These days, pretty much anything you do in the real world can also be done online. From dating, to chatting, to reading, to booking travel, to ordering food, to finding answers to medical queries, to sharing photos – the internet is an amazing thing. But perhaps the most popular use of the internet (besides social media) is online shopping! There’s just about nothing left that you can’t buy online, and anyone who’s dabbled in online shopping will tell you – it can be scarily addictive!
This month in NetGuide, I put myself to the ultimate test and tried to go an entire month shopping only online. The verdict? It was surprisingly easy! And in the process, I discovered all kinds of awesome new websites, tips and tricks, and possibilities. This article will touch a little on my experiment, but I’ll also share with you the best online shopping sites out there, as well as security tips and a how-to guide. You’ll be an online shopping guru in no time! That being said, in a few weeks time, when your credit cards are maxed out and you’re getting deliveries you can’t even remember ordering, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
The idea for this experiment came from the fact that I am constantly complaining about how expensive everything is in New Zealand. I am from Canada, where you can quite easily buy an entire new wardrobe for $100 from places like Target and Winners, and a tube of mascara costs $4, not $26. Books especially are outrageously priced here, and going out for dinner and drinks can eat through a good chunk of your pay check. I have to admit that this has been one of the hardest adjustments for me. If you’re from New Zealand, you don’t know any different and so the high prices are merely the norm. But when you’re from North America, it comes as quite a shocker. Don’t get me wrong – I love living in New Zealand and this is only a minor gripe that is far outweighed by the beautiful scenery and climate, but it is something I have struggled to accept nonetheless.
Because of my refusal to pay NZ prices – especially when it comes to clothing, seeing as I rarely even find clothes I like in the shops here – I began turning to the internet for all my shopping needs. Prior to moving to New Zealand, I had almost never shopped online before. I prefer to actually go into a store and try clothes on or browse products in person. But after moving here, I felt it was time to dip my toe into the online shopping pool. Well, as you can imagine, I didn’t dip my toe as much as I full on plunged in. My first purchase was a collection of garments from Victoria’s Secret online. What was amazing about this was that I was able to buy these items online, and even with $45 shipping and handling fees from America, they cost me less than buying the equivalent from Farmers or another shop in New Zealand.
That was when I was challenged by a colleague to restrict myself to shopping online only for an entire month. At first I didn’t think I could do it – it’s one thing to buy the odd clothing item or book online, but it’s quite another to shop online for all your groceries, activity/restaurant vouchers, toilet paper and everything in between. However, never one to turn down a challenge, I accepted his proposal and set off on my online shopping adventure.
Like I said, it was surprisingly easy. Groceries can be conveniently purchased from sites like Countdown online, and I have to admit, although it was a tad more expensive, it was pretty nice having groceries packed and delivered to my front door without having to lift a finger. I was also able to find all kinds of awesome vouchers for everything from restaurants to manicures to hair salons to a weekend getaway in Paihia on sites like GrabOne and TreatMe. The trickiest part was trying to buy my daily coffee, for which I ended up breaking the "only online” rule. However, a colleague later pointed out that he had seen vouchers for coffee you could download to your smartphone and swipe electronically, so this could be an option for the future.
The worst part about this experiment was how addictive it was! I would set out looking for one specific item and next thing I knew it was three hours later and I’d spent a grotesque amount of money on things I didn’t even need. Something about shopping online and not actually having to hand over the cash or your card makes it feel thrilling and almost like you’re getting the goods for free (which is most certainly not the case!)
HOW TO SHOP ONLINE (INTELLIGENTLY)
I’m not alone in my appreciation for online shopping – according to e-commerce site Pitney Bowes, 98% of us have shopped on the internet at some point. There are various reasons for the move online: people working during normal retail hours, for instance, or living in an obscure, Westfield-less place or, suggests Zia Zareem-Slade, head of online shopping at Selfridges, wanting to "get a sense of control” and to "learn a budget” (though I would suggest the opposite is true, based on what happened to me!)
Another popular reason: some people just don’t like shopping! The Christmas shopping rush is a perfect example of a time when the internet seems like the much more attractive option.
Whatever your reason for turning to the internet, here are some tips to help you shop like a pro and avoid getting ripped off or sucked in to buying useless crap nobody actually needs.
Daily Deal Sites – these are amazing for finding half priced services and products, but you do have to exercise caution (and restraint) when using them. Buying coupons for stuff you didn’t know you wanted until you read an email requires proper evaluating. Weigh up the merits of those acai-berry supplements. And are you really going to use those half-priced jazzercise classes on the other end of the city? That’s another key consideration – many of the coupons for services such as haircuts, manicures/pedicures and massages are going to be for salons located in extremely inconvenient places. It might be tempting to grab that $20 mani/pedi, but are you really going to drive an hour out of your way to redeem it? Is it even worth it once you factor in gas, bus or taxi fare? If not, you’re just wasting your money. Good deal or not, that’s $20 you could have spent on something you actually need.
