Well, here it is November and that means it’s time for us all to get started on Christmas. In stores around town I have already seen the bloom of red and green displays touting the desperate customer need for whichever item was on sale. A few displays are hawking Thanksgiving, but they are only as plentiful as the post-Halloween sales of candy and kiddie costumes. Of course, going out shopping is a drag because of my need for mobility assistance so I do a lot of my shopping online.
Most of my online purchases are made with Amazon.com. You have to be careful to purchase items marked as sold or fulfilled by Amazon, but doing so will make sure that you are covered by Amazon’s generous return and refund policies. They’re a breath of fresh air to work with when the occasional problem arises. I also take advantage of Amazon Prime, and my membership gets me free two-day shipping; more importantly, it provides me free access to thousands of on demand video content. It costs $80 a year to be a member, but I figure I give $8/month to Netflix and the same to Hulu and all they have is video content. They don’t ship anything to me for free. The $6.66 I spend for this is a no brainer. In fact, since there is so much duplication, I think I may drop either Hulu or Netflix, perhaps both, since Prime offers the same materials for the most part.
I have a number of other companies that I truck with. Electronics firms, radio control component companies and surplus electronics parts in addition to some favorite clothing and shoe stores online. I have dealt quite successfully with them in the past, and their customer protection and support is pretty good. For the last three Christmas holidays I made no local purchases for gifts at all, instead buying them online and letting the seller gift wrap and deliver the various gifts directly to the lucky recipient. It made for a fun project too, with different family members and friends pointing out different items they encountered and liked enough to suggest them. A sort of treasure hunt ensued as I took one person at a time and found the gift for them I felt was the best fit. Of course, I also found a lot of ideas along the way, and some of these made it into the final selection list. I managed to be entirely relaxed while I watched others around me dashing here and there, wrapping paper and ribbon shards flying, right up to the 11th hour.
What I’m saying is that online shopping has definitely come into its own, and in 9 out of 10 cases, a little online searching can bring the lowest price from the most supportive companies. Whether or not you’re disabled, shopping at the speed of light is a lot more pleasant for me than fighting the crowds and speaking with ill informed clerks. I use Amazon so much because of their customer oriented support policies, their fast shipping (especially free 2 day with Prime), and the huge inventory they represent at very decent prices. But not everything I’m looking for, or the best price on an item is found at Amazon. For all of the rest, I am a PayPal fanatic, using the account to pay in the many (and ever increasing) number of sellers who accept PayPal directly, and using my account’s debit card where the vendor didn’t support PayPal. Both methods provide a great deal of safety in online transactions. For all practical purposes, PayPal is like a combination of Western Union and a credit union. My membership in PayPal has saved me from fraudulent charges on three different occasions. I was never very inconvenienced by the incidents, PayPal just sent me a new debit card and that was that. No monetary loss. So I strongly recommend that people use Amazon for its safety, support, and average good pricing, but for the rest I suggest PayPal. I got started with PayPal as a vendor. I used them for my merchant account and loved their excellent records, decent fees, and dogged security. I simply kept the account and use it for purchasing now. No regrets. And yes, definitely yes, I do use my PayPal with Amazon in spite of my belief in their security. Safety often amounts to mere foresight.
Whether you use a protected card or PayPal for shopping, it’s still best to deal in recognized names, and to do a bit of research on your proposed source. Right off the bat I get a first indication because I use WOT, Web of Trust, which uses user based review ratings to classify the safety in dealing with the company. If they misuse personal information, do not support their products, or sell particularly bad products, WOT will tell you what people have to say by displaying a small colored ring in your browser’s header. It will be green for good sites, light green for passable, yellow for sites which are suspicious and red for a hazard. When I see red or yellow rings, I hit the back arrow and beat it. But I will also look up reviews on Google for both the product and its sellers before I go looking to make an actual purchase choice.
These few steps have kept me from ever having woes with my transactions. No identity theft or lost moneys, knock on wood. So I pass them along as suggestions to others who may have to, or wish to, do their shopping in a less harried way than navigating a bustling mall. The most important thing here is knowing about the thing you’re looking for and knowing something about who you will buy it from is step one. The next step is to make sure that you use a protected instrument –a card or a payment account– specifically designed for internet transaction safety. Following these two general steps can make the difference between celebrating the holidays and lamenting bad memories.