Holiday shopping season is now in full swing, so it's a good time to remind everyone that while online shopping provides convenience, it can also lead to major headaches, if not much worse. Take heed of the woeful tale told by Clarabelle Rodriguez in The New York Times this weekend. Ms. Rodriguez went looking for new eyeglasses and contacts online, ordered from a store that listed near to top of Google's search results, and ended up on a hellish roller-coaster ride of overcharges, harassment, and incompetence from the institutions that are meant to protect consumers and citizens such as herself. Yes, all that over eyeglasses.
The Times' in-depth investigative piece is definitely worth a read, even if just to gawk in horror at everything the poor woman went through. The lesson, in the end, is that whenever you shop online -- especially if you're buying from a storefront that isn't a known quantity (and even sometimes when it is) -- always do a bit of research before handing over your credit card number.
Look up the URL and/or store name on sites like Get Satisfaction, Complaints Board, Consumer Affairs, and Ripoff Report to see what past customers had to say about their transactions. If you're on eBay or Amazon's Marketplace, always look at a seller's feedback. I sometimes Google the name of a store plus "review" or "complaint" or "customer service" or something similar just to see what comes up. A Google blog search is particularly useful for digging up dissatisfied customers.
If you see more than the normal amount of complaining or anything resembling what Ms. Rodriguez went through, find somewhere else to buy that thing you want.
It's true that most any store will have some negative feedback. The hope is to avoid the real crazies of the world who are just out to take your money in exchange for faulty product. Sadly, even diligent folk sometimes run afoul of these situations. In such cases, it's also a good idea to know what protections your card has (debit is sometimes different from credit, for instance). And if you run into extremely unhelpful bank reps, use the power of The Force executive customer service.
Safe shopping, everyone.
Image Credit: David G. Klein, The New York Times