If you buy more items online than in-store, you are not alone.
According to a recent UPS study, consumers are buying more items on the Internet than at traditional brick-and-mortar businesses. While some shoppers still will flock to stores for Black Friday, a growing number of consumers are opting for Cyber Monday to kick-off their holiday shopping.
Randal Vaughn, Ph.D., professor of information systems in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, said that while most online merchants he uses such as Jet.com and Amazon seem to have excellent consumer protections in place, he has a few tips to help consumers be smart online shoppers.
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- Consider alternative payment options besides credit cards.
For shoppers who want to limit their use of credit cards or protect their credit card information, they can consider other payment options, Vaughn said.
“For example, one can use gift cards such as an Amazon gift card at some online merchants. Others may want to consider using a virtual credit card such as Bank of America’s ShopSafe virtual card or a Paypal virtual card,” Vaughn said.
However, he cautioned that “fraudsters might still rack up charges on virtual cards” and returning items could be more difficult.
- Avoid using debit cards for online merchants.
“Protections against fraudulent debit card charges are not as strong as protections against fraudulent credit card charges,” Vaughn said. “A consumer needs to report fraud against their debit cards quickly.”
He said if reported within two days, debit card losses are capped at $50. However, consumers who delay longer than two days can be liable for as much as $500.
“If you do not report a fraudulent debit transaction, you might not have any limit to the amount of money you can lose,” Vaughn added.
- Stick with well-known merchants.
Extremely deep discounts could be a sign of a less-than-reputable business.
“There is a large market for counterfeit goods, particularly in the fashion industry. I generally search for online reviews of a web merchant before doing business with the merchant. However, reviews can be faked and one should be cautious,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn also stresses not giving sensitive details to merchants that have not been verified.
“Do not give out any credit card details over the phone unless you know you are dealing with a reputable company,” he said.
- Although online shopping is convenient, don’t completely forgo traditional retailers or local businesses.
Even with the ease of online shopping, sometimes going in-store may be the best option.
“Although it may seem sacrilegious coming from a tech person, the Internet is not always the cheapest or best place to buy goods,” Vaughn said.
“I have found some excellent deals from local brick-and-mortars that are better than what one can find on any of the obvious online merchants. Sometimes the best way to buy online is to drive to the mall,” he said.