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Advantages and Disadvantages of Shopping Online

A former teacher of digital media studies in the UK, Paul now lives and works as a freelance writer in Florida, USA.

Online shopping is more popular than ever, but is it all it's cracked up to be?

Online shopping is more popular than ever, but is it all it's cracked up to be?

Internet shopping has revolutionized the retail trade over the past 20 years or so, both for consumers and vendors. The internet currently accounts for over 10% of retail sales in the USA, and this number continues to rise.

Many products can be found for a more affordable price online, and having the product delivered to your door can be very convenient.

However, critics note the packaging waste, time, and cost delay caused by delivery and the possible problems that occur when buyers can't inspect the product in person or communicate face-to-face with a retailer before buying.

As e-commerce is becoming such an important part of many peoples' lives, I thought it would be interesting and useful to list the relative merits and downsides of this still relatively recent phenomenon.

10 Benefits of Shopping Online

First, let's take a look at the many advantages of online shopping. After all, it's more popular than ever for a reason.

1. Shop From Anywhere

You can shop from the comfort of your own home, your workplace, or virtually anywhere. All you need is a device that's connected to the internet and a convenient address where you can receive the goods that you order.

2. Choice

You have a maximum amount of choice when buying products via the internet. You are not limited to what an individual store sells or stocks. If a product exists, then you will almost certainly be able to buy it online somewhere.

3. International Availability

As well as internal markets, shopping online gives you access to international goods. If you can't find the right product in your home country, then you can look abroad.

4. Prices Comparisons and Reviews

You have easy access to reviews of the products that you are interested in buying, enabling you to make more informed buying decisions. You can also easily compare prices at different vendors.

5. Relaxed Decision Making

There is no pressure from a salesperson when shopping online. You can proceed at your own pace, researching when necessary, without anybody trying to push you into buying something that you don't want.

6. Financial Organization

It can be much easier to keep records of what you have bought online. Online bank statements and emailed receipts are easier to keep track of than paper versions.

7. Bargains

You can make some big savings by shopping online. Big retailers often price products cheaper online than they do in their bricks and mortar stores. Many items can also be bought at bargain prices through online auction sites such as eBay. There are also plenty of coupons, and other ways to save.

8. Always Open

Unlike conventional store which have opening hours, online shopping is not limited to certain hours of the day.

9. No Transport Issues

Unless you opt for in-store collection, online shopping means that the ordered goods are delivered straight to your door. You don't have to worry about driving to a destination, paying for gas, parking, or waiting in a line to be served.

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10. Refurbished Options

In traditional stores, the choice is normally new or nothing, but online you often get the option of purchasing used or refurbished products, which can save you money.

10 Drawbacks of Shopping Online

Online shopping sure is convenient and easy, but it also has some downsides. Let's take a look at some of the less advantageous aspects of shopping on the web.

1. Time Delay

There is typically a time delay in receiving your purchase while you wait for it to be delivered. Buy it in a brick-and-mortar store and you can take it home with you immediately.

2. Product Description

There may be potential problems with the seller when you buy online. They can describe a product wrongly, or in a way that is misleading, as they have almost total control over how a product is portrayed. They may also be more difficult to communicate with than your local store.

3. Pricing

Retailers can also use methods regarding the pricing of products that many buyers can find underhand. For instance, a product can be displayed at a certain price online, only for excessive shipping, or other costs, to be added later on in the buying process.

4. Delivery

You can have problems with delivery when ordering a product online - either it arrives broken, or it doesn't arrive at all. This may happen only rarely, but it can be very frustrating and time-consuming when it does occur.

5. It's Impersonal

There is very little scope for building any sort of rapport with the seller when you go to buy a product online. This makes the process very impersonal. There is no shop owner or employee to give you specialist advice, help, or tips. Neither is there generally someone to give you follow-up help in person, should you have any problems with your product.

6. It's Too Easy

There are all sorts of potential psychological and emotional problems associated with the ease with which people can buy online. Impulsive buying, addiction, overspending, and debt-related issues can all be exacerbated. Also, it is easier for people to buy products when intoxicated, or for children to purchase unwanted items using their parent's credit cards and online accounts without permission.

