Sunday, 10 March 2013

BLOG -- My Online Shopping Habits (Part 1)

So I've been planning to blog about this for a while. I'm thinking it could be a little helpful to those just getting into the world of online shopping -- it can be a very massive world, depending on what you're shopping for. 

This blog is gonna be in two parts. In the first part, I'm gonna talk about the kind of things I'm think about when deciding to check out a new shopping site. In the second part, I'm going to list some of the sites I frequent for whatever I shop or used to shop for (i.e. what sites have met my approval). And, of course, since I always do this, I'm gonna start with my history of online shopping.

My Online Shopping History
I could be wrong... but I think my first online purchase was back in 2002. I ordered from a site that doesn't exist anymore. I ordered a DVD called DDR Project II. It was a series of AMVs set to the Dance Dance Revolution music, specifically the tracks from the 2nd Mix. Ordering that was quite the venture. I didn't have a credit card then so I filled out a money order. After all these years, I still have the DVD (and I am very happy that I do).

Since then, I have upgraded to a credit card and online shopping hasn't been a stranger to me at all. I've been very fortunate in my 11 years of online shopping to have only experienced major issues two times, and both incidents were resolved favourably. I've had a few times when an order would be cancelled due to product availability, but I was ready for that when I made those orders, so I don't really count those as major issues, especially since I wasn't charged for them.

What I Shop For
When I shop online, it's mainly for video games, books, DVDs, Blu-Ray, music. I also import those (buying products that are released outside of the country I live in). I also order character figures if I want something particular. I have also ordered clothes before, but I rarely do that. This is the problem when you have a lot of interests -- your parameter of what to shop for online just goes out the window, hahaha.

Pre-Site Venturing
So, when a new shopping site comes into my radar, before I even go to the site, I have to do this:

- Research: If I googled the shop name, what results do I get? Does the shop site actually show up as one of the top results? Do multiple people mention the site positively on a legit forum thread or review site? If there are horrible reviews, are there many? What do the horrible reviews say? Would I be willing to take the risk and possibly end up with a horrible experience like what was mentioned in those reviews?

Now, for shopping sites that also have a well-established retail store, they are generally already trustworthy. Just make sure to type in the correct site. Online electronics shops might still need some research, though.

When everything checks out to your approval, time to check out the site!

Venturing into the Site
When I go to a shopping site for the first time, here are some things I check for:

- Does it Ship to My Country?: This is very important, especially when importing. The first thing I do when I go to a site for the first time is check their "Help" or "FAQs" or wherever I think this information would be listed. Sometimes only certain items can be shipped to your country, so you gotta check on that.

- Shipping Costs: To me, even though I know it's essential, shipping costs are the bane of online shopping. It is an extra amount that I wouldn't have to pay for if it was available in a physical store (that I can go to). *Sigh* So, before even buying from the site, I have to be willing to accept the shipping costs.

- What Currency the Current Price is Shown in: This is something you'd have to look out for more often when you're importing. Most sites that specialize in doing international business will have a way to set the site to also display the prices in your country's currency. If not, you might need to have a currency converter tool ready while shopping. Something to keep in mind:

** Even with a currency converter integrated in the site, it is at best a guideline to the final amount. It might change depending on when you are actually charged the order. The currency conversion rate might have changed by then.

So, for example, I go to a site that lists their products in... Japanese Yen. I set the site's currency to also show the prices in Canadian Dollars (CAD). I pre-order a product listed at 1500 Japanese Yen (listed as 20 CAD). Say the site offers free shipping. Now, once the product is available and is shipped out, my credit card gets charged for 1500 Japanese Yen (NOT 20 CAD). Now, on the day I get charged for the 1500 Japanese Yen, let's say the Japanese Yen is stronger than the day I placed the order. After conversions, I end up paying maybe 25 CAD, because the Japanese Yen was stronger when I got charged for the order.

Just... don't be surprised if that happens. Conversion rates could also work for you if the end currency is weaker. Just saying.

- Any Free Shipping Promotions: Does the site offer free shipping? If it does, does the free shipping apply to your country? Yes, it's one way to get you to buy more, but if you strategize (like buying items that you would buy anyway in the future or making one big group buy), taking advantage of a promotion like free shipping could be worth it in the long run.

For me personally, if the product prices and shopping experience are decent, any site that offers free shipping gets bookmarked -- either physically or mentally.

- General Cost of Products: I would definitely not shop somewhere if the prices aren't at least decent or acceptable. That said, some shops, just like with retail shops, offer better prices for certain items. After poking around, I'd get a better sense of what I would shop for from which site.

Some Things to Keep in Mind
Here are some things that I also think about when shopping online. They might not all apply to you.

- USPS > UPS: I don't know how it is in other countries, but if there is a USPS shipping option and a UPS shipping option, take the USPS one for orders going into Canada. From what I've heard, you are less likely to be charged for extra surcharges (like fuel) if you go with USPS. When UPS is the only shipping option available, be aware that you might have to pay more than just the order and shipping costs.

- Customs: Ahh... another bane of online shopping. If you're buying within your country, you don't have to think about this. It's almost like paying taxes on the product. Unless it's been changed, you only get hit with Customs in Canada if the order totals to more than 20 CAD. Other countries will have that set at a different amount for their currency. Some countries might have to pay for customs regardless of the order amount. Find out if your country has something like this and order strategically, if possible. 

Like, if you get hit with customs for orders that total $60, try to place an order that ends up costing $55 to avoid customs. Just also make sure that this is still beneficial when considering the shipping cost.

- Taxes: Of course, when you're buying within your country, be aware that you'll be paying taxes. It's like something you just can't get out of -- you're either paying customs or taxes, lol.

- Buying Used: This could be its own separate blog entry. There are a lot of things to look out for when buying used, and it all depends on which sites you go to. If you plan to buy used (or new) from sites that highly encourage in-person transactions (like Craigslist), do that. Don't even bother with doing online transactions -- it's not worth the risk.

When buying used from sites like eBay or Amazon Marketplace, the first thing to look at is seller rating and feedback. How many good ratings are there vs. the negative ones? What do the negative ratings say? Another thing to look at is what the seller says about the product. Do you accept that condition? If there's not enough details and you have questions, you gotta ask. Before buying, you might also want to ask about the shipping price if it's not listed.

- Pay with Credit Card with Paypal: If you have a good standing credit card linked with your Paypal account and the only option of payment is Paypal, I would suggest paying by credit card through Paypal instead of the default instant bank transfer. That way, you should get charged when the order is shipped. Also, if things happen to go wrong, like you don't receive your item and the seller won't return your e-mails or anything, you can contact your credit card company for a chargeback. I've never used it, so I don't know the full process. To me, it just seems a little safer.

If you've read all of this, thanks for reading! I didn't realize that it would become so long. Feel free to comment on anything, if some of my info is outdated or whatever. If there are other things that you look out for when shopping online, I'd like to know about it! :)

Next week, I will list the sites I either currently frequent or used to frequent. It's my way of saying, "I have checked these out and they make my 'approved' list".

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