The holidays are just around the corner, which means that it's the season for holiday shopping. Once upon a time that might have meant spending hours at the mall perusing the aisles. These days, many of us spend as much, if not more, of our holiday budget online. Online shopping is quick, easy, and accessible. It can be done almost anywhere, at any time of day. Whether it's during your lunch break or after you've tucked the kids into bed, you may find online shopping convenient for your lifestyle.
Alongside the benefits of online shopping, however, there are certain challenges. Unlike with brick and mortar stores, online stores can be hard to make returns to, and it can be unclear exactly what you're getting. Pictures can be deceiving, and it's easy to order an item online only to be disappointed with poor quality or shoddy craftsmanship when it arrives. To avoid these disappointments, it's important to be smart about judging the quality of items online before you purchase them. Here's a guide to help!
Step 1: Read Product Descriptions Carefully
Reading product descriptions is a key aspect of online shopping. An honest product description will inform you about many aspects of the product you're buying. It will let you know exactly what is included in your purchase, so you never have to wonder if there are actually four cups coming as depicted in the picture or if they're just selling you one.
Product descriptions also detail the materials used in production. This can help you make a judgment about the quality of the product and how well the product is likely to hold up over time. If you're not familiar with the materials they mention, do some research before making your purchase.
If you're purchasing electronics, it's especially important to ensure your familiarity with the specs of your purchase. There's nothing worse than buying a gaming laptop only to realize that there's no disc reader for your old laptop games.
Step 2: Try and Locate a Sizing Guide for Clothes
Alongside reading product descriptions, if you're buying clothing online it's important to learn about the company's sizing. In an ideal world, a medium shirt would fit the same no matter where you bought it from, but in the world we actually live in, sizes vary greatly based on company and material. When purchasing items online, this can be especially troublesome.
Fortunately, many online stores have come to understand this difficulty and have begun placing sizing guides on their websites. Some sizing guides are simple and say things like "fits snug" or "fits loose," while others give more precise body measurements for their clothing items. When you're in a situation where you can't try the item on or even hold it up and look at it, any sort of sizing guide can give you a leg up.
Step 3: Read Reviews
When it comes to online shopping, reviews are your best friend. Read more than one review, and don't let any single review put you off your purchase. There will always be one or two unhappy customers, even with a near-perfect product. When reading reviews, you're looking for trends. If, for example, multiple people say the product broke shortly after they received it, it's probably not well-made. On the other hand, if multiple people say that the customer service was great and the product has held up well over time, you can feel more confident about that purchase.
Keep in mind that not all websites will publish negative reviews. Sites like Amazon or Etsy, which sell from multiple lenders, tend to have a good collection of reviews from all ends of the spectrum. Many personal businesses, however, moderate their reviews to ensure that their top reviews are the ones people see regularly. While it's hard to blame a company for this, if you're trying to vet out major issues a quick google search for the company's name can often do the trick. In this case, no news is good news. Those who have left positive reviews will generally be content to leave their reviews on the site, while those who've had major issues with the company are more likely to complain in forums or Yelp pages. You can also look on Youtube to see if anyone has done a video review of the product.
Step 4: Learn About the Return Policy
Even if you've done everything right when deciding whether or not to purchase a product, there's a chance you won't be satisfied when the item arrives. Buyer's remorse occurs even in brick and mortar stores, so it stands to reason that when you can't look at or touch a product in person, there are going to be times you regret your purchase. There may also be times when the product arrives damaged and may need to be exchanged.
Learning about a company's return policy ahead of time can save you frustration down the road. This is another time where reading customer reviews can help you out. Many customers will write in reviews if they've had to return products or deal with the customer service aspect of the company. Learning how these interactions have gone with other customers can help you decide whether it will be a comfortable company to work with in the even that you are not satisfied with your purchase.
Purchasing items online doesn't have to be a scary experience, and you don't have to settle for low-quality items simply because you're not there to test-drive the products and ensure their durability. Often, those same test drives have been done by the people who have purchased the product ahead of you. By taking time to do your research on a product, you can make an informed decision about the right purchase for you.