Online Shopping

November 19, 2009

Somehow the Christmas shopping season starts earlier and earlier every year. I saw several Christmas themed commercials on TV this year before Halloween. Each year, we send you information on safe online shopping. I’m also already seeing online advertisements and emails from online retailers with early black Friday sales. 

Shopping at your local store entails an element of is risk. Driving to the store is dangerous. There is the risk of being robbed in the parking lot and so forth. It’s not likely that any of these things will happen to you when shopping, but it is possible.  

Online shopping is generally safe, but like other types of shopping, it has an element of risk too. There isn’t much chance of physical harm coming to you when you shop online, but there is financial risk. However, if you know how to shop online, your risk goes way down and it’s actually safer to shop online than in person. 

The first thing to know is that you should never enter any identifying information or financial information on a web site unless that website is secure.  I’m not talking about the part of the website where you are looking at merchandise. I’m talking about the part where you check out and enter personal and financial information. That’s where it needs to be secure.

How do you tell if a website is secure? Each web browser has a different indicator, but the easiest way to tell on all of them is to look at the address for the website. When you get to the part where you have to enter personal or financial information, look up at the address of the website. Normally when a website is not secure, you will see something like When a website is secure, you will see

Did you catch the difference? Instead of http, a secure website’s address starts with https instead of just http. 

So anytime you are on a website and you are entering personal or financial information, glance up at the address bar and make sure it says https before the website address before you submit any information. This type of security encrypts the information between your computer and the online store so that nobody can intercept the information and read it. 

Once the information reaches the store, the security is up to that store. So make sure you purchase from an online store that is reputable. Sites like,, and other similar sites will give you ratings of online retailers. 

When comparing the prices at online retailers, be sure to include tax and shipping charges in your comparison. Your pet rock may cost $20 at one store and $25 and a second store so you would think that it’s cheaper to purchase at the first store. But if the first store has to charge sales tax and charges $10 for shipping while the second store does not have to charge sales tax in Texas (or wherever you live) and has free shipping, it’s actually cheaper to purchase it at the second store even though the price of the product is higher. 

Here’s a special note about ebay. If you shop on ebay, make sure you check out the seller before you bid. In the item screen on ebay next to the seller’s ID, there is a number. The number is the number of transactions the seller has made. Look for sellers with a large number of transactions. Right under that there is line for feedback and it tells you the percentage of positive feedback. No large seller is going to have 100% positive feedback, but you want one that is 97% or higher in positive feedback. Sometimes I’ll go and read some of the negative feedback, just to see what type of things people are complaining about. 

Individuals selling something generally won’t have a large number of transactions. For those, you want 100% positive feedback. 

And don’t forget to place your online orders early so that you can get them before Christmas. Many online retailers offer free shipping. Remember that the closer you get to Christmas, the more you will have to pay for shipping to make sure you can get it by Christmas. 

You can order as late as the morning of the 23rd and use next day shipping and usually get it before Christmas day, but I don’t recommend waiting until the last minute if you can help it. Sometimes it takes an online store 24 hours to process your order before it is shipped so if you purchased on the 23rd, it might not get shipped until the 24th and next day shipping won’t help you there. 

Sometimes shipments get delayed. Shippers like UPS and Fedex can also temporarily loose or mis-route packages. I had a package being shipped to me via UPS Ground once. The truck was disabled someone. I don’t know if it broke down or was in an accident, but the packages had to be offloaded to another truck and my package was delayed by one day. 

By the way, the day after Thanksgiving, also known as black Friday, is also a great shopping day online. Check it out!

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