7 things to consider when you're shopping online

Shopping online is one of our favourite pastimes. A big part of the appeal for many is the bargains that can be found and being able to access products that aren’t available locally. For others, it might be the convenience of shopping from the comfort of home, at any time of day or night.

Some people choose to search for hard to find products from overseas websites. Others choose to keep their shopping dollar inside of Australia. But regardless of where you part with your hard earned cash, there are some things that you need to know.

For local and overseas purchases

1. Who is the seller?

One of the very first things to do before committing to any online purchase is to research the seller. That is, who are you potentially buying from?

Consider the following:

  • Reviews: Check out what previous customers of the seller have had to say. Have they had great shopping experiences or have there been problems?
  • Ratings: If buying from an auction site, check the seller’s rating to ensure that they have been a good seller and see how long they have been selling for.
  • Credibility: Does the seller have a credible online presence? That is, what is the overall impression you get of the seller after researching them online and checking out their social media pages?

Just a few minutes of research should give you a feel of whether or not a seller deserves your business.

2. Who will be liable for lost or damaged products?

Occasionally, things get damaged or go missing in transit. Therefore, if a seller provides a tracking and insurance option, then you should seriously consider taking them up. This would allow you to track the movement of your parcel and have a fall back position, should your parcel get lost or damaged in transit.

Tip: Check the terms and conditions displayed on the seller’s website. If you can’t find any details on their site, contact the seller to discuss tracking and insurance options.

For international purchases

3. Import duties, Customs tax and other charges

When it comes to buying things from overseas sellers, you’ll likely be required to pay duties, taxes and processing charges on goods valued at over AUD $1,000. Therefore, you should determine who will be responsible for payment of any charges imposed upon goods being shipped into Australia. Typically, the buyer will be responsible for the charges. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection explains the process for goods valued over AUD $1,000.

Tip: If buying goods valued at over $1,000 Australian dollars, first determine how much the additional charges may be and factor that into the purchase price. This tax calculator is a good starting point.

4. Product support and warranty

Parallel imports are products bought from a seller, who does not have permission from the manufacturer to sell those products into Australia. If you buy a parallel import, then a local manufacturer is not required to help you if the product becomes faulty. Further, you may not be able to get product support or repair from the local manufacturer.

Make sure that any warranties or guarantees offered are valid in Australia and that the product has an authorised repairer at a location convenient to you.

Tip: Check the product description and the terms and conditions displayed on the seller’s website to see if your purchase comes with a manufacturer’s warranty, which applies in Australia. If silent, then make enquiries with the seller.

5. Exchange rates

International websites will usually display prices in its own currency. This means that you need to calculate the price that you will be paying in Australian dollars. Failing to do so may result in paying significantly more for a product, than what you expected.

Tip: Use a currency converter to calculate the exchange rate before making an overseas purchase.

6. Electrical compatibility

Due to differences in voltage, electrical equipment made for some overseas countries cannot be operated in Australia, unless it is first connected to a transformer, or the device has a self-switching power supply. Therefore, always satisfy yourself that the goods that you are about to buy can be safely operated in Australia.

Tip: Before, purchasing, ensure that the packaging is marked with the Australian regulatory compliance symbol or RCM – a tick surrounded by a triangle.

7. Prohibited and restricted products

Make sure that the product that you are about to purchase for use in Australia is not prohibited or restricted in any way. For example, the importation of some types of laser pointers, cosmetics, pencils and dog collars into Australia is prohibited. A prohibited or restricted product can result in the seizure of the product by Australian Customs and ultimately, the product being forfeited.

Tip: Make appropriate investigations before purchasing any product, which could potentially be prohibited in Australia. The Government’s guide to restricted and prohibited imports is a good starting point.

What to do when things go wrong

Just like when shopping in your local shopping mall, things can go wrong when shopping online. When things do go wrong, contact the seller to discuss and resolve your concerns. If you are not satisfied with the outcome, then you may wish to contact your bank to request a chargeback. If successful, this means that your bank will post a credit to your account for the purchase amount.

Tip: Consider making payment via PayPal for additional buyer protection.

Final word

Shopping online can be fun and come with plenty of benefits. However, there can sometimes be some downside for the unsuspecting. Always, do a little research about who you will be buying from and make some enquiries. This will go a long way to ensure that your online shopping experiences are successful.