Tips For Online Shopping

Whether you’re doing it in class, at work or as a nice break from your day, most everyone online shops.  The wide variety of websites that offer everything one can imagine combined with the convenience of getting your purchase delivered right to your doorstep makes online shopping ideal and popular.  But what happens when something goes wrong with your purchase? For instance, your purchase never shows up, you receive the wrong item, or the item looks completely different than it did on the website.  Here are a few pointers to help you get on the right track to solving the problem.

The first thing that you should always do when buying something online, whether from a reputable online store like or from a small seller on Ebay, is save all of the papers and e-mails associated with the purchase.  If you have a problem with your order, it will save you a lot of time and worry if you have all the everything in one spot so that you can easily access it.

It’s important to keep the information for ALL online purchases, but depending on what website you ordered from, your protections from a purchase gone wrong are going to vary.  There are three different categories of websites that you can buy from and the actions you take are quite different in each of these categories.

1) Online Stores with Customer Service Representatives:  This is the biggest category of online sellers.  It includes websites for stores that have physical locations like Target, Macy’s and Sports Authority as well as websites like,, and  You will know that you’re dealing with this type of site if they have contact information for customer service representatives that can address your problem directly.  Additionally, the site will include shipping and return policies.  These customer service representatives are in charge of making sure you get the correct item and that you like the product you ordered.  They will be able to fix the problem as long as you have all the necessary information and you aren’t in violation of one of their shipping or returns polices (always read these before ordering).

2) Marketplace websites: These sites allow a large number of independent sellers to sell products on their one main website.  This includes Ebay, Amazon and websites where you use Paypal as your method of payment like Etsy.  The important difference with these websites is that you aren’t buying anything directly from Ebay or Etsy, you are buying from a person that Ebay and Etsy allow to sell on their website.  There are no customer service representatives who can directly help with your problem, instead, these websites offer a process called online dispute resolution.  This allows a third party mediator, employed by the large website, to monitor the problem and eventually determine the outcome.  These processes differ from website to website but the first thing you should always do if you have a problem is contact the independent seller.  Their email or phone number is on the website.  The problem might be simple and the seller will happily fix it.  If you feel ignored by the seller, then you enter the formal online dispute process.   You do this by going to the website and “filing a dispute” with the seller.  After your dispute is filed, you and the seller negotiate on a “platform”.  This just means you send secured messages back and forth that the mediators at Ebay or Paypal.  If you are still not satisfied with what the seller has to offer, you escalate your dispute to a claim.  At this point, the mediator gets to make a decision on behalf and you and the seller and they will issue their decision within 30 days.  This is a very simplified overview of the process, but all these websites offer step by step guides which are provided below.



Amazon: One thing to note about Amazon is that you can buy directly from Amazon, then you would have customer service representatives like described in category one.  If you buy from an individual seller than you can follow the steps at this link:

While this may seem like a long process, it was put in place to protect you from “shady” sellers.  Although these websites police who sell on their site by giving sellers grades and kicking off bad sellers, they can’t keep track of everyone.  Also note that only certain items are covered by this process.  A little symbol will appear next to items that are included in the online dispute process, but always be sure to check the list of exclusions on the website just to be sure you’re covered.

3) Classifieds: These are the websites that allow anyone and everyone to sell on their websites.  The biggest website in this category is Craigslist, but Ebay also has a version called Ebay Classifieds.  These websites have no customer service representatives, no online dispute resolution process and the sellers are not policed by the website.  These sites are full of scams and if something goes wrong, it probably won’t be a quick fix.  You still have the ability to go to small claims court, or, in certain situations, file criminal charges, but both of these don’t immediately fix the problem at hand.  Be careful when buying on these websites!

Now that you know the three different types of websites for online shopping, you can shop smart and safe!  Just remember to always check the type of site that you’re on, so that you know what different remedies you’ll have if something goes wrong. SHOP AWAY! 

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