Realizing the Benefits of Convenience, User Reviews and Price Shopping Online
Over the years, I’ve warmed to shopping online, especially when you know what you want already. Without much time or effort, you can quickly determine what a competitive price is for a product and get it ordered and delivered in short order. No need to get in your car and burn more gasoline at $4 per gallon and have to navigate traffic, possible accidents and salespeople. And, you’ve been able to avoid that pesky but not so insignificant levy of state sales tax on your purchases.
And, unlike visiting a traditional retail store, many of the larger online stores have customer reviews so you can read what others thought of the product you’re contemplating buying. There’s no way you can duplicate that at a regular retail store.
If this all sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. Online shopping has plenty of pitfalls, some minor, some possibly major. Here is a summary of the potential downsides to shopping online and what can and cannot be done about each of them:
- The low price isn’t really so low with hidden costs. You can’t simply go by the sticker price of products as listed on websites. Shipping costs are often hard to discern and in the worst cases, not disclosed until after you’ve invested plenty of your time going through an online checkout process that involves entering lots of personal information. You may also find that the particular color or style of a product you wish is more expensive. Also be aware that more states are forcing online retailers to collect state sales tax so that cost advantage is disappearing.
- Online shopping encourages overspending. Shopping online is easy – too easy. In addition to not even using real cash to buy, you don’t even have the sense that you’re buying something because when the transaction is complete, all you have is your online receipt. So, for folks with a propensity to overspend, online shopping may be especially problematic.
- Connection of shopping to social media exposes you to even more advertising and problems. The online shopping experience is very much intertwined on many sites with social media. Please read my article on the dangers and problems with social media.
- Identity theft. On less than secure websites as well as on sites set up for the sole purpose of tricking you into revealing your personal and financial details, identity theft is a concern. See my article, “Identity Theft and Identity Fraud: A Large and Growing Risk” for tips and advice on this important topic.
- Bogus and biased online reviews lead you astray. Unfortunately, too many online reviews are posted by folks with a vested interest and/or who have never even actually bought and used the product. This is not to say that you can’t learn from reading online reviews but be careful and suspicious, especially with overly flattering reviews.
- Counterfeit products and “unauthorized retailers”. If you like to shop for the best prices you can find online for specific products you wish to buy, you greatly increase the odds of being led to sites that are actually selling fake merchandise (see details below on global efforts to expose and thwart counterfeit products). Even if what you’re buying is the real thing, the manufacturer may not stand behind the product in the way that they normally would (if you had bought from a so called “authorized retailer”) should you have problems with it.
More Websites Shuttered for Selling Bogus Merchandise
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), European law enforcement agencies and Europol seize 132 domain names selling counterfeit merchandise in 'Project Cyber Monday 3' and 'Project Transatlantic' operations…These websites were set up to dupe consumers into unknowingly buying counterfeit goods as part of the holiday shopping season…
This is the third year that the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Center has targeted websites selling counterfeit products online in conjunction with Cyber Monday. An iteration of Operation In Our Sites (IOS), Cyber Monday 3 seized 101 websites and yielded one arrest. Additionally, recognizing the global nature of Internet crime, this year the IPR Center partnered with Europol, who, through its member countries, executed coordinated seizures of foreign-based top-level domains such as .eu, .be, .dk, .fr, .ro and .uk. This effort is titled Project Transatlantic and resulted in 31 domain name seizures.
"This operation is a great example of the tremendous cooperation between ICE and our international partners at the IPR Center," said ICE Director John Morton. "Our partnerships enable us to go after criminals who are duping unsuspecting shoppers all over the world. This is not an American problem, it is a global one and it is a fight we must win."
The IPR Center and Europol received leads from various trademark holders regarding the infringing websites. Those leads were disseminated to eight investigating HSI field offices in Baltimore, Buffalo, Denver, El Paso, Newark, San Antonio, San Diego and Ventura (Calif.) and to the investigating Europol member countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania and the United Kingdom.
"Europol became a member of the IPR Center this year and I am glad to be able to announce these operational successes," said Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol. "IPR theft is not a harmless and victimless crime. It can cause serious health and safety risks and it undermines our economy."
The domain names seized are now in the custody of the governments involved in these operations. Visitors typing those domain names into their Web browsers will now find a banner that notifies them of the seizure and educates them about the federal crime of willful copyright infringement…
During this operation, federal law enforcement officers made undercover purchases of a host of products; including professional sports jerseys, DVD sets, and a variety of clothing, jewelry and luxury goods from online retailers who were suspected of selling counterfeit products. If the copyright holders confirmed that the purchased products were counterfeit or otherwise illegal, seizure orders for the domain names of the websites that sold these goods were obtained from federal magistrate judges.
IOS is a sustained law enforcement initiative that began more than two years ago to protect consumers by targeting the sale of counterfeit merchandise on the Internet. The 101 domain names seized under Project Cyber Monday 3 bring the total number of IOS domain names seized to 1,630 since the operation began in June 2010. Since that time, the seizure banner has received more than 110 million individual views…
The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy. Working in close coordination with the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 21 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions, and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety, the U.S. economy and the war fighters.
To report IP theft or to learn more about the IPR Center, visit www.IPRCenter.gov.
The Bottom Line of Shopping Online
Online shopping has its advantages and disadvantages. Stick with companies and retailers you know and trust and online only retailers who have proven themselves.
If you’re a disciplined shopper who is pressed for time and shopping online saves you time and money, by all means, buy what you’re reasonably able to online. But, when you benefit from seeing, touching and testing, nothing beats a retail store.
Also realize the potential hassle factor and costs of returning online purchases you aren’t happy with.