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Price comparison websites let you search for the best deals.

 

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Gerber Life Family Times Archive

FinancialIt's difficult to believe, but just a few decades ago the act of shopping for consumer goods was an activity done at something old-timers called a "store"—a building constructed of bricks and mortar. Back then, you would drive—often many miles—just to find a particular record (ah, another concept for the ages!), clothing, or the newest gadget—a personal computer! Remember when your options were limited by how far you were willing to drive or by the number of catalogs you received in the mail? Remember that wonderful day each fall when the holiday "wish book" arrived in the mail from everyone's favorite retail store chain? Ahh, the good old days!

Well, haven't things changed? With the advent and proliferation of the Internet, shopping has become an art form. If you have a desire for a peculiar object, chances are someone, somewhere, has an online store where you can get it in every size, shape, and color—and then have it delivered directly to your door. Never again will shoppers be limited to a narrow selection of items found at the traditional department store. With just a few keystrokes you can find that perfect powder blue leisure suit in a size 48, extra long and never leave the comfort of your home. Aside from widening our shopping circle, the web world has thrown the hobby of collecting into another realm. Finding obscure collectibles that complete a collection used to mean a lifetime of weekends spent searching from one antique store, flea market, or yard sale to the next, just hoping to find that mint condition, blue-haired, 6-inch troll figure to take the place of the one your brother used as a participant in his evil childhood experiments.

FinancialShopping online provides a multitude of benefits. From opening up shopping options to those in more rural areas and making price comparison shopping infinitely easier, to making the job of locating and obtaining obscure and hard-to-find items seem like child's play, once you start shopping online you'll have a difficult time stopping. The first main benefit to online shopping is the ability to comparison shop. For many items, being tied to a local department store can translate into artificially higher prices since there are no other competing retailers to consider. Now, a quick web browser search for a specific model number will return a multitude of online retailers who sell the exact same product. After some reading and note taking, you'll soon have a list of possible retailers offering the best price.

In doing such investigating, make sure you also take into consideration taxes and shipping costs when looking at your final price. When dealing with an online retailer for the first time, be cautious and read any available reviews and customer comments you can locate. You may also want to make such purchases with a credit card that offers buyers protection against unscrupulous retailers when it comes to order delays, delivery problems, damage, or warranty claims.

Another way to comparison-shop is to use any of a number of online shopping sites that currently exist. Simply entering a product name or model number sets the site in motion and, in seconds, the site will scour thousands of internet retailers and return a list of all those who carry the product along with the current price and often even applicable tax and shipping charges. Such sites can save you a great deal of time in conducting searches, reading, and analyzing results.

When you're hard-pressed to find a specific item, there is also the option of one of the various online auction services. From antiques, collectibles, and art, to heavily discounted designer clothing, just about anything you could possibly imagine hits the electronic auction block at one time or another. With the laws of supply and demand in effect, you may just be fortunate and find that your interest in vintage seltzer bottles is rare. If few others share your interest, you may just find that you're the only bidder.

When participating in online auctions the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends the following tips and warnings:

  • Know with whom you're doing business. Confirm an online seller's physical address and phone number in case you need to contact them.
  • Remember, legitimate companies do not ask for financial information from you via email or "pop-up" messages.
  • Read product descriptions carefully and "read between the lines." Words such as "closeout," "vintage," or "refurbished" can be clues that an item is in less than pristine condition. Name brands with prices that are too good to be true may be counterfeit.
  • Never send cash as payment. Paying with a credit or charge card provides you with purchase protection under the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under the law, you have the right to dispute charges under certain circumstances and can temporarily withhold payment while the creditor is investigating. In addition, you are generally liable for no more than $50.00 in charges per card if your card is used without your knowledge or permission. Many cards do not hold consumers responsible for any unauthorized charges made online and some card issuers may provide additional warranty, return, and/or purchase protection. Check with your credit card issuer for details regarding your particular card.
  • Know the terms of the deal including return or refund policies and delivery methods and dates. The law requires sellers to ship items as promised or within 30 days after the order date if no specific date is promised.
  • Keep a paper trail of your purchase and transaction history including the original product description and price.
  • Be sure to factor in shipping and taxes to know your final cost and make sure you are comparing "apples to apples" when comparison shopping.
  • Email is not a secure means by which to send your financial or personal information—never email information like your account number, password, or Social Security number. When entering information on a retailer's website, verify that the site is secure by looking for a "lock" icon on the browser's status bar or a URL for a website that begins "https:" (where the "s" stands for "secure").
  • Be sure to use anti-virus and firewall software on your computer and keep them updated.
  • If you can't find a privacy policy on the company's website, don't deal with them. You need to ensure that your information is secure and will not be made available to anyone else.

Additionally, you may want to consider obtaining a specific credit card for the sole use of making online purchases. By doing so, you protect your financial information from being available through a variety of sources (5 or 6 different credit cards). Use of a single card also makes it easier to monitor monthly statements for erroneous charges.

So when that next big purchase comes around, consider devoting a little time to some online research. You just may find what you're looking for at a considerable savings!

Sources:
Federal Trade Commission—www.ftc.gov

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.



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