The Ultimate Shopping Guide

Sandra Prior asked:

Net shopping has really taken off in the last couple of years and there’s a vast amount of goods and services available in the digital megamall. Even so, more skeptical Net users are wary and need convincing of the advantages of shopping online.

After all, most people have a perfectly good mall just a short drive away and you can get most of the things you need there. As for saving money, there are always the seasonal sales. But the fact is, these are the exact reasons for shopping on the Internet. It’s convenient, the choice is amazing, and you can save loads of money.

As with anything though, you have to be aware of the potential pitfalls. The Net offers access to a whole new world of shopping and opens up the free market to individuals as never before. On the other hand, this is unfamiliar territory for most people. You are outside your normal field of reference and you need all sorts of new information, such as how your rights are affected when you buy from abroad, how to separate a good shop from a con job and what security measures protect you from fraud.

Getting Started

The Net brings the mall to your home, but it’s a mall unlike any other you’ve seen – one open to the whole world and with almost no limitations. Sure, you can shop for all the things you would buy on a normal Saturday afternoon trudge around town. If it’s familiar names you’re looking for, you’ll find them online as increasing numbers of players start waking up to the fact that Net shopping is here to stay, and have started offering an online service to their customers.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as Net shopping is concerned. The real benefits come when you get a bit more adventurous and start to explore. You can save money by buying from Internet-only retailers that don’t have the expensive overheads of shopfront premises and pass the savings on to their customers; buy from stores overseas and benefit from their lower prices; and find unusual or hard-to-come-by items at the click of a button. Shopping will never be the same again.

With such a wealth of choice available, you will never need help to get started. For most purposes, a good jumping-off point is one of the many shopping directories that have sprung up all over the Net recently. These provide links to selected shops and save you a lot of browsing if you’re looking for anything vaguely mainstream.

Some of these sites are extremely useful and will help you enormously when you start shopping online. Others are frankly rubbish, so be selective. Look for a site that’s clearly set out with well-defined shopping categories, a profile of each shop with details of any disadvantages to shopping there, and ideally some sort of scoring system so you know where to go.

Shop with Confidence

The biggest concern most people have when they start shopping on the Net is whether it’s secure. Many people are reluctant to send their credit card details off into the ether for fear of them being intercepted and used fraudulently by others to run up enormous bills.  This is an understandable worry, but it’s largely unfounded. Shopping on the Net is as safe as, if not safer than, mail order or telephone shopping, or even paying by credit card in a restaurant. Basically, whenever you give someone your credit card details or let the card out of your sight, you are at risk of fraud. The good news with Net shopping, however, is that there are lots of ways to protect yourself and minimize the risks.

Here comes the science bit; you’re protected in many cases by the kindly technology elves. On shopping sites you will often see assurances that information is transmitted using SSL (Secure Socket layer), a technology used to encrypt all information being sent to and received from a specific Web page or pages. Most mainstream shopping sites use this secure connection when you send your payment details over the Internet. Any information transmitted in this secure way is encrypted for the duration of the transfer. In the unlikely event that it is intercepted en route, it will be absolutely no use to anyone. The retailer decodes the message once it has arrived in order to take payment, but nobody else has access to your details along the way.

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