USING PRIMARY E-MAIL ACCOUNT
Many of us save bank details, financial statements, salary records and passwords in primary mail accounts. So, it is risky to use these accounts for shopping. If you are a frequent shopper, buy an identity theft insurance cover. It isn't expensive and will provide cover if something does go wrong.
WHEN CASH ON DELIVERY IS NOT AVAILABLE
Cash on delivery and net banking are the safest ways to transact online. However, if these options are not available, go for a virtual credit card. It is an add-on 'card' issued on your primary credit card. All relevant details are available only online. It has a validity of a few months and you can set a credit limit of your choice.
Many websites require you to register before placing an order or even viewing products. The web merchant might ask you to enter personal details such as name and address. This should act as a red alert. Such information can be used to send spam mails. Don't answer questions that you think are unnecessary for processing the order. Moreover, such sites require you to agree to certain terms and conditions. Read through these as you might be giving permission to share your details. E-merchants often share your information with affiliate companies. An easy way to avoid privacy issues is to shop from sites that are members of a 'seal-of-approval' programme that sets voluntary guidelines for privacy-related practices such as TRUSTe (www.truste.org) and VeriSign (www.verisign.com).
KNOTTY SHIPMENT AND RETURN POLICIES
Sites claim to offer 'free shipping', but there are invariably conditions such as minimum order, charge for transit insurance or a convenience fee. Check shipping policy for product or region-specific delivery charges. For instance, you may have to pay Octroi, a tax levied by states governments on products entering the state. Also, what appears on screen may not be what you get. Online retailers may have an 'exactness not guaranteed' disclaimer. There may also be a list of non-refundable items, such as perfumes and jewellery. A safer option is to shop from sites that let try the products. Also, find out who pays for shipping when returning the order or if there is a time limit. Some retailers levy a restocking charge if you return a product.
You see a 40% discount sign and conclude you are getting a good deal. However, check the current market price of the product before clicking on the buy button. Prices of products, especially electronics, fall within a few months of launch. Many websites, however, give discounts on the original maximum retail price. A simple solution is to compare the price on a site like Junglee.com. Or, check out the price at your neighbourhood store. You may get a better deal there, especially if you go for an exchange offer. Also, find out about the site's business model. Is it an e-retailer, where the site is the seller, or a trading platform such as ebay, where the site is just a middleman? In the latter, the guarantee comes from the seller and not the website facilitating the transaction. Similarly, complaints will have to be resolved with the seller, not the site that lists the product.