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Tips for shopping online: What to look out for before you buy

With the holiday season fast approaching, it’s more important than ever to make informed choices when you shop online. Knowing what to look out for before you buy will help you save time and money, but it can be hard to know what the red flags are.

Tips for shopping online: What to look out for before you buy
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  • Cecilia Parker Aranha
  • December 11, 2020
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The Competition and Markets Authority took part in this year’s National Consumer Week by making sure customers know what to look out for before buying a product or service online and to help them understand what to do if something goes wrong.

Here's some useful tips to help you shop online safely.

Fake reviews

More than three-quarters of people are influenced by reviews when they shop online. However, not all reviews are reliable, and some can be fake.

Before you buy:

  • look for verified purchases – this confirms that the person writing the review has purchased through the site;
  • check both positive and negative reviews; and
  • make sure to check that the reviews are about the actual product.

Price comparison sites

Price comparison sites are a convenient way to get the best deals but there are a few things you should consider before you choose to buy from them:

  • shop around – not all comparison sites have the same prices across the board and you can usually find your product at a cheaper price by checking other sites;
  • go direct – before you commit to a purchase through a comparison site or reseller, try going directly to the seller as you might find a better deal; and
  • search results – the order in which products appear on price comparison sites may be affected by the amount of commission companies pay, but you can usually choose to sort results by what matters to you (e.g. price or customer rating).

Misleading claims

Be cautious of false and misleading claims - while the majority of claims about products online are true, some sellers will try to mislead you with claims that are not 100 per cent genuine.

Always be cautious when you see:

Pressure selling

Some sites may be giving a false impression of the availability or popularity of a product. For example, when highlighting that other customers are looking at the same product as you.

Discount claims

If the discount appears too good to be true, that might be the case. Some sites may show discounts that are misleading for example, setting the non-discount price unrealistically high making the discount appear bigger than it really is.

Influencers

It's not always easy to tell if an Influencer is being honest and impartial about a product or service they're reviewing. After all, it's often in their interest to speak positively about the companies they work with to keep them coming back. It doesn't change the fact that all influencers should be declaring if they've been paid, loaned or gifted a product, but not all do!

If you see an influencer's post online, you should consider:

  • Have they declared they've been paid, loaned or gifted a product?
  • Will they earn commission from the links in their post?
  • Why might their review not be completely impartial?

Unfair terms and conditions

When shopping online you may come across terms and conditions that could be unfair. Here’s what you should know as a customer:

  • just because you’ve signed up to terms and conditions doesn’t make them all legally binding;
  • it’s not OK for the seller to say a deposit is non-refundable regardless of the reasons why the contract has had to come to an end;
  • companies should tell you upfront, and in their terms and conditions, if a contract will automatically renew; and
  • it’s not always OK for online sellers to try to bind you to the terms of a contract on the basis simply that you have ticked a box confirming you have ‘read and understood’ the terms and conditions of a purchase.

Cecilia Parker Aranha, Competition and Markets Authority

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