We live a life plugged in. We read our news, do our banking and communicate online without a thought of how it used to be. The landscape of our day-to-day lives is changing and you can either fear it or embrace it. Just know this is the direction of all future commerce.
As a guy who lives and breathes the online retail world -- it's exciting. For online shopping, this means millions of products at your fingertips and a time savings element we all crave. With more and more Canadian retailers jumping on board with eCommerce, you have even more opportunities to buy everything you want from the comfort of your own home. Heck, you don't even have to get out of your pajamas if you don't want to. It's a win/win. So what's not to love, right?
Surprisingly, recent survey results reveal that 67 per cent of Canadians said that cross-border duties and costly shipping discourages them from shopping online and that another 44 per cent of Canadians said that the inconvenience of returning product prevents them from hitting the "checkout" button. The answer here lies in our need to shop in Canada.
As the founder and CEO of Canada's largest online shopping website, SHOP.CA, I've seen and heard it all, so let's take a look at the Top four fears and hesitations around online shopping and my advice to help ease some of those anxieties.
(1) Online scams
The idea of buying online can be disconcerting for some. When shopping online, there's always a wait -- you wait for order confirmation, you wait for shipping and finally, you wait for delivery. Until your purchase has been delivered, there's sometimes the fear that you just got scammed with nothing but an email to show for it, especially for those that are just starting to buy online. It's a legitimate fear. This is where a "buyers beware" attitude comes in. Trust your intuition and do your research. If the website you're buying from looks suspicious, listen to your gut and walk away. Ask your friends if they have purchased from the site or heard of someone who has. At any rate, most major retailers are a safe bet. Many feature customer reviews, and if you're still worried, a customer service line is always available. Call them first, ask what they are all about, where they are located and what makes them different. Customer service will give you any information you felt was insufficient and can help in case of potential shipping/delivery problems.
(2) Credit card privacy and stolen identities
When you buy online, you'll always be required to input your credit card or payment information, personal billing information and shipping address. While most eCommerce sites are backed up by some pretty heavy-duty security systems these days, some people still fear the idea of giving out their personal information. My advice? Buy from websites that are both reputable and secure. A quick internet search for warnings or complaints posted by others about the website in question can show you past incidents and bad reviews. An added step that you can take is to sign up for Paypal, a secure global online payment service that allows members to send or receive money via bank account or credit card without sharing personal financial details. It is a good way to go.
(3) What you order is not what you get
There's always a risk when you buy online that your purchase isn't what you expected. It could be the colour, material, sizing or shipping damages. It's up to you as a diligent shopper to read the site's return/exchange policy. Some websites like SHOP.CA offer free exchanges (in our case up to 365 days), others will require you to pay the return shipping yourself. Being prepared prevents any surprises later in case it isn't exactly what you wanted. Also, look at the photos provided and keep an eye out for user reviews. Hear what other buyers have to say about the product you're looking at. These reviews will reveal insight about fit and quality that will be very helpful in your decision process.
(4) Hidden fees or unexpected charges
Another common fear that many have with online shopping is the lack of transparency when it comes time for purchase. Transparency is something we really advocate at SHOP.CA -- when you buy something online, you want to know that what you've agreed to pay is in fact, the final total.
This means the shipping charges (if any) are exactly outlined for you at time of purchase so there are no surprises later. If you're buying internationally, there is always the possibility of import duty or brokerage fees. Some websites will automatically factor this in during checkout, while others will at least warn you of the possibility, so educate yourself as a buyer. Know that the online checkout process is usually done in multiple steps. You can always take yourself as far as the payment screen to see the total cost and if it's more than you care to pay, simply cancel the purchase.
Next time, don't hesitate. Shop online in Canada. It will save you time, the deals are often better, pricing is fair and you have access to all your favorite brands at the click of a button. Just follow your gut, do your research and educate yourself.
