Value Shopping Online
It is a fascinating time to be a consumer in a free market economy. We are witnessing a massive shift in our economic engine from a traditional brick and mortar economy to a digital economy. It is true that this shift has been underway for two decades, but 2020 has greatly accelerated this transition. Out of necessity, many of us have been forced to make large online purchases that we normally would have spent the better part of a Saturday shopping around our hometown. The internet has historically been an important part of the purchasing process. Product research, consumer reviews, and price comparisons are common online components of the informed shopping experience. However, recently, the Buy Now part of the experience is more likely to take place on a laptop or smartphone.
For better or for worse, the digital economy is here. As consumers, it is our responsibility to be informed about our online purchasing decisions. People have been selling snake oil since the beginning of trade. And, believe it or not, it’s still happening today on hundreds of websites across the globe.
As our online shopping practice evolves to regularly include big ticket items like furniture and automobiles, our responsibility to understand the fine print becomes more important. Below is a quick check list that will help you maximize the value of your digital dollar. Some of these tips are general and can be applied across industries and some are specific to the furniture industry.
Price Comparison – Given that most product manufacturers set authorized pricing standards, spending hours scouring the internet for the best deal could be a fruitless venture. In fact, most of the time the manufacturers themselves are beholden to their pricing policy. As a result you will find the same price for a product across a myriad of internet sellers websites and marketplaces like Amazon. So, if the bottom line is basically the same, how should consumers select the businesses they would like to support?
A few things an informed consumer might consider when deciding who will receive their sale include the ancillary services provided by the seller. Some of these services may reduce the final cost of the transaction, while others might improve the overall quality of the experience. A few important things to consider especially with large or complex products are, assembly services, shipping, product warranties, returns process, and customer service.
Warranty Offers – Like insurance policies, warranty offers come in every shape and size with plenty of offers and lots of fine print. However, there are some easy quality indicators and red flags to be aware of.
- Lifetime warranty – When you decide to make a high-dollar purchase, a lifetime warranty is the best option a manufacturer can offer. Typically, these warranties will cover essential operating parts of the product. Often, the warranty language will stipulate the “lifetime” of the part or product. However, the term lifetime warranty is a good indicator of a solid warranty offering.
- Termed Limited Warranty – Many warranty offerings are sold with a defined term, like two-year or five-year. The word limited can mean a couple of things. Limited usually indicates a term but it can also refer to the extent to which the warranty covers the product. Often, a limited warranty will only cover a select group of essential product components. When considering a limited warranty, make sure to have a look at the details. A termed warranty of two to five years is typically a good way to cover your purchase.
A warranty is a great way to protect your purchase but it is important to understand exactly what is covered by the offering.
Shipping – Shipping policies can be an important factor in the purchasing process. Most e-commerce retailers have accepted the reality of free shipping in order to compete with huge marketplace platforms like Amazon. A large online purchase, like a sectional sofa, can be expensive to ship across the country. Sparing the customer the expense of shipping can give a merchant a distinct advantage.
Although free shipping is great, it is worth looking over the return shipping policy. If the sofa you bought online doesn’t work in the space you had in mind, who will cover the cost of the return shipment? Are you prepared to cover the expense if you require a return?
You might also consider the types of shipping services offered by the merchant.
- White glove shipping – A popular choice for furniture and electronic equipment, white glove services offer professional set-up, installation, and area cleaning. When available, these services are well worth the expense, especially if your purchase is large or technically complex.
- In home delivery – This is a convenient service if the product delivered is bulky or heavy. With services of this nature, it is important to specify the exact delivery location. Suppose you wish to have a desk delivered to an upstairs home office space but the delivery order reads in house. It is then up to you to negotiate with the delivery professional the moving of the desk to the upstairs office.
- Curbside delivery – If you just need the product delivered to your property, curbside delivery could be the right choice. Under most circumstances, the delivery personnel will place your purchase in the best available space. It is important to be available during your curbside delivery so you can suggest an ideal delivery location.
- Free shipping – Everyone loves free shipping. But, make sure free is the best option for your purchase. Imagine coming home in the evening to find your sleeper sofa at the top of your driveway.
Return Policies – Have you ever received an online purchase only to realize that the color was not exactly what you were hoping for or the fit just wasn’t right for you? Upon further exploration, you discover that you have to repackage the item and make your way across town to a FedEx store to ship the product back to the manufacturer on your dime. Understanding a merchants return policy is always a good idea, especially when making a high-dollar purchase. Here are a few things to consider when reviewing your purchase return policy:
- Free return shipping – It is important to make sure your return shipping costs are covered when you are sending heavy items back to the seller. A return shipment out of your pocket is basically just a waste of money and possibly time.
- Free return shipping pick up service – When it comes to large returns like furniture, return shipping pick up is an important service. The customer placing the return may have to set up the pick up appointment with a designated freight company or in some cases, a customer service representative may intervene to make sure everything goes smoothly.
- Return timeline – The amount of time a customer has to return a product will vary from company to company. A 30 day return policy is typical.
- Return quality conditions – Most companies will require a “like new” return quality condition unless the product is damaged during shipping. Products damaged during shipping are typically managed by customer service representatives.
Customer Reviews – Real customer reviews are probably the best tool to use as you are researching an online purchase. If you are a glass half full type of person you will probably start with the five star reviews. However, it is important to read the one star reviews as well. Reading customer reviews is the best way to see through the marketing and gain first-hand about the product you are considering. Remember, it is possible for merchants to create glowing reviews of their products. So, look for reviews with images and feedback about specific aspects of the product. Oh, and if you don’t write product reviews, maybe you should consider starting. Quality customer reviews are really useful to people just like you researching the same products.
Spotting Fraud – As with any technology scenario, some people will find a way to misuse technological advances. Fortunately, internet selling fraud is pretty easy to spot. Here are a few things to look for before you complete an online purchase:
- Check for a phone number. Normally you can expect to find a toll free number, however, there are definitely exceptions to this rule. Try calling this number. If the number has been disconnected or does not exist, run away fast!
- Check for a contact email published on the website. Often this email will be formatted with the name of the business and a dot com. For example, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org Sometimes contact emails may have a gmail or hotmail format. Once you locate the email address, send off a quick test email to test the response. Sometimes this can take 24 hours but it’s worth a shot if you are questioning the validity of the business.
- Engage with the chatbot. A chatbot is a little pop-up dialog box that can connect you with customer service while you are shopping. Communicating with the chatbot is a good way to test the authenticity of an online business.
Support Services – A company uses support services to provide great experiences for customers or to correct any issues a customer may have during the purchasing process and beyond. These services are critical in retaining customers and encouraging future business. Hopefully you won’t have to speak with customer support personnel, but if you do, expect top-notch service. There is simply too much competition online, and companies must invest in their customer service divisions. Always remember, if you are not satisfied with the service you receive, you can write a review, take you business to a competitor, and unsubscribe from any promotional emails. As an online shopper you really do have the power to get exactly what you want and businesses know it.
Shopping online is here to stay and will continue to push into new aspects of our lives. Who would have thought that we would be shopping for groceries and visiting our doctors online 10 years ago? One thing the internet does really well is deliver quick and convenient experiences to consumers. All the product information you need is published somewhere on the internet if you have time to do a little research. And, competition is fierce, so good deals are abundant. We live in an on demand economy. Companies who fail to comply with the realities of this environment simply will not survive. Consumers have never had more power than we do today in the digital world. So, shop on, the world is at your fingertips!