Compare prices and save – One of the greatest things about shopping online is the ability to compare prices amongst retailers. Use this to your advantage and scrutinize your final price before clicking "buy.” Try using sites like priceme.co.nz, which does the work for you.
eBay/Trade Me – Always search for items under "Newly listed”, not "Ending soonest”, and try to check eBay with some frequency: bi-hourly, seven days a week. It takes some serious dedication to find the best steals. Even the second-hand stuff can get snapped up pretty quickly. Likewise, know that people often sell stuff when they’re bored lazing around at home or on a dull day at the office, so be ready to bid on Sunday afternoons and weekday mornings. Additionally, the "Save search” device will alert you by email to specific items as and when they appear.
Be prepared to operate in different time zones. The US is good for vintage and Apple, China for handbags. Also, set yourself a budget and, should you win, pay quickly using PayPal. A friend once sent a cheque abroad which failed to materialise and she then had to spend an entire month negotiating a refund with a buyer in Hong Kong using online translators. Not ideal.
Sniping can be hugely beneficial. Try Auctionstealer, an online tool which bids for you at the last nanosecond.
Buy multiple items, save on shipping – Buying in larger quantities from a single merchant is one of the smartest shopping moves you can make when shopping online. Buying in multiples will qualify for a bulk rate on shipping, saving you a significant amount on delivery.
Sign-up for email lists – As annoying as those daily emails can be, they are a great money-saving trick when shopping online. Get on your favourite retailers’ newsletter lists to stay in the loop about all upcoming sales (especially last-minute ones).
Check retailers’ return and exchange policies – It’s best to avoid purchasing items that may need to be exchanged or returned altogether, as it’s a bit of a hassle having to ship items back and forth. However, sometimes you can’t avoid this issue, so look out for retailers offering easy, stress-free return policies. For all online purchases, keep the packaging that the product was shipped in for easy return shipping if necessary.
Cyber Monday – The day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday and for online women’s clothing merchants, the Monday after Thanksgiving is "Cyber Monday,” the kick-off to the online shopping season. A myriad of online stores will be premiering their best sales of the year that day. For many customers this year, it’s all about savings. Taking advantage of Cyber Monday is a wise shopping decision.
ONLINE SHOPPING SAFETY TIPS
There are plenty of legitimate online shopping sites out there, but there are also plenty of scams, so you have to be careful and ensure you stay safe and protected when shopping online. Here are some tips from Microsoft on how to protect yourself. For more information and safety tips, visit www.microsoft.com/security.
1) Look for signs that the business is legitimate. Buy from reputable stores and sellers. Here are some ways to check:
• Find out what other shoppers say. Sites like Epinions.com or BizRate have customer evaluations which can help you determine a company’s legitimacy.
• Look for third-party seals of approval. Companies can put these seals on their sites if they abide by a set of rigorous standards such as how personal information can be used. Two seals to look for:
Better Business Bureau Online – (BBBOnline)
If you see the seals, click them to make sure they link to the organisation that created them. Some unscrupulous merchants will put these logos on their websites without permission.
2) Look for signs that the website protects your data.
• On the webpage where you enter your credit card or other personal information, look for an "s” after http in the web address of that page. Encryption is a security measure that scrambles data as it traverses the internet.
• Also make sure there is a tiny closed padlock in the address bar, or on the lower right corner of the window.
3) Find a filter that warns you of suspicious sites and blocks visits to reported phishing sites. For example, try the SmartScreen Filter included in Internet Explorer.
4) Keep your web browser updated. Internet Explorer 9 is the newest version of the Microsoft web browser software. It helps protect you when you shop online.
Download Internet Explorer 9 now at: tinyurl.com/4ad37ng
5) Create strong passwords. A strong password is an important protection to help you have safer online transactions. Here are steps you can take to create a strong password. Some or all might help protect your online transactions:
• Length. Make your passwords long with eight or more characters.
• Complexity. Include letters, punctuation, symbols and numbers. Use the entire keyboard, not just the letters and characters you use or see most often. The greater the variety of characters in your password, the better. However, password hacking software automatically checks for common letter-to- symbol conversions, such as changing "and” to "&” or "to” to "2”.
• Variation. To keep strong passwords effective, change them often. Set an automatic reminder for yourself to change your passwords on your email, banking and credit card websites about every three months.
• Variety. Don’t use the same password for everything. Cybercriminals steal passwords on websites that have very little security and then they use that same password and user name in more secure environments, such as banking websites.