<em>A smartphone app that organizes your gift list and keeps an eye on your budget</em> Ditch that coffee-stained list you scrawled out on the back of an envelope and take a page from the tech-savvy Santa playbook with the app <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/better-christmas-list/id295466005?mt=8">Better Christmas List</a>. Having this easy, intuitive, budget-conscious gift organizer in the palm of your hand is like having your own personal Elf. Just download it, take a few minutes to type in your gift list or simply link it to your address book, organize it by groups (family, friends, co-workers), and set a budget. It even has a password-protected option to make sure your tech savvy kids don’t take a peek.
<em>Gorgeous online gift-giving wizard helps you find the perfect gift</em> <em>Intending</em> to give someone the perfect present is one thing. Actually shopping, finding, remembering, wrapping and sending the gift is another issue all together. <a href="https://wantful.com/">Enter Wantful</a>, a new online gift-givers – and receivers – dream come true. Sign up for free, answer a few questions about the person you’re shopping for, and let Wantful create a customized catalogue with 16 different gifts that the receiver can then choose from. The catalogue is either sent through the mail or via email, along with a card, explaining to the recipient that they can pick their pleasure. Everyone wins!
<em>Barcode scanner sniffs out best price, and sets an alert for when something goes on sale</em> Use your smartphone camera to scan a product's barcode and <a href="http://shopsavvy.mobi/">ShopSavvy</a> will find the lowest price for it on the Internet, as well as show you the prices at local brick-and-mortar stores. The "Deals" feature updates you on shipping promotions, coupon codes, and other ways to nab what you want for less, while "Price Alerts" lets you set your buying price and receive an alert when the product dips below your threshold.
<em>Provides instant, automatic price comparisons from 4,000+ merchants.</em> Once you get an idea of what to buy, a price comparison site like <a href="http://www.priceblink.com/webcpns/browser-add-on/">PriceBlink</a>, <a href="https://addons.mozilla.org/en-us/firefox/addon/ebay-sidebar/">eBay Sidebar</a>, <a href="http://www.getinvisiblehand.com/">Invisible Hand</a>, or <a href="https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/amazon-button-11542/">Button for Amazon</a> makes sure you’re finding it for the best possible price. Each is an extension that does the hard task of automatically finding the best and lowest prices when you’re shopping.
<em>The best of Black Friday and Cyber Monday delivered straight to your screen</em> <a href="http://dealnews.com/">Dealnews.com</a> is the answer to that inevitable online holiday bargain-hunting question, where do I start? It’s a free website dedicated to sorting out the best deals available on the hottest gifts, such as TV’s, tablets, and tablets. It sifts through some 2,000 retailers to pinpoint the best bargains, verifies them, triple-checks that the prices are really as low as they can find, then posts them on the site. If you’re on the hunt for one specific gadget or gift, be sure to sign up to get an email alert. Also, check out a similar site, <a href="http://www.bradsdeals.com/">Brads Deals</a>.
<em>Deal or no deal? This site and mobile app helps predict, analyze and decide whether to buy now or wait</em> How do you know when that door-buster deal’s worth all the fuss? <a href="https://www.decide.com/mobile">Decide</a> can help you answer the, buy now or wait, kinds of questions in a snap. It runs a particular item through the retail ringer – including historical best time to buy data, price fluctuations and comparable items. Download the free app and take it with you whenever you actually set foot in an electronics aisle near you.
<em>Electronics sale tracking site with price comparisons, coupons, and great deals </em> <a href="http://www.techbargains.com/">Techbargains</a> is an online deals site for electronics, like a <a href="http://www.rossstores.com/">Ross Dress For Less</a> is for saving on clothes. The site collects all of the best sales, coupon and promo codes on popular tech items like laptops, tablets, TV's, Smartphones, and digital camera's. Rather than spending hours surfing the web for "what's on sale where," you can just start here.
<em>Community driven bargain hunting site and app great for finding electronics deals</em> <a href="http://slickdeals.net/">Slickdeals.net</a> is similar to Techbargains, in that it provides deals, coupons, and savings on hot tech toys and tools. But at Slickdeals, bargain-hunters tell each other where to find the best deals. It's like having a whole team of personal sales-spotters working for you. The Site is well laid out, and easy to use. Add to all of this, a little bit of adrenaline and gaming, because you have to jump on the sale before it disappears. Half of the daily ads are sold out by the end of the day.
