Safe shopping checklist
Before you click and buy, make sure your online shopping experience is a safe and
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 www.bbbonline.com ).
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Had a problem with an overseas internet trader? Visit www.econsumer.gov. 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.