Safe shopping checklist

Before you click and buy, make sure your online shopping experience is a safe and enjoyable one.

Who are you dealing with?

  • Check the identity of the retailer, especially if you've never heard of them before. Only buy from sites that include adequate address and contact details - phone, fax, email, and street address (not just a PO Box number).

  • Find out how easy they are to contact. Look for links such as "Contact us" or "Help". It may be worth calling the phone number to see if someone answers, or sending an email to see how quickly you get a response.

  • If you're still unsure about a retailer's track record, do some research online. Search for complaints by typing their name plus "complaint" or "problem" into Google's forums. You can also check whether the trader has met the standards of companies that rate online sellers (such as, or ).

  • Be wary if you're buying from a country where you don't speak the language. Even if the website is in English it may be difficult to sort out a problem.

Check out returns, refunds and warranties

  • When you buy online, there's a greater chance the product won't be quite what you wanted - clothes might not fit, or an appliance may not measure up to its claims. Check that there's a clear returns policy offering a full refund if goods are faulty or not what you ordered.

  • For appliances and electrical goods, check if the warranty is valid in New Zealand - you may need to ask for an international warranty instead. Also check that the company has a New Zealand agent who can repair the item if anything goes wrong. Local agents are usually under no obligation to repair goods they haven't sold.

  • Before you place the order, find out when and how you could cancel it or return something for a refund. Are there restrictions on returns? For example, CDs, DVDs and cosmetics must be returned in unopened packaging.

  • An item may have a money-back-guarantee - but if you're returning it because you've changed your mind, expect to pay the (often expensive) return postage. Where goods are faulty or if you're sent the wrong item, you should be able to claim the postage costs back from the retailer. This may take some perseverance, however.

Safeguard your personal details

  • Check the site's privacy policy and be wary if there isn't one. A clear privacy policy describes the type of personal information collected from a customer, the reason the information is collected, and who will have access to it.

  • You should be able to opt out of being placed on any third-party lists. The "better" sites don't share information with third parties unless you give explicit consent.

  • Check where your details will be stored later - some businesses store them on a secure server, others destroy them once the transaction is made.

Work out the cost

  • What's the exchange rate? Some sites have currency calculators to help you work this out. But when they don't, it's easy to forget you're dealing in US dollars or UK pounds - and you may get an unexpected surprise when your credit card statement arrives.

  • Check the total costs carefully to make sure they include delivery, taxes, and any other costs. These costs should be disclosed before you start ordering - and certainly before you finalise your order.

  • Sites should offer both "regular" and "express" delivery options. If the retailer can't give you a specific delivery cost, make sure you know the maximum amount you'll have to pay. The cost of postage and packing can greatly increase the price if you're buying from overseas - so it might pay to buy several items, to make the postage worthwhile. If you need the goods by a certain date, make this clear to the retailer.

Keep your credit card details safe

  • Check out the site's security policy. In particular, make sure that the site has a secure checkout. This means your personal information is "scrambled" as it travels over the web and others can't tap into your details.

  • A secure page will have one or more of the following:
    • a pop-up window warning that you're about to enter a secure site
    • an unbroken key icon
    • a URL (website address) that begins with "https" instead of the usual "http"
    • a closed padlock icon - padlock icons can be faked so look for one other secure page indicator.

  • If the site doesn't have a secure checkout, then never email credit card details to a merchant - use the phone, fax, or snail mail. These methods are more secure.

  • Paying by credit card can give you extra protection if things go wrong, because you have the right to pursue a claim with the card issuer as well as the internet retailer.

  • Some sites offer "Verified by Visa" or MasterCard's "SecureCode". These verify your identity before processing transactions - you'll be asked for a user name and password as well as your credit card details. This provides another level of security.

  • Be aware of the limitations of secure websites. The security icons tell you your details are protected during transit. But once your details arrive at the retailer's site there could be a risk that they're not stored properly. To get around this risk, some retailers use a third party such as WorldPay or PayPal. You need to register with this third party - but it means you don't need to give your details to people you transact with. Large sites like Amazon, eBay, and Strawberry Net offer this service.

  • TIP! Some of our readers told us that, for online orders, they use a separate credit card with a lower limit - it lowers the risk of online shopping.

Set up a paper trail

  • Always keep a paper trail. Print off and keep a copy of your order and any confirmation or receipt that you get. It's also a good idea to keep a copy of the terms and conditions at the time of purchase.

  • Check whether you've been charged correctly and make sure your order matches your bill.

  • If you contact the retailer at any time because your goods didn't turn up or are faulty, make a note of it.

What if things go wrong?

  • Make sure the site has a complaints procedure, and that it gives contact details for handling complaints.

  • If you buy goods from a New Zealand trader you're covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA).

  • If you believe a New Zealand trader has breached the CGA, you can go to the Disputes Tribunal.

  • If you're buying from an overseas site, check which law applies to the contract you're entering into. In theory, you should have the protection of the relevant country's consumer laws, but it could be difficult to sort things out if something goes wrong.

  • Had a problem with an overseas internet trader? Visit This website (a venture of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network) contains contact details for some overseas consumer agencies, advice and guidance on resolving an online shopping complaint, and gives you the opportunity to file a complaint.

  • The New Zealand Marketing Association can also help in settling disputes - it may work with a direct marketing association in that company's home country.

  • If you don't get the goods you ordered, or if they're of an unacceptable quality, ask your bank for a "chargeback". Banks may be willing to cancel the transaction and reverse the payment to the trader. Policies vary, so check with your bank. There may be a time limit on complaints, so contact your bank as soon as you're aware of the problem.

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