Six Things to Remember When Shopping Online
February 7, 2017 |


It’s always that time of the year when you need to power on your laptop and buy something off the internet. It’s not like you can keep running to the shop for every single purchase - not with the ridiculous amount of traffic and work in a day. Major holidays, birthdays, and “I need boots” kind of days force us to to shift our focus from in store purchases to online shopping. No more waiting in queues that keep moving from one register to another (true story). With a couple redirects, some scrolling and frantic mouse clicks, your shopping needs are met instantaneously.

Yet it still gets messy.

I have a love-hate relationship with online shopping. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Remember that time when you were forced to spend hours with customer service about a product you bought online?Or that time when you bought a cashmere shawl only to have some cheap cotton material delivered at your doorstep?

Believe me, I have a 5:1 ratio for all the times I’ve cursed myself for not shopping in store versus times I’ve gleefully mingled with the dark side.

That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a eternally harrowing experience with online shopping. Your physical purchasing experience may not match your online experience but you can get close enough with these 6 tips in mind!

Ready? You better be, because #4, #5 and #6 are a big deal in today’s world!

1. Do your research before you commit!

A good digging for information is important when you’re buying merchandise from a website that already has brick and mortar stores.

In store sales don’t always correspond to online sales; if they do, they are usually visibly printed on flyers.I once rushed to the store to buy a product that was on sale online just to avoid shipping charges, only to find out that there wasn’t an in-store promotion on the product.

Instead of wasting gas money or a bus ticket to go to the store and miss out on a great sale online, just call the store and they’ll give you the details you need.

2.Keep both eyes open when you click your way through selection and purchase

Read the description like you're about to prove someone wrong. Nothing is worse than making simple mistakes like not knowing about a 30 day refund policy till it’s too late.

Businesses know the law inside out; details are often in the fine print because businesses know that it's last place customers look for information. Make sure you're aware of all the details, especially the kind hidden in the fine print.

I wouldn't have had issues with this online purchase if only I had paid more attention to the gaps between these bangles and there was a clear product description.

That however, shouldn’t be the scope of your search. Extend your snooping around to the images on brand websites. Images without any product description are a particular pet peeve for me. I once made the mistake of believing that an image on a popular company’s website would suffice even though there was no description about the product. The image was misleading - what I thought would be a bracelet with multiple bangles fused together turned out to be several bangles stacked together as one set. Of course, looking at it three or four times today makes me look stupid because those gaps do suggest individual pieces. However, without a product description, reviews or any time on my hands to scrutinize the image, I found myself duped.

If you’re not sure about the reliability of the image, turn to the reviews or get in touch with the company for more information.

3.Rely on your instinct when reading reviews for products

Thanks to AI, we've got bots all over the internet - bots who get you followers, retweet your tweets, and review products.

This is a collection of a few of the several suspicious reviews you'll see on online shopping websites.

    Here are the types of reviews that should make you go “that sounds… fishy” :

  • Reviews finished in a couple words - “yes” “buy it”, “very good”, “terrible”
  • Ones written by sponsors, affiliate bloggers or even people who are paid by the company to write a stellar review.
  • Descriptions that appear as though they’re for the wrong product
  • Sound like this “I bought this for my daughter, and she loves it”. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a grandma review a product on a website, but it just doesn’t seem right. Unless of course, grandma looks at the review request link and diligently writes a review. In that case, good on you!

Use your judgement and decide whether a product deserves the reviews it has. If a $10 product that looks and sounds cheap has a 5/5 review, stop before you ‘add to cart’.

4. Influencers sway our decision making process

Remember the Rachel,the haircut that ruled the hair styling circuit in the 90s? If you Google the haircut, you’ll not only find out about how women were begging their stylists to recreate the Rachel, you'll discover that - Jennifer Aniston hated it! She has been quite vocal about having maintenance issues with the haircut. Yet, despite this revelation, the haircut remains popular to this date.

Why am I bringing up the Rachel?

Answer : People are more likely to purchase or experiment with products if an influential person endorses a product or sports a look. Even if it’s a product that gets a thumbs down! Funnily enough, the more you talk about hating something, the more publicity it gets.

If a celebrity had it, we wanted it - it’s really simple math.

