Whenever possible, a physical store is always the best place to go when shopping, and for obvious reasons too! You can try on the gear, check for defects, and generally get a very good idea of what you’re looking at before you drop the cash.
However, we’re not always so lucky to have a physical location to visit, and hence the need for online buying. Depending on how savvy you are, this can be a breeze or more painful than a visit to the dentists. Below are some basic rules to help you on your way.
Rule #1: Always check the official website
The official website gives you the benchmark for pricing, and lets you know if there is an official distributor near you. This prevents you from getting ripped off, and ensures much higher chances of a responsive customer service, should something go wrong. They are the best sites to purchase off if the shipping is reasonable.
Rule #2: Read user reviews
This applies to both the product and the retailer. Because you have no chance to see and touch the product for yourself, you’re going to rely on others to do it for you. Make sure you check out differing opinions from different users to see if the product is suitable for you.
If you’re purchasing from an online retailer, make sure you check forum reviews for the service quality of the retailer. Some sites are more responsive than others, and will be happy to take all your questions.
Rule #3: Google for coupon codes
Sometimes you can save yourself a couple of dollars for websites that have promotions with coupon codes. Many official websites offer a discount for newsletter sign-ups and the like, so do look out for those.
Rule #4: Familiarise yourself with taxes
Some countries and locations charge a certain tax for items sold there, for example, UK has VAT. This may or may not apply to you, so do check. You will typically see the tax charges in the checkout basket which will help you find out more about it.
You should also be familiar with the customs tax in your own country. There is usually a limit to the value of the items you’re shipping in before you’re slapped with a tax. For example, Singapore’s limit is SGD $400, while Malaysia’s is RM 200.
Rule #5: Know the different shipping methods
There are generally 3 main types of shipping methods – regular international mail, registered international mail, and expedited international mail. They will have their own fancy names depending on the country’s postal services and may be further subdivided by speed.
It’s always good to find out how your items are being shipped to you, so you know whether the costs are reasonable, and how long they’ll take to reach you. Occasionally, you can also request for different shipping methods if the seller is willing to accommodate.
You can also use an overseas address shipping service to help you with products that do not ship worldwide. There are several shipping sites now that help to consolidate purchases in the US and send it to your local address. In Singapore, we have Vpost.
Engaging the minefields of eBay
If you’re unable to find what you need on the official site and the resellers, your next bet is eBay. However, bewarned that this can be potentially frustrating and tricky. You’ll need some patience and luck to make it work. Here are a few tips to ensure you don’t get ripped off
Tip #1: Read the item details
Many eBay listings rely on impatient buyers who do not read the item description in detail to make a quick buck. They may put brand names in the item title to get search hits, but says in the description that it’s an item like that brand, and not the brand itself. Photos may also be deceiving, as they may show a different colour or cut, so make sure you read!
Tip #2: Check the seller’s credibility
Feedback is a good way to see if the seller is trustworthy or not. I usually only go for sellers with positive feedbacks of 1000+ to 10000+ and up. Do also have a quick scan of the comments to make sure they are not clones. eBay is a lot more secure these days, so feedback is generally a good indicator of seller honesty. For added safety, you can opt to buy only from eBay stores that sell brand new merchandise with tags.
Tip #3: Don’t be greedy
Greed is the surest way to get ripped off! If you’re buying a brand name product, it will seldom be available on the cheap. If the price is too good to be true, it usually is. Most brand names will only go around 10% off their official retail unless there’s a sale. Many times, you’re more likely to get package deals or freebies like shipping thrown in, instead of a large price discount.
Tip #4: Shipping options
Not all sellers ship overseas or to your location. Make sure that they do, before you commit to a purchase. Also, do compare shipping costs between sellers, they may vary greatly depending on the shipping options and whether they consolidate shipping for multiple options.
Top #5: Use PayPal
For transactions on eBay, I feel that PayPal is the safest payment mode, and you can still use your credit or debit card through it. eBay and PayPal have the same owners, so it’s pretty tightly integrated. There are many buyer protections in place if you pay through PayPal, which greatly mitigates the chances of losing your money should a deal go bad.
Alright, and that’s it! This is longer than I expected, but better to keep your wallets safe than sorry eh? So ready your internet shopping bags, and off you go!
This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but if you feel that something crucial is missing, do drop an email to me and I’ll see if I can’t put it up.