Tips for buying online

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I make 80% of my purchases online. The only thing I don’t buy online is food (though I could). I find online shopping quick, convenient and safe. Often the items is cheaper online than it would be in store. I can shop round the clock from my sofa. Buying nice things always feels good but if you buy things online, receiving them a week later feels double-nice. Unless you are very impatient, in which case it is agony.

People who don’t buy online often feel daunted by the strange new world out there. Or they feel it is not safe. Maybe they don’t know where to start. Here are some tips:

1. Create a Paypal account. You just go to (you will be directed to your local version) and register. To verify your card, Paypal will deduct a dollar or two from your card with a code number next to the transaction. You input the code and away you go. Paypal is safe and more and more online vendors are accepting it as a means of payment. They have facilities in place for transactions that go wrong. The buyer is very strongly protected. With Paypal, money can be transferred between parties with only an email address. No other details are ever shown. You don’t have to have your card with you at all times and you don’t have to input the details more than once. You can use Paypal as a guest user but not with a Swedish card.

2. If you do not want to use Paypal, try and set aside a single card for online transactions. This way you can monitor your purchases and check that no one unauthorised is using your card. In all my years of buying online I have never (touch wood!) had my card details stolen or my card used in fraudulent transactions. If it should be however, I can stop my ‘online purchases’ card immediately without my debit card being stopped as well. I use a Mastercard as my means of paying online as there are strong guarantees and insurance for it – two being that I am refunded the difference if an item goes on sale shortly after I have purchased it, and that I am refunded in the event of a transaction going pear-shaped.

3. Check that the site is secure by looking for the https:// address and a padlock at the top of the screen. Never email your credit card details to anyone or give them on a site that does not offer secure transactions. Never EVER use vendors which want payment via Western Union as there is absolutely no comeback if things should go wrong.

4. Check shipping prices. Often a vendor with low prices will inflate shipping. Some vendors always have free shipping, others have regular discount codes offering free shipping.

5. Remember that if you buy within the 27 countries of the EU, you pay VAT with the vendor. After that no customs, excise or taxes are imposed. If you buy from outside the EU then customs and taxes will be added – so calculate that beforehand. For example I buy jeans from the US. The Swedish price is £200 and the US price is £70. If I pay £30 tax when my jeans enter the country, they are still cheaper than if I bought them here. Some small vendors mark down the value of the goods and label it as a gift which means you don’t pay tax. But then your item can not be insured for the full value. Most customs sites have calculators where you can work out how much tax you could pay. Not everything is taxed though – some seem to slip through the net and some don’t so I reckon they do not inspect any parcel.

6. Don’t buy medicine online. If it gets caught by the customs inspectors you could face drug smuggling charges (particularly in Sweden) and you also never know what you are getting. There is a very interesting site on the darknet called The Silk Road, which is used solely for the sale of illegal drugs. Very hard to get into and you have to use Bitcoins as currency but obviously it works for some people. Not me, I hasten to add!

7. Many sites only offer shipping within the US. If you really want an item you can use a site called Myus which gives you a US address and forwards your package. I have not used this site but it is the most often mentioned. I used to use shipthestates which has now closed.

8. Use discount voucher sites to find discount vouchers for your purchase. Or subscribe to online mailing lists which give you pre-access to the sales and special discount codes. I use sites like My Voucher Codes (I was asked to remove the link as they are penalised for extra links) and MoneySavingExpert

9.  Sizes of shoes, rings, clothing differ from country to country. Some countries are metric, others (notably the US and UK) tend to still use imperial. There are many converter sites on the internet so if you do a search for them you can find your size in your ‘local’ measurement. And for currency exchange, is a good converter.

10. Most sites are available in English as a first or second option (look for the flag – usually on the top right of the screen). Google translate can be used successfully on most other sites. Generally speaking, even if the site does not officially offer service to your country, it never hurts to ask. Most companies will happily send to other countries if asked nicely.

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

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