Things are a little different today. Social media influencers are the 'it factor' in marketing today. They’re stars in their own right, but they’re far more accessible than Hollywood or Bollywood. They’re your next door neighbour, your average Jane, or a working mom.

And brands are always one step ahead in the game - they’re investing in these digital savvy folks to spread their brand awareness. And consumers are buying into it

Now, there’s nothing wrong with trusting influencers, but what happens when the cameras are set aside? Do these people actually like the product? Have they spent enough time using the product to come up with a fair judgement?

The possibilities in my opinion, are limited. It’s a yes or no situation - they either hate the product, but are endorsing it because they don’t want to lose sponsorship, or they genuinely love it.

As a consumer I know this is a useless conclusion - do we trust people who are paid to take a few photos of a product and write a few lines about it?

Surprise - you’re not the only ones deciding whether influencers are worth trusting - brands are scammed too! While this article is for marketers, the tips here are definitely relevant to consumers deciding whether to trust influencer endorsements.

Remember that not everyone is bad in this business - you will always find 10 great influencers and one rotten apple that you just need to ignore. YouTubers I follow are very honest about liking or disliking brands or products; this enables customers to make informed purchasing decisions.

5. Beware of sketchy stores selling products on apps!

Tati Westbrook explains the situation surrounding fake brand endorsements.

I’ve always been quite vary of advertisements and paid partnership posts that show up on my Instagram feed as an advertisement.Influencers too, have been talking about this - in this particular instance, Tati Westbrook’s clip was used to promote magnetic lashes she disliked.If you see a suspicious advertisement that has too many endorsements in one image or video, think twice about purchasing the product.

Brands are also increasingly sketchy with their manufacturing process and facilities. There are brands that appear to be based in North America or Europe when they’re not. This post goes into great detail about why you should be really cautious when you see relatively unknown brand adverts.

While Instagram is one place to be partially scammed, other apps like Wish and websites like AliExpress or Flipkart are true hit or miss websites to buy from. The prices may look great, but the minute you click checkout, the costs may rise. Oh hey! That coupon code mysteriously increased my final bill!

Safiya Nygaard takes you through a "free products" online shopping expedition on her YouTube channel

Because I love YouTube so much, and I cannot stop sharing links to cool videos, here’s one by Safiya Nygaard who attempts to buy free products on Wish, only to run into some interesting issues. It’s great educational material, really.

6. They've got eyes on you... er your interests and likes

Ever wondered how a website shows you an advertisement for a third party product that you were looking at a couple hours ago?

I’ll admit I used to think there were people spying on my browsing habits. My guess wasn’t too far fetched; brands were using what is popularly known as remarketing.

Remarketing is a marketing tactic used by brands to retarget customers who either successfully completed transactions on websites, or customers who left the website before completing a purchase. It also works when you’ve posted keywords relevant to the brand. My Ikea post on Instagram must have resulted in a sponsored post a few days later, though I cannot be sure.

In this instance, Instagram uses my interests to show me ads that are relevant.

Example: I visit a popular brand’s website and take a look at a few products. A pair of shoes catches my attention and I’m really interested in them, so I think about adding them to my cart. Sadly, I’ve spent way too much on shoes and given the crummy weather in Montreal during the winters, there’s no point in buying these shoes. I sigh, close the tab and decide to wallow in my misery by swiping through Instagram posts.

Swipe, swipe…

Oh hey, sneaky bastard, what are you doing on my newsfeed?

It’s the same shoe, and it’s 20% off now! That or free shipping - and even someone like me with poor math skills knows that’s pretty much the same thing.

Ethical or not, advertising is everywhere. I’ve heard billboards use it too, though that’s out of scope right now. It is up to us as consumers to be mindful of these tactics that brands use. Marketing people are smart - they know who you are, and they know what you like.

Ultimately, remember that you’re taking a risk and you really have no way of staying 100% guaranteed with online shopping. You can’t possibly stay risk free with in store purchases either - an employee once told me that underwear at a very popular store was returnable. Businesses make mistakes too, and although it does affect their future sales and reputation, you’ll still be the one picking up after their mess. If you end up getting a product that you’re dissatisfied with, make sure you inform the company immediately. This not only increases your chance of getting a refund, an exchange or a new product in addition to the one you already have, but also gives the company the opportunity to improve their sales, marketing and service departments.

What are some of the craziest tactics you’ve come across on social media platforms?

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