Online buying and selling have become important parts of many people's lives. Virtual stores allow people to shop from the comfort of their homes without the pressure of a salesperson. Online marketplaces provide a new and more convenient venue for exchanging virtually all types of goods and services.

Both businesses and customers have embraced online sales as a cheaper and more convenient way to shop. Still, just like anything associated with the Internet, there are benefits and dangers associated with shopping online. Read on to learn how to protect yourself while you use this handy resource.

Key Takeaways

  • Due to the high cost of college, students and parents rely on the Internet to acquire and sell textbooks at affordable prices.
  • Online shopping is a large section of the retail industry.
  • Most brick-and-mortar stores offer online shopping via their websites.
  • Many stores offer a virtual customer service experience to their customers.
  • Buying and selling online can be very convenient and fun, but make sure to protect your financial information when shopping online.

How Does Online Buying Work?

Shopping online is just like heading out to the store. You can often buy the same products online as available in a brick-and-mortar store and can sometimes score better sales.

Finding a Product

When you shop online, you have to start by searching for a product. This can be done by visiting a store's website, or if you are not aware of any store that has the particular item you are looking for, or you'd like to compare prices between stores, you can always search for the items with a search engine and compare the results.

On major retail websites, companies will have pictures, descriptions, and prices. If a company or individual does not have the means to create a website, some sites like Amazon and Etsy make it possible for them to display products or build their own online stores for a monthly fee.

Other websites like eBay provide an auction format in which sellers can display items for a minimum price, and buyers can bid on these items until the listing ends or the seller chooses to award it to a buyer.  Most stores also have placed virtual customer service centers on their websites, so you can either call, email, or chat with a live customer service representative if you have questions.

Buying and Receiving the Product

After selecting a product, the webpage usually has a "checkout" option. When you check out, you are often given a list of shipping and payment options. Shipping options include standard, expedited, and/or overnight shipping. Depending on the shipping company and your location, standard shipping usually takes seven to 21 business days, and expedited shipping can take anywhere from two to six business days.

There are typically various payment options available:

E-Check

This payment option is just like paying directly from your bank account. If you choose to pay by electronic check, you must enter your routing and account numbers. Once this is done, the amount is taken directly from your bank account.

Credit Card

When you pay by credit card, instead of swiping your card as you would at a brick-and-mortar store, you type the required credit card information into the provided fields. Required information includes your credit card number, expiration date, type of card (Visa, MasterCard, etc.), and verification/security number, usually the last three digits on the back of the card above the signature.

Payment Vendors

Payment vendors or payment processing companies, such as PayPal, are e-commerce businesses that provide payment exchange services. They allow people to transfer money to one another without sharing financial information safely. Before you purchase through a payment vendor, you'll need to set up an account first to verify your credit card and/or financial institution information.

Advantages of Online Trading

There are a lot of benefits gained from buying and selling online. These include:

  • Convenience: It is very convenient to shop from where you are located.
  • Cost Savings: With ever-increasing gas prices, shopping online saves you the cost of driving to stores, as well as parking fees. You will also save time by avoiding standing in line, particularly around the holidays, when stores are busy and packed with customers.
  • Variety: The Internet provides sellers with unlimited shelf space, so they are more likely to offer a wider variety of products than they would in brick-and-mortar stores.
  • No Pressure: No salesperson is hovering around and pressuring you to purchase in a virtual or online store.
  • Easy Comparison: Shopping online eliminates the need to wander from store to store comparing prices.

Disadvantages of Online Trading

There are also disadvantages to buying and selling online. These include:

Increased Risk of Identity Theft

When paying for your goods online, it can be straightforward for someone to intercept sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, home address, phone, and other account numbers.

Vendor Fraud

If the vendor/seller is fraudulent, he or she might accept your payment and either refuse to send you your item or send you the wrong or a defective product. Trying to rectify an incorrect order with a vendor through the Internet can be a hassle.

U.S. consumers can report fraud, abuse, and incidents of identity theft with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Protecting Yourself While Shopping Online

Overall, the advantages of shopping online outweigh the disadvantages. That said, it is important to note that while they might be smaller in number, the disadvantages can be a major hardship.

While shopping online, it is essential to protect yourself and your information. Here are some tips that can help you take care of yourself:

Invest in Technology

It is a great idea to install antivirus and anti-phishing programs on your computer. An antivirus program will protect your computer from viruses. An anti-phishing program will attempt to protect you via cybersecurity from illegitimate sites that are designed to look like legitimate sites but actually collect your personal information for illegal activities.

Be Careful

Vendors do not have the right to ask for certain information. If a website requests your Social Security number, it is probably a scam. You will need to research the company requesting the information or exit that site as quickly as possible.

Research

If you are searching for an item using search engines, and you encounter a store or a website you have not heard about, make sure you check the bottom of the pages for an SSL logo.

SSL is a standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. To be able to create an SSL connection, a web server requires an SSL certificate.

Shipping Check

Always read shipping policies posted on the seller's website or beneath the product listing. Some sellers allow you to return an item within a specific period of time, while other vendors never accept returns.

The Bottom Line

Buying and selling online can be very convenient and rewarding, but you always have to protect yourself. If a deal looks too good to be true, it usually is. If you don't feel 100% secure on a particular site, leave it, and find something else. Also, make sure that your computer is well protected before you begin any transaction that involves sensitive information. Many scams on the Internet can negatively affect your credit score and cost you money, so be proactive in your research to get the most out of shopping online.