<em>Social shopping app that lets your friends weigh-in and allows you to check out, with one shopping cart</em> The <a href="http://leapcommerce.com/v30/web/bestdecision">Best Decision</a> app is like Decide.com, with a personal twist. It's connects you directly with your friends, so that you can get their opinion on something before you buy it. It also syncs up with your social network to help you find the right products, prices and features, either nearby or online. A new feature of this app also lets you buy from two dozen different stores, like Wal-Mart, Amazon and Gilt, using a single shopping cart. Getting your friends blessing before you buy that new HDTV? Worth it's weight in gold. Entering all your checkout information just one time for all your online shopping? Priceless.
<em>Send "real" gifts from an app on your phone to friends via text, Facebook, or e-mail </em> Forgot a gift and you need it for tomorrow? Or you just logged into Facebook and see that it's your office-mate's Birthday? The <a href="http://getkarma.com/">Karma</a> App will help you give a great gift in about five minutes. In fact, you could get all of your holiday your shopping done in about ten minutes using this beautifully designed social gift-giving app. It lets you choose from a variety of swanky gifts like a $50 spa package, wines, and food baskets.
<em>Name your own price electronics e-tailer </em> You want a new HDTV for the holidays, but don’t want to spend more than $300? Then go to <a href="https://www.greentoe.com/">Greentoe</a>, name the price you're willing to pay for that new electronics must-have, and the site's certified retail partners decide whether to match the offer. It works for Priceline and the travel industry, so why not electronics too? The site features 15,000 products from smaller retailers such as Electronics Express, Focus Camera, and from the Amazon Marketplace.
<em>Get paid to shop online</em> <a href="http://www.ebates.com/">Ebates</a> is a no-brainer. If all you do is start your holiday shopping at eBates.com, you get access to coupons and discounts of up to 50% off from more than 1500 stores AND you also get a certain amount of money that you spend – back. You basically get paid to shop at stores you're buying from anyway, like Target, Macy's, and Overstock. From the biggest name retailers to specialty shops, they pay Ebates a commission and Ebates splits that with you. No rebate forms to fill out, no points or miles to redeem. Every few months, they send you a check. Ebates also owns <a href="http://www.fatwallet.com/">FatWallet</a>, which alerts you to special coupon codes, free shipping offers, calls out the online doorbusters and whether there are additional rebates associated to items.
<em>Get paid to shop, or just browse, in a store</em> If you plan to do a little <a href="http://www.dailyfinance.com/2012/10/22/christmas-shopping-showrooming-online-price-match/">showrooming</a>, window shopping or even just set foot in a store at all this holiday season, <a href="http://www.shopkick.com/">ShopKick</a> is an app you'll want to have in hand. You just walk in a store and earn points (called Kicks). The kicks can be redeemed for a reward, such as a free drink at Starbucks, new sweater from Old Navy, or even for a Coach handbag.
<em>App stashes all your loyalty and rewards cars so you don't have to dig around for them anymore</em> Loyalty cards can save you money, but how often do you turn them down because you don't want another fob on your keychain or card to lug around? This app lets you snap a photo of the barcode with your smartphone. When you're ready to buy something, simply log back into <a href="http://keyringapp.com/">Key Ring</a>, select a card, and let the cashier scan it from your screen. It takes about 30-seconds to use, which is less than it takes me to dig around in my wallet for rewards card.
<em>Great way to find discounts on Mac products</em> It's tough to get a deal on the latest iPad or iPhone. Year after year, Apple takes 5% to 10% off iPads, iPods, MacBooks, and iMacs during its Black Friday sale. But at <a href="http://www.offers.com/apple/">offers.com</a>, you can find discount codes and coupons for retailers like MacMall, and MacConnection, where you can find up to 20% off or more a number of Apple products.
