with a special offer on that same item to entice you back and complete the purchase. Smart eh?

C.) The reverse of that is that retailers can be sneaky too. They can put what’s called a “Cookie” on your computer to record your visit and what you looked at. When you then go back to the site a few days later, they’ll spot this and potentially increase the price of the item you were looking at! You can combat this by deleting the cookie they store on your computer.

Finally, some procedural things to watch out for that vary from site to site:

1.) Watch out for currency: although a site can look Canadian, sometimes they charge in U.S. dollars.

2.) Import duties: If you’re buying a product located outside of Canada, you may be subject to import duties and courier fees that aren’t listed on the seller’s site. It’s your responsibility to cover these fees when importing goods from abroad.

3.) Check the shipping terms: This can greatly increase the cost of the item you’re buying and it may be worth shopping around for sites with cheaper shipping.

4.) Check the return policy: What happens if you need to return something? How long do you have to decide and who pays for the return postage?

A simple tip I can give you that ticks a lot of the above boxes is to shop at Amazon.ca. There’s a caveat here though, as you want to make sure the item is sold and shipped by Amazon. This guarantees a level of service you don’t get elsewhere. Because of the scale of Amazon, they get great shipping rates (often free) and have great customer service.
Until next time, good luck with the shopping and remember not to leave it too late!

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Nick Gunn moved to Tatamagouche from England and started up Scotia Systems, a computer support company. He is now the “go-to” guy in the community for computer problems. These articles are here to help spread advice and awareness of computer issues. Contact Nick at ngunn@scotiasystems.com or call 902 957-2575.