Researching & Buying On The Web

 

Basics

As teens we are already good friends with the web.  The Web gives us amazing tools to research items, compare prices, select a seller (but make sure they are legitimate) and can provide us with a safe way to pay.  The big Web advantage is that you don’t have to bother going to a store and you can buy 24/7.  Most sites require a credit or debit card to pay, so you probably need a parent unless you have your own card.  As great as the Web is, be very careful if you purchase online since some of the sites might not be legitimate.  Some try just to get your personal data so they can hack into your computer, possibly steal your identity or gain access to money in your bank account.  The Internet can be a powerful tool; use it wisely.

 

General Web Shopping Advice

Choosing the right item at the right price with a reliable merchant can be tricky.  Below are a few types of sites to help your research.  Here are also a few things to keep in mind before you buy:
  • The lowest price might not be the best deal.  Read the fine print on everything including shipping fees and taxes.  Check out a store’s debit policy.  Do they take your money out right away or wait until your order is shipped?  What is the return policy?  Do they charge a re-stocking fee (a fee for putting the return merchandise back.)?
  • Make sure you are using a reputable vendor (store).  There are a lot of scams on the Web.  When you use BizRate it shows consumer feedback on vendors.  So check out this site before you buy. bizrate.com.

  • Make sure the site where you are shopping is secure, which means the user name and password you type in will be encrypted before it is sent to a server.  There are two general indications of a secured Web page:

    • Most Web pages start with "http".  If there’s an added "s" (https) it is secured.
    • Check for the "lock" icon (see below).  There’s a de facto standard among Web browsers to display a "lock" icon somewhere in the window of the browser (NOT in the Web page display area!).  For example, Microsoft Internet Explorer displays the lock icon in the lower-right corner of the browser window:



As another example, Mozilla's FireFox Web browser displays the lock icon in the lower-left corner:



THE LOCK ICON IS NOT JUST A PICTURE!  Click (or double-click) on it to see details of the site's security.  This is important to know because some fraudulent Web sites are built with a bar at the bottom of the Web page to imitate the lock icon of your browser.  Therefore it is necessary to test the functionality built into this lock icon.

  • Verify if the item you are purchasing is available immediately, if that is important to you.  If availability is not specified, call (if a number provided) the Ecommerce site, or Email them.  Also see if you can cancel the item if it is not shipped when it is supposed to be.
  • Don’t forget to factor in shipping costs and sales tax.  Some merchants do not add these charges until you checkout.  Once these charges are disclosed, and if you realize another trusted store has the item at a more economical price, leave the site and buy it from the cheaper source.  If a site does not disclose these additional charges at all, RUN!
  • Print out your receipt.  Make sure you write down the Internet address if it’s not already on the receipt.  When the bill arrives with your merchandise, compare your receipt to the amount on the bill.

 

Review Sites

Review sites can be broken up into two categories, expert sites and consumer sites.  The best way to research an item is to combine both of these two types of sites:  Go to the expert sites and compile a list of the best products and then go to the consumer sites to see what real people think about them.
  • Expert Sites:  Sure, ask a friend about an item if they have firsthand knowledge.  But you might want a second opinion.  Active Buyers Guide is a site that can help you determine your needs: http://activebuyersguide.com.  A second research site is Consumer Search, which pulls reviews from multiple publications: http://www.consumersearch.com.  If you want a specific product like a digital camera, you can go to expert sites within a field, for example, imaging resource or pcworld.
  • Consumer Review Sites:  If you want reviews from the general public, check out sites like: Epinions, http://www.epinions.com or Consumer Review, http://www.consumerreview.com.  Consumer reviews vary widely in quality.  Be careful.  Many products rate high because lots of people buy them—that doesn’t always mean they are the best quality.


 

BOTS (Web Robots)

Once you know what you want to buy, Bots help you find out the best price.  Bots search the World Wide Web to find the item you are shopping for and at the price the items are listed for.  Make sure to get complete price details when you are shopping since Bots does not take into consideration shipping, taxes, return policies and any fees that might be associated with a return.

 

Coupon Sites

Sometimes companies and stores offer deals and coupons called Promotional Codes.  In the past if you didn’t get the newspaper or flyer the coupon was in, you were out of luck.  Now some vendors put them on the Web.  Check out: http://www.wow-coupons.com; http://www.currentcodes.com ; http://www.fatwallet.comhttp://www.retailmenot.com/view/kellyscloset.com

 

General Bargain Sites

These are sites for specials based on stores or manufacturers with excess inventory that needs to be moved:   http://www.overstock.com and http://www.smartbargains.com and http://www.sierratradingpost.com.