10 things to remember before buying something online

10 things to remember before buying something online

E-commerce in India has taken off in a big way in the past couple of years, especially after the launch of Flipkart. While rural India might not be in on it yet, in most of the cities people have used or at the very least heard of online shopping sites.

Their popularity is not difficult to understand. They offer a convenient place to see various products, compare prices, read opinions of people who have purchased it previously, get discounts, and with the help of roughly three muscles of your body purchase something that would have previously required you to go outside and actually talk to people.

But while all that is definitely great, there are notable downsides to online shopping as well. There is the obvious delay between purchasing something and actually getting it in your hands, something you don’t have to deal with offline shopping. And then of course there is the chance of getting duped by the seller, since you don’t actually see the product before buying. But if you keep a few things in mind, online shopping can be a very gratifying experience. I’ve personally switched to online shopping for practically everything that can be purchased online and I’ve never regretted it once. Sure, there have been a few setbacks but overall it has been a good experience and maybe if you keep these ten things in mind, it would be for you as well. 


1. Don’t fear online banking

When it comes to online banking, most people fall into two criterias. There is one that is extremely careless, and the other that is extremely paranoid. The reality, however, lies somewhere in between. It’s not that you shouldn’t be careful when using your credit and debit cards online but it shouldn’t be to the point where you are scared shitless to use it all. The important thing to remember that at least in India, the system is designed for your protection. RBI has anal rules in place that actually make it a pain in the ass to use credit and debit cards sometimes, simply to ensure security. So no, using your card online doesn’t mean someone will steal all your money. As long as you are shopping on a known retailer and the page is secure (the http:// will change to http://), your money is going to the right place. If you are even more paranoid, use net banking, where instead of giving away your credit card information on the seller’s page, you are instead interacting entirely within your bank’s website and then the bank merely transfers the amount to the seller without the seller ever finding out your card or account information.

You should also know if something goes wrong during a transaction the amount gets refunded to your account. If the transaction does go through but does not process for some reason then the site can sort it out for you. Most of the top e-commerce sites have robust customer care system in place to sort out all your issues. A polite tweet or email usually does the trick.


2. Shop from a trusted source

Unless you are the sort of person who buys things from people in trenchcoats in dark alleys this one should be obvious. There are handful of major e-commerce sites in India, namely Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal, and Ebay. I personally stick to these and only these sites for any online shopping I do. If the item you want is not on one of these sites then there is a chance you would have to wade through murkier waters. I’m not saying all other sites other than those four are necessarily shady but I personally don’t trust them and neither would expect anyone else to. There are some items that will only be available from specific sites, such as sites that specialize in that kind of a product, or the manufacturer’s website of those products. In case of the former, if you know people who have purchased things from that site in the past or are known to have a generally good reputation then it would be worth a shot. As for manufacturer websites, those are usually cool too since you are essentially buying directly from the manufacturer, although the only problem with them is that they aren’t usually as fast to deliver as something like Flipkart or Amazon and may not have the best prices.


3. Shop from a trusted seller

Now this is the most important part. It often baffles me when I talk to people about online shopping how they are completely unaware of the seller system on sites like Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal, or eBay. Most people think when they purchase something from Amazon they are getting it directly from Amazon but in most cases that’s not true at all. Most of the times, all of the aforementioned sites are simply acting as a middleman to third party sellers, providing them a bigger platform to sell their products to customer. Those people would have otherwise had a small site of their own to sell their products but with something like Amazon they get a much larger platform to sell their products. In most cases, you are buying from that seller, not Amazon.

This lack of understanding becomes especially obvious when people get a defective item or a goddamned brick in their package when they open it, and then blame Flipkart or Amazon for it. Now I understand that as the platform, these sites are responsible for what is being sold under their brand name but at the end of the day the only reason you got a brick in your box is because you did not check the seller before purchasing.

All of these sites have a system for classifying the sellers. Most of the time for every product you click on there will be multiple sellers selling the same things. The site will often prioritize its own seller by default. If that’s not available then it will select one of the third party sellers based on its rating and price. You still have access to the other sellers in a dropdown list somewhere on that page.

Now even among these sellers there are some that have a higher priority than others. Amazon likes to mark them as ‘Amazon Fulfilled’ sellers with that telltale black badge next to the price. On Flipkart it’s called ‘Flipkart Advantage’ with the blue logo, although Flipkart is too stupid to show this in the search page and the logo only appears on the product page. Snapdeal similarly has the ‘Snapdeal Fulfilled’ text with the sd+ logo, which again only appears on product pages. eBay has a ‘Top-rated seller’ badge that appears right in the search list. eBay also gives numeric rating to sellers based on user ratings and the higher the number the more trusted the seller is generally.

When you see these logos, it’s a sign that the seller is either the site itself  (WS Retail for Flipkart, Cloudtail for Amazon) or a highly trusted seller. It also means that the site will source the product from the seller and is then in charge of storing, packaging, and shipping it to you, which means the site goes from being a mere middleman to almost entirely responsible for the product reaching you. These products also get priority shipping by default and further expedited shipping options (next day or same day delivery) and eligible for return policy. These are the people you should be buying from.

What if the seller does not have a Fulfilled or Advantage or sd+ badge, or a high rating on eBay? Then you don’t buy from them. It’s as simple as that. I have followed this one simple rule in the past several years of shopping online and it has yet to fail me. You just don’t buy from them. Find another source. If a product does not have that special badge on one site, it might on another. You just have to look harder. If you willingly buy from a seller that does not have a special badge or a low rating, that one’s on you. Remember that when you pull out the shiny brick from inside the package.