Some other strategies for strong passwords include testing your password with a password checker to evaluate its strength automatically (try Microsoft’s secure password checker: tinyurl.com/3qdmohy) and avoiding common password pitfalls. Cyber criminals use sophisticated tools that can rapidly decipher passwords. Avoid creating passwords that use:
• Dictionary words in any language.
• Words spelled backwards, common misspellings and abbreviations.
• Sequences or repeated characters. Examples: 12345678, 22222222, abcdefg, or adjacent letters on your keyboard (qwerty).
• Personal information. Your name, birthday, driver’s license, passport number, or similar information.
6) Never make online financial transactions on a public or shared computer. Public computers in libraries, internet cafés and copy shops are convenient, but not always safe. It’s fine to use them to browse for gifts, but make sure you use a secure computer whenever you enter your credit card information.
7) Give only enough information to make the purchase. Be wary if a merchant asks for additional information like bank account information, social security number, or other personal information. You could be on a fraudulent site.
8) Protect your credit card online. You don’t have to limit your shopping to the most popular retailers to stay safe online. You can use a third-party payment service like PayPal to shield your credit card number from online merchants.
9) Check your statements. If you think you might have given away personal or financial information to a cybercriminal, check your bank and credit card statements. You should do this regularly, especially over the holidays.
THE BEST ONLINE SHOPPING SITES FOR KIWIS
ShopSafe is a great New Zealand online shopping directory. It lists only secure New Zealand online shops and stores and has checked the security, delivery, range of goods and prices of all shops listed. With 418 shops listed in 60 categories, as well as special offers, bargains and gift ideas, you’ll be sure to find exactly what you’re looking for.
We all know travel can be expensive, which is why grabaseat is an awesome website to have bookmarked. If you are flexible around the dates you travel, you can find flights within New Zealand and internationally for extreme low prices. For example, as I’m writing this, the website is offering one way flights to Wellington for $49 and return flights to Hong Kong for $1099!
You can find some amazing bargains – everything from clothes to appliances to weekend getaways –all right here in New Zealand, on these daily deal sites. Sign up to receive regular emails informing you of each day’s deal.
The Warehouse was voted New Zealand’s Best Online Shopping Site at the People’s Choice NetGuide Web Awards 2010. The Website also won the Best New Relaunch or Innovation category.
All the hottest New Zealand fashion designers and labels. Find the latest men’s, women’s and children’s fashion clothing, styles, beauty, make-up and more.
Online shopping and price comparison within New Zealand.
Amazing online electronics store.
Buy over 1000 products online from great New Zealand and global brands.
Shop for all your groceries online and have them conveniently delivered to your door.
New Zealand’s place to shop online with thousands of in-stock games, books, movies and TV, collectibles, toys and more.
Discounted perfume, skincare, hair care and makeup with worldwide free shipping!
MORE AWESOME SITES
Find designer clothes at discount prices at Bluefly. Buy designer handbags, designer shoes, designer dresses, designer jewellery and more from brands like Prada, Fendi, Gucci and Ralph Lauren.
BizRate’s new-and-improved shopping search engine lets you quickly compare prices from the different online stores that sell the item you want. If your search words are broad, you’ll get a list of departments to choose from, and you can refine your search by price range, brand and other distinguishing features. Merchant ratings, a series of scores based on consumer feedback (we’re talking hundreds of responses at least) help with the decision-making. Click the "All Depts.” link at the top of the page to find an alphabetized list of hundreds of highly specific product categories, from action figures to yogurt makers. Covers some 30 million products from 55,000 retailers worldwide.
American-based shop hawking all sorts of odd and wonderful things, like Bacon Strips Bandages (see Hygiene, under Lifestyle), Pink Lawn Whirlygigs (Lawn & Garden), Jesus, Beethoven and Edgar Allen Poe action figures (Amusements) and much, much more. Other product categories include Pirate, Hula, Voodoo and Elvis.
Come here to vent about a product that malfunctioned or that customer service rep that let you down, or read about other people’s experiences. The site, run by Sagacity Corp., will forward your complaint letters to any business, provided you include the email address; it does not act as an advocate or mediator, only as a forum for taking your case public.
Online retailer of books, movies, music and games along with electronics, toys, apparel, sports, tools, groceries and general home and garden items.
Retail and online sales of cutting edge designer clothing and accessories.
An amazing site that allows users to sell and buy handmade goods.
Compare cheap CDs, MP3 singles and album download prices for MP3s from iTunes, Amazon, Tesco, 7digital, we7, HMV and more.
Shop discount designer women’s clothing, shoes, handbags and accessories. Choose from 200+ designers at up to 70% off. (Basically, Net-a-Porter’s out-of-date stock).
Compare prices across the web and find the best deal. Get the lowest prices on computers, electronics, furniture, cameras, clothes and more.