Personal computers have become standard appliances in many homes today because of their usefulness and time saving features. They are now instruments of advertisement, trade and commerce. Yes, shopping via cyberspace.
With a few keystrokes and the click of a mouse you can shop at home using your computer as the medium. Sounds great, right? No traffic. No parking problems. No leg works. No lines or crowds. No hassles with the weather. Indeed online shopping can give new meaning to convenience and choice.
Aside from convenience and being apart from the hassles and headaches of supermarket shopping, another plus to cybershopping is benefits for the retailers such as lower operating costs and wider merchandise assortments.
As compared to running a retail store, the cost of operating a cybershop is relatively low. There is no need for staffs or a workforce to man the cyber-operations. The rental, which is the commission paid to the e-commerce service providers, is also relatively lower than the rental of retail store. In addition, unlike a physical store there is no need to use selling space to pile up surplus stocks. Such backup stocks can be kept in the warehouse instead. The cost per square foot of rental for a warehouse is much lower than that of a selling space. This would greatly reduce the holding costs of inventory.
Furthermore, the retailers can provide a wide array of merchandise in the cybershop without incurring any additional store space. Merchandise selections can be changed regularly by updating the merchant's web pages. In this way, they are able to provide a wider merchandise assortment at a much lower cost.
As there are always two sides to all things and situations, there are some drawbacks to Internet shopping.
In an Internet survey, would-be cybershoppers identified four main reasons for their reluctance to shop through the web. About 26 percent of them stated they preferred the "feel" of real-life shopping. That is, they are able to touch, feel and scrutinize physically the items they intended to buy. This is not the case in a cybershop, where you can only see the items in your PC monitor and rely only on the advertised information. The worry about merchandise quality constituted 18 percent of the reason for not buying through the Internet.
Security is another item of controversy. About 15 percent of potential customers are worried about security in Internet transactions and another 11 percent considered the trustworthiness of the companies involved.
Buyers have a more secured feeling when purchasing on a cash-on-delivery (COD) basis. Internet buy-and-sell, on the other hand, is mostly consummated through the credit or charge card. There is always the feeling of insecurity when you are giving financial information to someone you have never met personally, let alone typing and sending credit card numbers and bank account information through cyberspace where it can be intercepted by a hacking sleuth.
TIPS ON CYBERSHOPPING
We can argue any time with the pros and con of cybershopping vis-avis the real-life supermarket shopping, but the fact remains that this medium of shopping is now the forefront. So here are some basic guidelines to make your cybershopping experience safe and hassle-free.
- Think security, starting with your connection (the way your computer connects through telephone wires to contact the Internet) and your browser (the software that acts like a telephone to receive information on the Internet). Unsecured information sent over the Internet can be intercepted. That is why you should consider a secure browser, which will encrypt or scramble purchase information. use a browser that complies with industry standards, such as Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol (S-HTTP). These often are included with Internet connection services. The credit and charge card industry is working on an enhanced level of security using Secured Electronic Transfer (SET), which will provide a highly encrypted communication between card issuers, merchants and card members. Check with your Internet service provider and software manufacturer for additional specifics to your browser.
- Determine the level of security the vendor has. More e-commerce companies are forthcoming in their security measures and privacy policies. If you are not comfortable entering your credit card number online, call it in to the company's 800 number (toll-free) or fax it.
- Shop with companies you know. If you would like to try a new merchant, ask for a paper catalog or brochure to get a better idea of their merchandise and services. Look for the company's physical location, including the address and phone number. Before making a purchase, call the phone number to verify the information you were supplied. Check the company's reliability with organizations like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Online and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as well as both government and public trade and consumer agencies.
- Determine the company's refund and return policies before you place an order. This will make your purchasing decision easier, since it demonstrates if the company stands behind their product.
- Some Internet sites ask you to create an account with a password. To protect yourself, never use the same password you use for other accounts or sites. And don't reveal your password in response to unsolicited emails, even if they claim to be from your Internet service provider.
- Be cautious if you are asked to supply personal information, such as your Social Security number or personal bank account information. It is not a requirement in making a purchase. The Internet provides a valuable information service for consumers. But some con artists who have used telemarketing, infomercials, newspapers, magazines, and the mail to attract consumers are turning to the Internet and online services to promote their scams.
- Pay attention to the address of the merchant's site, the Uniform Resource Locator (URL). The URL ensures that you are dealing with the correct company.
- Check and re-check the information you are entering when you place an order. For example, an accidental keystroke could get you two refrigerators when you wanted only one. Remember that what you enter into the order window is what they will process.
- Make sure the shipping charge is acceptable to you and all charges are calculated correctly. Determine what the shipping times and guarantees will be to ensure your purchases will arrive on time. If you need the merchandise earlier, ask if it is possible to make your order "expressed" for an additional fee.
- If you find a billing error on your monthly credit card statement, you may dispute the charge and withhold payment in that amount while the error is being checked. The error might be a charge for the wrong amount, for something you didn't accept, or for something that wasn't delivered as agreed. Write to the creditor (include your name, address, and credit or charge card number) and describe the billing error. Send your letter as soon as possible. It must reach the creditor within 60 days after the first (erroneous) bill was mailed to you. The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days of receiving it, unless the problem has already been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two complete billing cycles - but not more than 90 days - after receiving your letter.
- Print out a copy of your order and confirmation number for your records. This information could be useful if you need to contact the merchant again regarding the transaction.
- Know your rights. The same laws that protect you when you shop by phone or mail apply when you shop in cyberspace: Under the law, a company should ship your order within the time stated in its ads (online or offline). If no time is promised, the company should ship your order within 30 days after receiving it, or give you an "option notice." This notice gives you the choice of agreeing to the delay or canceling your order and receiving a prompt refund. There is one exception to the 30-day rule. If a company doesn't promise a shipping time, and you are applying for credit to pay for your purchase, the company has 50 days after receiving your order to ship.