<em>A quick security sweep to fend off holiday hackers and thieves</em> Cyber-scrooges are out in full force, armed with all kinds of new ways to rob you blind. Before you pull out that plastic and start spending, be sure your computer, laptop, or mobile device is virus and <a href="http://blog.lifestore.aol.com/2012/08/30/what-is-malware/">malware</a> free, and that you’re as protected as possible. <a href="http://free.avg.com/us-en/homepage">AVG Anti-Virus</a> is a top-notch free option, although I often recommend people upgrade to full protection all year ‘round. Also, take a few minutes and create <a href="http://tecca.com/columns/how-to-make-strong-passwords-and-keep-them-safe/">bomb-proof passwords</a>, <a href="http://www.microsoft.com/security/online-privacy/online-shopping.aspx">install updates</a>, make sure any site where you're entering credit card information begins with <em><strong>https</strong></em>, <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/upgrade-your-life/banking-online-not-hacked-182159934.html">stay off public Wi-Fi</a>, <a href="http://lifehacker.com/5724683/how-to-secure-your-smartphone">password protect</a> all of your devices, and be sure to brush-up on the <a href="http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/e-scams">latest scams</a>.
<em>Gift card reseller </em> Six out of every ten people say they want a gift card more than anything else this year. With <a href="http://www.giftcardgranny.com/">Gift Card Granny</a>, you can buy other shoppers’ unused gift cards for as much as 50% off the normal price, or sell back your old gift cards that you never got around to using. The service recently launched a <a href="https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kinoli.giftcardgranny&hl=en">free app</a> to make it easier to find deals on gift cards while on the go.
<em>Barcode background check on items to find sales, use loyalty cards, and buy from your smartphone</em> <a href="http://redlaser.com/">Red Laser</a> lets you scan a barcode of just about anything to find out if it's for sale for a lower price anywhere else. So many retailers are offering <a href="http://redlaser.com/">price-matching</a> this year, that if you do find a better price, you might be able to show the Red Laser results right to a salesclerk to get the better price at checkout. You can also scan in loyalty cards for certain supermarket and drugstore chains, so that again, you just hand over your phone to the cashier instead of carrying a bunch of cards. Red Laser also lets you buy items within the app from retailers like Toys R Us and Best Buy.
<em>The big boys</em> While I've given you a lot of new niche tools to bargain hunt this holiday, don't forget the big guys like Google Shopper, Bing Shopping, Amazon Price Check and eBay Mobile. They've all gotten so much coverage, that I won't go into each one specifically, but just know that each has pros and cons. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/17/saving-money-online-5-ways-to-pay-less_n_1889974.html">Google Shopper</a> lets you do more, like snap photos of a book cover or video game in addition to scanning barcodes to find the best price online and in-stores near you. It also lets you buy daily deals right from the app, unless the best deal is from Amazon, which Google doesn't show you at all (huge con). Bing provides a really comprehensive comparison tool whenever you're browsing items online, but can be out-of-date on specific deals. Amazon Mobile also lets you scan a barcode and find the best prices, from Amazon affiliates. EBay Mobile lets you buy and bid on items, set up to sell your own items, and monitor auctions from anywhere. It lets you save multiple listings, calculate shipping costs and fill in various forms throughout the process.
<em>Free two day shipping service </em> <strong>December 17th</strong> is <a href="http://www.freeshippingday.com/">Free Shipping Day</a>, when hundreds of stores waive mailing costs and promise to get all the gifts where they need to go by Christmas Eve. <a href="http://www.shoprunner.com/">ShopRunner</a> is a service that makes the whole year "free shipping day" ... sort of. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial of ShopRunner, and it will send your stuff in 48-hours at no charge and provide free shipping on returns. If you cancel it before that initial 30-days, they give you 90-days more free. Use it three times in those three months, and you get the whole year (normally $79) free.
<em>An app that organizes and keeps track of all your online purchases</em> <a href="https://www.slice.com/">Slice</a> scours your inbox for online orders, helps you keep track of shipping, and sends you an alert if there's a price drop on something you just purchased. This is like a personal organizer for all your online shopping.