Note: I didn’t mention Paytm here even though it seems to be getting popular because it does not have the equivalent of Amazon Fulfilled or Flipkart Advantage yet, and the seller might as well be wearing a fake nose and moustache glasses. As I mentioned, I only purchase from verified sources with the badge and until Paytm gets one of those it is not going to get my business (and neither should yours, honestly).


4. Don’t be tempted by low prices

Discounts are nice. Everybody likes discounts. But some prices are too good to be true. If the price tag of a product starts ringing warning bells in your head, DON’T FUCKING BUY IT. The only time you should be trusting a low priced product is if it comes from the aforementioned sites and from the aforementioned verified sellers. If it does not have the badge next to the price but you went with it any cause “shit, it was ninety-nine cents!” then don’t even expect a good quality brick in the box. Maybe like a small, broken one.

Often it’s worth spending a bit more to ensure peace of mind. Making sure the product is genuine and brand new is greater than any discount.


5. The discounts are usually a sham

If it’s one thing I hate these e-commerce sites for, it’s their complete sham of a discount system. Most of the products on these sites are never sold at MRP. They only list it there so they can show you how much lower they are offering it to you. This is a good way to fool customers who are not aware that many products, such as mobile phones, are NEVER sold at MRP, so you are not really getting a discount.

But what’s worse is when they start running some sort of scam on their site. Or as they like to call it, sale. You will see ‘40% off’, ‘80% off!’, ‘200000%%% OFF!^*!&^@!’ on certain products. But guess what, the discount is not on its existing price (which as you remember was already ‘discounted’ over the MRP) but ON THE COCKSUCKING MRP. So here’s how it is: an item with an MRP of 5000 is normally sold for 3500 but now thanks to a ‘20% OFF!’ sale the price is now 4000, which is even greater than its normal price. Why? BECAUSE FLIPKART SLEEPS WITH ITS SISTER THAT’S WHY.

So yeah, don’t trust the discounts and the sales. Most of the time they are a complete waste of time. If I do come across a good deal, I usually tweet about it. Not to mention there is Deals For Geeks who does this full time. Everything else is not worth the effort, and especially not worth buying from a shady seller.


6. If you are not in a hurry, don’t buy immediately 

As much as the discounts are a sham, the prices on e-commerce sites keep fluctuating all the time. If you don’t need something urgently it’s best to wait and watch for it to hit its lowest before picking something up. There might even be a permanent price drop on the horizon that you might miss out on if you buy something in haste. If the price goes up instead, there are always other sites you can buy from who might still have the older price.

One thing to remember is that if a product is out of stock, most sites also allow setting up an email notification so you are reminded when it comes back in stock. This is good for products that are high in demand but usually come in short supplies.


7. Don’t buy anything before comparing prices

By this I mean online as well as offline. If you want to buy something, check the prices across multiple sites. There are sites that can help you compare prices online if you don’t want to do it manually, such as PriceBaba and MySmartPrice. Also, it’s a good idea not to forget about the existence of offline retail, which still pretty much exists. Often an item can actually be cheaper to just buy from a store. If that’s the case, that should be the obvious choice unless you really don’t want to go outside. Just make sure when you compare prices, you prioritise getting a good product over getting a cheap one.


8. Use offline retailers to try out the products

This is a bit of an evil thing to do but you can always go to stores and try out the products before going home and buying them online. Online stores often have better prices that offline retailers simply cannot match for various reasons. But you can’t try out that product online before buying so this is where that Croma around the corner comes in handy.


9. Don’t be afraid to use the refund policy

Now I don’t mean you should be a complete douche and just purchase products to try them out and then use the return policy to send them back and get a refund (you pretty much waste a product for the seller for no good reason). However, if there is a genuine issue, such as if it’s a clothing item that does not fit or a product that simply does not work or meet your expectations then you should definitely use the refund option. I’ve had great experience with both Flipkart and Amazon, who normally collect items no questions asked (well, technically there is one simple question on the site). If the item is returned in good condition then you should get a full refund within a week. Make sure you don’t mess it up just because you are returning it. That doesn’t help anyone.

It’s important that before you purchase you verify that the item can be refunded. Not all sellers support returns but the good ones definitely do. Also, not all products can be returned (such as consumables) regardless of who the seller is, so confirm that out before buying.


10. Check the user reviews

This one has its ups and downs but it is still worth checking out user reviews before purchasing. Many a times, especially on the U.S. and UK versions of Amazon, people leave detailed and insightful reviews of products that could rival those from professional reviewers. However, and this is usually the case on Indian sites, a lot of the reviews are actually fake. What is commonly known as astroturfing, the comments you see are actually paid by the company to either praise their own products or to diss a rival product on their pages. This does make it hard to trust the reviews on certain popular smartphone pages, where such behavior is very common. Then there’s also confirmation bias or buyer’s remorse that can heavily influence the user reviews. And lastly there are people who rate the product low simply because the seller was bad and not because the product itself is bad. But if you learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff, the user reviews can be a useful tool to judge the product before purchasing.


And that’s pretty much it. I’ve personally been shopping online for several years now and the only issues I’ve had is with the item not being the right size (or in case of one chair not even comfortable), in which case it was promptly returned with a full refund. With just a little bit of care and vigilance it’s easy to have a great online shopping experience. But I guess that applies to everything.