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12 Things To Be Aware of When Christmas Shopping Online

Christmas ShoppingChristmas Shopping PointersDigital Retailecommerceonline retailRetail Advice+-

Considering how much I buy online - pretty much every day - I think of myself as something of an online shopping expert. My mainstays are Amazon, Ebay and Ocado, but I frequently venture beyond these shores to buy goods - particularly out of Europe, North America, Hong Kong and Japan.

Over the years I must have encountered most of the odd shopping experience scenarios, and it has taught me to be ever so vigilant when buying - particularly when dealing with new / unknown-to-me vendors. Note that people often feel a sense of security in buying from big companies Amazon and Ebay - but both of those are now very largely at the mercy of third party vendors - many of which can be highly suspect and don’t adhere to the same standards of quality.

This has been my worst year so far for non-delivery of orders - near enough a round dozen cases if I recall correctly - and spread evenly between Amazon Marketplace and Ebay. I often wonder what the scam is here - when a vendor marks something for delivery and it never turns up - I guess some customers don’t bother to complain / reclaim. Sometimes I am at fault for not doing enough due diligence - in the last instance, which occurred on Amazon, I should have spotted several complaints in that vendor company’s reviews about packages not turning up. Amazon deals with these brilliantly, and you get you money refunded usually within 24 hours. Ebay / Paypal is atrocious in comparison as you often have to wait more than a month to get your money back - and it’s often in ridiculous circumstances - twice I placed an order on Ebay, paid up etc. only to be told that the item was never actually in stock and I would be refunded. Paypal then - as is its way - sat on my moneys for over a month!!!

So Reputation Checking is absolutely critical - and I do triangulation when trying to secure any item not immediately available from my common main sources. Google is an essential tool, not just for finding who sells what you’re after, but doing all the secondary level research needed to verify their credentials.

Here are some of the many life lessons I have learned:


1: Cheapest Price is Not Always Best Deal

Whenever multiple vendors are available - whether Amazon Marketplace, Ebay or generally online - the most important thing is to actually secure the item and make sure it gets delivered to you. I will rarely plump for the lowest price, but will check the reputation of each vendor, and go with the one that seems the most consistently reliable.


2: Details Matter

Be aware that you’re not always getting like for like - there are a number of intangibles here - including service levels, which are not always reflected in the price. Also you may think you see exactly the same two things on two different sites - but one is significantly cheaper - it may be from a different production run / series / year, - quantity, weight, size may vary, as may quality of finish. There are so many special and limited editions these days that you really need to know the detail of what you’re buying, and that you’re getting the absolutely correct item at the right sort of price! Often the language used is very similar, but even within colours there may be several different variations in the blue or red hue, and even more important for makeup product selection.


3: Make Sure You Know Where Goods are being Shipped From!

Amazon is shipping more and more goods from global stock - meaning it may ship items from Google in Germany or any other of the the European hubs. Several times this year I bought things on Amazon Prime - expecting next-day delivery, only to find out later that the item/s were shipping from Germany. There has been a huge increase of Chinese vendors recently, and because of the sheer numbers an equally significant increase in the amount of unreliable or outright disreputable vendors. Always be aware who you are really buying from, where they are based, and therefore how long it may take for the goods to arrive. When buying clothing you must also factor in cultural differences in sizing etc. With longer Chinese delivery cycles, and often significant costs involved - making returns is usually too much of a hassle - so you tend not to over-commit on price, and you will almost always have to live with your mistakes.


4: Make Sure You Know Where Goods are being Shipped To!

One of the significant benefits of shopping online is that you can have your goods giftwrapped by several vendors and shipped directly to the intended recipient. At several times during checkout though, the addressee details can be overwritten, most typically when paying by Paypal where it defaults to billing address. If you are amending your shopping cart or order, make sure that you’re 100% clear that you save the correct version in the end - which ensures the intended recipients get their goods before Christmas. Several times over the years and usually in my haste I’ve been too quick to confirm the order, and the address has switched back to me.


5: Make Sure You Know that the Goods are Really In Stock

Several vendors outright lie about having goods in stock. Sometimes there are tell-tale signs - like long delivery times, but quite often there is no clue given at all - you see it says ’In Stock’ you pay your moneys and then you wait a few days for some sort of acknowledgment, only to be told the item is on order / backorder / discontinued / never really for sale as it never arrived in stock! Here Reputation Checking is essential - see if the vendor is listed on Trustpilot or similar, or if there are any other pertinent details about the company on Google. See if they have a facebook presence. and if they have a current dialogue with their customers - where they can be seen to be actually responding to customer queries. All these things are critical in ensuring you will get what you believe you ordered delivered.


