According to Statista, 42% of U.S. Internet users make an online purchase at least once per month.1 If you shop online for goods and services, there are steps you can take to optimize your browsing and shopping experience.
From protecting your personal information to getting perks from top retailers, here are some tips to be a smart online shopper:
Protecting your personal and financial information should always be a priority when shopping online. Cybercriminals use a variety of methods, such as fake websites and checkout pages, to steal sensitive information from online shoppers. If you know the warning signs of a fake website, you should be able to identify a potential problem before it occurs.
In addition to Internet browsing, be cautious when online shopping via public Wi-Fi networks. Cybercriminals often target places like coffee shops and hotels to create bogus Wi-Fi connections in order to steal information.2 The security of your Internet connection is just as important as the security of the website you visit.
To help you shop safely, here are some common precautions to consider:
- Research the website - If you’ve never shopped at a particular website before, do some quick research to make sure it’s a trustworthy online retailer. Here are some ways to check if a website is legitimate.
- Look for the lock - To ensure your connection is encrypted, look for a lock symbol or confirm that the web address starts with “https.” If you don’t believe the connection is secure, avoid submitting your personal and financial information to the website.
- Use strong passwords - To best protect your information, create strong passwords for each of your retail accounts. Also, use different passwords for all of your accounts in case one of them is compromised.
When it comes to finding the best price for a product, comparing competitor prices side-by-side is a great approach. However, trying to organize all of that information yourself can be confusing. To find the best overall price in a fast and easy way, try using a comparison shopping engine (CSE).
CSE’s work by collecting product and pricing information from participating online retailers.4 When an online shopper searches for a product in a CSE, it will organize and display all of the offers it has for that product.5 This way, online shoppers can easily compare prices, view shipping options and read reviews.6
Some of the top comparison shopping engines include:7
Read customer reviews
In the world of e-commerce, customer reviews can offer a wealth of insight into a product, service or company. The ability to read about someone else’s shopping experience can give potential customers a glimpse into what they might encounter. After all, both positive and negative reviews can be useful when making a purchasing decision.
Positive reviews can build trust and provide assurance that you’re making the right decision. Negative reviews, on the other hand, can identify flaws in the product or reveal mistreatment by customer service. As you read through each set of reviews, look for repeated compliments and complaints and those that may address a question you have.
To highlight the importance of reviews for online shoppers, here are some statistics from recent studies:
- 91% of consumers regularly or occasionally read online reviews8
- 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation9
- 55% of consumers will not consider a business if they have negative ratings and reviews10
- 27% of consumers will not consider a business if they don’t offer testimonials, ratings or reviews11
Join loyalty programs
If you shop at the same online retailers over and over, find out if they offer a loyalty program. Many retailers offer immediate perks for purchases but others may reward you for referrals, social shares and reviews as well. Some programs might also let you accumulate points to earn more exclusive rewards in the future.
Here are some examples of what a loyalty program could offer you:
- Limited-time offers
- Special coupon codes
- Advanced notice of sales
- Free shipping
Use your best judgment
To be a smart online shopper, it takes more than finding the best deals. The next time you plan to buy something online, keep these tips in mind for a safer and more productive shopping experience.
1. Statista. “Online Shopping Frequency of Internet Users in the United States from 2014 to 2016.” Statista.com. https://www.statista.com/statistics/448659/online-shopping-frequency-usa/ (accessed April 13, 2017).
2. Kaspersky Lab. “Public Wi-Fi Security.” Kaspersky.com. https://usa.kaspersky.com/resource-center/preemptive-safety/public-wifi#.V883tfkrLIU (accessed April 12, 2017).
3. Kroft, Steve. “The Data Brokers: Selling Your Personal Information.” CBS.com. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-data-brokers-selling-your-personal-information/ (accessed April 12, 2017).
4. Hayes, Mark. “10 Best Comparison Shopping Engines to Increase Ecommerce Sales.” Shopify.com. https://www.shopify.com/blog/7068398-10-best-comparison-shopping-engines-to-increase-ecommerce-sales (accessed April 12, 2017).
8. Bright Local. “Local Consumer Review Survey.” BrightLocal.com. https://www.brightlocal.com/learn/local-consumer-review-survey/ (accessed April 12, 2017).
10. Bassig, Migs. “Wrong Business Information and Poor Reviews Drive Customers Away.” ReveiwTrackers.com. https://www.reviewtrackers.com/local-business-information-reviews/ (accessed April 12, 2017).