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E-commerce has become a fact of modern life, with millions of people now shopping regularly from the convenience of their computers. Many retailers, from Amazon to ZGallerie, have websites where you can purchase products online, including flowers, pet food, and tonight’s dinner. Why this explosion? Shopping online saves time and money. As Internet security has improved, consumers are more willing to give out their credit card numbers and almost all websites now accept credit cards.
Let’s say you’re looking for a bestselling novel. You can comparison shop to find the best price, order the book, and have it shipped overnight. The whole transaction can be done in minutes, saving a trip to the store. Better yet, you may receive a substantial discount off the cover price and pay no sales tax.
How to Buy Online
While every site differs a bit, you’ll find many similarities. Most sites are like electronic catalogs. You browse for merchandise in various categories or search for specific items. Once you find something you want to buy, add it to your electronic shopping cart and continue on.
Ecommerce accounts for over 1.5 trillion dollars worth of financial transactions annually.
To buy the merchandise, you fill out a form, providing information such as your name, e-mail address, shipping information, and credit card number. Usually you are advised how long it will take for delivery. Some sites e-mail an order confirmation along with a tracking number.
Within this general procedure, there are myriad variations. Some sites, like computer stores, build computers to your specifications. At certain apparel sites, you “try on” clothes using a virtual model. Many sites have customer service representatives who you can contact by e-mail or chat with in real time should you need assistance. Since customer service has become as vital to online shopping as it is in the real world, expect to see great emphasis on making e-commerce a friendly experience.
Paying for Your Merchandise
Online shopping has also made paying for goods easier than ever. Many of the sites people tend to shop at most frequently allow consumers to create an online account and store their shipping and payment information. That means in order to buy new items, all you have to do is login, select the items you want to purchase, and confirm the order. No need to track down your credit card. No need to retype you home address. If you are using a secure home computer, you can often keep yourself logged in, so you don’t even have to enter your username and password.
Online payment providers, such as PayPal, also make it simple to provide your payment information to online merchants, and can offer a better measure of security for lesser-known websites. If a site accepts payment via PayPal, simply select this option at the checkout. In most cases, you will be taken directly to PayPal’s site, where you just have to enter your PayPal username and password. There is no need to provide the merchant with your credit card information.
The rise of mobile devices has created a whole new way to shop online. Many of the world’s most popular merchants now offer their own mobile app, which provides users with a mobile-optimized shopping experience, providing all the benefits of their online store, as well as many mobile-only perks. For instance, some traditional stores include special features on their mobile app that allow you check prices and find special savings while you’re browsing items in their physical store. Some of these apps can even track your location in the store and let you know about special savings you may have missed. Many also allow you to select items on your phone, pay for them, and have them waiting for you when you arrive at the store.
Nearly 200 million Americans shop online.
All it takes to set up an online store is a computer and an Internet connection. Most website hosting plans include free software to quickly and easily create an online store front, which makes it easy for small business owners to take advantage of the Internet to increase their consumer base. Unfortunately, it also makes it easy for fraudsters to enter the online shopping arena.
Look for ecommerce sites that use third-party transaction processing options such as Google Wallet and PayPal. That way you never have to provide your financial information directly to the merchant.
Another precaution you can take is to stick with sites that utilize a trusted payment system, such as PayPal, Google Checkout, or Amazon Payments. If the store uses one of these services, when you check out you will be taken to the payment provider’s site to process your payment, which means you never have to provide your credit card information to the unknown website.
Finally, In the event of problems with online merchants, contact your local Better Business Bureau. For those in the U.S., the Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission may be able to help.
Whether you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift or a new pair of shoes for next week’s company dinner, the Internet offers a seemingly endless selection for anyone’s budget. While there are too many shopping sites to begin to list them here, there are some easy ways to find the store you’re looking for.
Start with the stores you already know. Whatever your favorite retail chain, chances are they have an online presence. They probably have an app for your smartphone too. If you love a local vender, check with them to see if they sell anywhere online. If you’re looking for a more specialized store, or for a particular brand or type of product, try a search engine to find the right site. Online savings sites, such as PriceGrabber, allow you to sort deals by categories and browse multiple sites at one time for the best savings. Online blogs, social media feeds, and shopping forums can also be a great way to find the products you’re looking for.