Online shopping is convenient, quick and embraced by most every kind of connected consumer. While it is well-known for the benefits, few are aware of the darker side of purchasing from a "virtual store". Get the facts behind shopping with the click of a mouse, and use them to decide if your next purchase will be better made in person. (Shopping from the comfort of your couch has major benefits - and some unpleasant side effects. Check out Shopping Online: Convenience, Bargains And A Few Scams.)
IN PICTURES: 5 Money-Saving Shopping Tips

  1. Shipping Fees
    With the cost of fuel being an ever-increasing consideration, it may be easy to assume that having your purchase shipped to your door is both efficient and affordable. Pay close attention to that final shipping fee, however. Some stores charge the same price for all packages (making light or tiny bundles a bad buy), while others charge a separate fee for each item shipped. Even worse, many retailers punish their most loyal shoppers by charging more for every dollar spent, making that expensive but dainty gift pricier than necessary.
  2. Inaccurate Sizing
    Most women know their dress size, but are also aware that variations can occur. With the fickle nature of U.S. catalog sizes, one brand may fit true to size while others can run small. Perhaps the best way to assure that your online purchase will be a perfect fit is to research the return policy to see if returns are free or can be done via your closest brick-and-mortar location. If not, it may be wise to see about trying items on before you buy. (If you must be a virtual shopper, check any comments or feedback left by others who have purchased similar items. They often share information about whether a brand runs true to size.)

  3. Misleading Product Descriptions
    One of the benefits of shopping online is that it is a truly visual experience. If a product looks appealing on your computer screen, it may very well look superb in real life. Unfortunately, the pictures and descriptions that accompany a product page can be confusing or even completely fraudulent. The more trusted the shopping site, the less risk you'll have of ordering based on an ambiguous photo or depiction. Stick to sites you know, and if the image and narrative don't jive - don't buy. (For many, online banking has become a day-to-day routine. Still, there are some holdouts who refuse to accept the method. Check out Online Banks: Lower Costs And Little Sacrifice.)

  4. Payment Issues
    Having an adequate credit line may seem like all the discerning shopper needs to finalize an online purchase. In some regrettable instances, however, customers have been met at the final stages of their purchase with slow-loading pages, error messages, or no indication that their order went through - leaving them to wonder if their purchase was even made. Many websites instruct shoppers to "avoid hitting the payment button twice", since this could leave the consumer with a duplicate order (and double the bill). Be aware of how the payment page works before you hit "submit", and if a retailer won't allow a final review of your order before you buy, it may be best to walk away.

  5. Poor Packaging
    Some sites are known for their excellence in packaging. Amazon, for example, has even been criticized for its over-zealous (and reportedly wasteful) packaging, using more bubble wrap, inner boxes and packing tape for its packages than many of its competitors. On the other side of the spectrum reside retailers who skimp in this category, leaving a wake of frustrated shoppers who open their online purchase to find broken and damaged items. Even those who have a good track record of making sure their shipments are secure can't escape the casualties that can be caused by a careless order fulfillment employee or the hasty delivery driver. The only way to be absolutely certain that your purchase will get to you safe and sound is to pick it up from the store yourself.

IN PICTURES: 5 Ways To Control Emotional Spending

The Bottom Line
Buying online can be a gamble, so it is always best to allow for a little wiggle room with your purchase. If you need a gift for an event coming up within a day or two after your order is scheduled to arrive, you may not have time to rectify issues and get a replacement in time. Still, shopping via the web can be a money-saving endeavor, provided you're patient, wise, and up for the challenges. (Don't get taken for a ride. Learn the pros and cons before the salesperson makes a pitch. See Car Shopping: New Or Used?)

Find out what happened in financial news this week. Read Water Cooler Finance: GM's Dramatic Return.

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