6: Always Reputation-Check the Vendor

I’ve said this several times already, and I can’t really be more emphatic about alerting consumers as to the perils of giving your money to fraudsters and fakers. I talk about triangulation a lot - which means obtaining absolutely relevant key information / intelligence from three or more well known and already reputable sources. I will check all known resources and references, any and all associated links and SSL Certificates and other affiliations. A sure sign of impropriety is lack of a proper physical address and lack of proper links in the footer of the site - they mention some association or quality mark etc. and then don’t link to source.


7: Always Triangulate

As before - the advice here really is three or more reputable sources. You need to get to a point where you are confident that your needs will be met, and that you won’t be ripped off in any way. If after spending a reasonable amount of time researching and you’re still unsure - then move away from that vendor. It may well be that the item you are after is not properly available in your territory, and certainly not at that ridiculously low price. Pricing is something I always triangulate on too - if the price is too much beyond the normal variations, then it is likely not a true and proper offer. This is almost always more exponentially true, the less you know about the vendor. If the vendor is reputable and you have done business with them often before, then you know what to expect and can gauge the reality better. Where you know little of the vendor or actual product - possibly the first time you are buying something like this, then you need to be cautious in how you proceed.


8: Amazon Does Not Always Have The Best Deal

There are two caveats here - not everything on sale on Amazon is necessarily the most cost effective, and the featured vendor does not always have the best price either. On occasion if you view all vendors you can find another reputable vendor with a keener price - so the algorithms certainly work strangely at times. Certain things on Amazon - like Marketplace Makeup products are often marked up above proper market price. If you’re unsure about how much something should cost - do a quick google search, and if the lowest price is not a known / reputable vendor then exclude that too. Find the median lowest price (i.e. lowest average typical)- so you know what the proper floor-level is, and then work from there. Some of these vendors add costs for delivery and/or packaging, so you need to know who exactly is selling at the best price. For me the best price also includes how quickly and efficiently the product gets to its destination - so all these need to be factored in.


9: Amazon Prime Listed Does Not Always Mean Next Day Delivery - or in fact actual Amazon Prime!

Several times I have searched for something, then filtered by Prime and added to basket and swiftly checked out - only to notice later that for whatever reasons the actual item I purchased is no longer Amazon Prime, but coming from the Marketplace. Sometimes there are multiple vendors for different colourways or sizes - and some may be Amazon Prime / Amazon Fulfilled but not others. On occasion it lists as Prime, but all the options on the detail page turn out not to be Prime at all. This is of course critical in the level of service you will get if you buy said item. Buying from Amazon Prime gives you mostly next-day delivery, but also ease of return, refund etc. while dealing with a 3rd party Marketplace Vendor means invariable longer delivery, no doorstep pickup for returns etc...


10: Beware the Amazon Marketplace!

Increasingly stuff you are buying from Amazon is actually Marketplace goods (3rd party vendors) but fulfilled by Amazon. This means you get all the quality Amazon fulfilment services - doorstep returns etc. but not the internal quality control. Most of what Amazon ships is ’black box’ - i.e. products already packaged into boxes - and Amazon puts these in further boxes to ship out to you. So at no stage has Amazon verified the quality of the original box contents - so results can vary hugely. I have had multiple instances on Amazon Marketplace this year where goods ordered failed to materialise. There was no tracking data, so I would question whether the goods were ever properly sent out - just recorded as sent on the system so as to defraud the customer in some unusual manner which I’ve still to figure out.


11: Know The Full Cost of Purchase

When you do a Google search for a product you usually see the pricing for several competing vendors. Although depending on whom you select the final price can vary sometimes quite drastically, You still get this on Amazon Marketplace where vendors will put up product on sale at an unusually low cost, but then ramp up the delivery charges. So make sure you are comparing like with like, and that the lowest cost price is fully inclusive of everything and covers delivery.


12: Triple Check Colours, Sizes and Delivery Dates Before Confirming Order

Ordering several products can be a very complicated process - particularly makeup - where units are available in very finely differentiated colourways, different quantities, sizes / volumes / measures etc. You may think you’re getting a bargain, but you are buying a smaller size or last season’s line or not the exact shade requested. You may have inadvertently set the wrong slider or selected the wrong value / option or overlooked some other key requirement. So it is essential to triple check all the key variables before you hit the button to confirm the order. Something that may have appeared as in stock on the listing has changed status on the detail, and you find that you have locked yourself into either a backorder or pre-order cycle - which may have cancellation penalties or other restrictions.

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