Avoid the hidden costs of online shopping
Hidden fees can offset the benefits of shopping online.
Online shopping saves shoppers the trouble of waiting in long lines while offering the convenience of around-the-clock hours. With a few clicks of the keyboard or scrolls on a tablet, shoppers can typically find just about any product or service they desire.
But additional fees and service charges that can quickly accumulate also are a part of online shopping. However, shoppers can mitigate such costs by identifying potential fees and learning how to keep them manageable.
Shipping costs are a burden to online shoppers. Even when prices are low, shipping costs can offset those savings, especially for last-minute shoppers forced to select overnight or two-day shipping.
Before completing checkout, check the estimated shipping costs to determine what the final cost will be. Avoid retailers who charge high fees or limit your shipping options. Watch for specials that advertise free shipping, and stick with retailers that offer free or reduced shipping on particular days or times, then do the bulk of your shopping during those discounted periods.
Some retailers offer free shipping to a store location. This affords consumers the convenience of shopping online without the added cost of having merchandise delivered to your home.
Poor return policy
Before buying any items online, familiarize yourself with the return and exchange policies of the retailer. Although many sites post sizing charts and dimensions for furniture and other products, sizing mistakes can be made, and you may be responsible for the shipping costs when returning or exchanging items. Shop with retailers who have lenient return policies, including accepting exchanges or returns at area stores. Otherwise, rely on companies that include return labels and take care of the cost of exchanges.
Read the fine print when shopping online. Although rare, some retailers charge a restocking fee for returned items, particularly electronics. This fee may be 5 to 20 percent of the purchase price.
The potential for identity theft is another concern when shopping online. Reputable retailers employ security measures to safeguard shoppers' personal information. Encrypted data, identifiable by a "locked" icon on the check-out page, protects billing information from hackers. Although no system is entirely impenetrable, encrypted sites are generally safe.
Never enter personal information unless a site is encrypted. It will cost you time and maybe even money to refute fraudulent purchases, and such issues may negatively affect your credit rating, even when they're not your fault.
Shopping online puts you in touch with global retailers. Purchasing from around the world may be easy, but navigating currency exchanges and other fees can be difficult.
International sites may list the prices of items at their currency rate, so what seems like a good deal may be anything but. What's more, some shoppers may incur duty fees when accepting items from other countries, particularly if the value of the product is high.
The Internet may be a good place to buy items at attractive prices from the convenience of home. However, shoppers should be aware of any hidden charges that can offset the benefits of shopping online.