7. Fraud

Fraud and identity theft are a constant threat when buying over the internet. There are also major issues concerning the privacy of the data that is supplied to retailers by buyers.

8. Can't Inspect or Try Products

You can't try out the product in advance when you buy online. Neither can you touch a product, or see it close up with your own eyes. This can be a considerable disadvantage when it comes to certain types of products.

9. Gift Delays

Sometimes they don't tell you until after you've ordered how long an item will take to be delivered. This can be particularly frustrating if it's a gift and the online store has to restock before shipping.

10. No Bartering or Negotiation

Local shops can sometimes provide scope for negotiating a deal with the owner, especially if you are a regular customer. This is rarely an option online.

Pros and Cons of Shopping Online

10 Tips to Stay Safe When Shopping Online

Unfortunately, scammers do operate online, and you'll sometimes encounter them via social media and search engine shopping pages. What can seem like a fantastic deal at first, can turn into a nightmare later.

Here are ten ways to shop online safely:

  1. Beware of deals that seem too good to be true - Compare prices and if the deal is ridiculously low, you should be wary. Sometimes fake sites are set up with the goal of either stealing your money, or accessing your personal information.
  2. Use familiar and reputable traders - Your chances of losing your money or personal info drop dramatically if you only use traders that you trust. Shopping with familiar retailers is generally a safe way to shop, and if something goes wrong, they will usually help put it right.
  3. Protect your personal information - Reputable retailers will only ever ask you for the minimum needed to complete a purchase. If they ask you for something untoward like your social security number, it's a major red flag.
  4. Investigate unfamiliar traders - Buying from a retailer that you've not used before carries more risk and it can be worth taking some time to vet them. Some nefarious businesses will deliberately make themselves appear legit. Search online for complaints, check for contact details in their "contact us" section, and call them up, if unsure.
  5. Beware of public Wi-Fi networks - These networks can be easier to hack into than private networks, so they carry more risk. If you buy online in a café or an airport, you're potentially making your personal info, such as name, address, and credit card details, more vulnerable.
  6. Don't fall for email scams - These might take the form of unbelievable offers, or claims of problems with deliveries or your bank account arriving in your inbox. If the sender is unfamiliar, or there are indications that it's suspicious, such as bad English being used, or it's just a strange request, you should the email delete immediately. You should also be wary of opening attachments from unfamiliar senders, as these could be infected with viruses or malware.
  7. Choose strong passwords - One common mistake that people make is to use passwords that criminals can easily guess. This might be the name of a pet, favorite sports teams, or a child's birthday (the sort of info that you might inadvertently make public via social media). Ideally, your password should be composed of a complicated mixture of upper and lowercase letters, along with numbers and symbols.
  8. Check your statements, bills and receipts for fraud - It's important to frequently inspect your statements from banks and credit card companies, as well as bills and receipts, in order to spot any irregularities. That way you can pick up any problems with fraud early.
  9. Keep records and receipts of transactions - If something does go wrong, you many well need the details of your purchase to get your money back or report a crime, so you should keep them in a safe place. Details might include things like order confirmation numbers and tracking details, as well as receipts.
  10. Track your purchases - This can be a good way to discover issues early. If the retailer won't give you the relevant details of things like the shipping info or delivery status of your order, it's a potential red flag, and you can take appropriate action to stop the transaction.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is online shopping safe?

Answer: Generally speaking, yes online shopping is safe. There are some security issues that the user/buyer needs to be aware of, and some that the store/website is responsible for. The user/buyer should make sure that their computer software and operating system is up to date, that they have an effective firewall and anti-virus, passwords are secure, and that they don't give out their card information without being reasonably sure that it is secure (e.g., the URL should usually start with "https" when you proceed to checkout, also be wary of giving out info over the phone unless you are confidence in the company you're dealing with). Even if you are defrauded, you may well be able to get your money back via your bank in some circumstances. The store/website should have provisions for keeping the user's personal and payment information secure, there have been some high profile cases where this hasn't happened, but the system usually works. I personally have been shopping online for many years and not had any issues. It's important to be aware that in most circumstances, your card information is probably less secure when you pay in a restaurant, than when you pay online.

© 2013 Paul Goodman

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