Educational Consumer Tips

Internet Shopping

Author: Better Business Bureau

The Direct Marketing Association offers the following 7 tips for shopping on the Internet:

Assess the site. It should contain basic information about a company's products and services, along with a phone number and physical street address for the company.

Look for affiliations. Does the company display a seal to show affiliations with any organizations? If so, check with these organizations to find out what the affiliation means and what the company must do to be affiliated with them.

Look for privacy policies. You can enjoy significant convenience and cost-savings by sharing information with a company about your interests. The company should tell you how they use the information and, if information is shared with third parties, respect your wish not to have it shared. As of July 2004, posting a privacy policy on a website that collects personal information from consumers residing in the State of California is required by law.

Find out what people say about them. Ask friends who have done business with the company. Surf the Web to see what news media and other sites report about them. Check out the company's reliability report with the appropriate BBB.

Look for special customer services. Many Web sites have features such as "virtual models" for selecting apparel, gardening libraries for buying seeds, music clips for choosing CD's, or other features that help you select products that fit your needs.

Shop secure sites. When moving to the checkout section, make sure you see an unbroken key or locked padlock at the bottom or top of the screen. Also, the URL in the checkout area should begin with "https:" if you are shopping on a secure server.

Pay by credit card. Consumers have all of the same protections shopping online as they have when shopping in retail stores or catalogs. You'll be covered under the Fair Credit Billing Act in the event of non-delivery or fraud.

The BBB also urges consumers to read all terms and conditions set forth by the company when making a purchase from a website.  Consumers should fully understand what has been ordered and the cost of the product or service and any add-ons prior to authorizing charges.  BBB encourages consumers to double check each page as they proceed with the ordering process to ensure accuracy.  When accepting additional incentives, promotions, discounts, etc., consumers should be fully knowledgeable of the associated terms and conditions.