About the Post

Author Information

I am a multimedia journalist currently working as a Senior Web Journalist/ Videographer with Khaleej Times in Dubai, UAE. Prior to this, I worked as a news editor with CNN’s Indian affiliate in Noida. I graduated from Syracuse University in New York state in 2012 with a Masters degree in Broadcast and Digital journalism. I have worked in video production, online journalism, features writing and market research over a period of four years.

At the click of a button…

Shopping can literally be at your fingertips when you go online. But there are many things you need to keep in mind before you hit the “add to basket” tab… follow our tips to become a smart internet shopper

You can access your favorite brands from “across the world” while sitting barefoot in your home – it’s that comfortable. And it’s on the rise. According to Deepa Thomas, a senior manager at the online auction site eBay.in, India’s ecommerce market has seen an annual increase of 30 percent in recent years.

So what all can you shop for? Home appliances, electronic equipment, kitchen appliances, apparel, furniture, gift items, books, airline tickets, cosmetics, and much more.

“All those products where delivery time is not critical and do not require physical inspection by the customer are best suited for online shopping. These days we also see many customers checking out products at offline stores and finally making the purchase online. Ultimately, if the customer is comfortable, almost anything can be supplied online. Online works best when you know what you want. If you are new to online shopping, the trick is to trust known names and start with smaller transactions till you become comfortable,” says Sachin Bansal, CEO and co-founder of flipkart.com, India’s largest online bookstore.

In fact, globally, for 44 percent of the online consumers, books will continue to top the list for online purchases in the next six months, followed by clothing/accessories/shoes (36 percent), airline tickets (32 percent), electronic equipment (27 percent) and tours/hotel reservations (26 percent). One-fifth of the Indian online shoppers plan to buy non-downloadable music. (Source: Global trends in Online Shopping, The Neilson Company, March 2010).

“We are at a point in India where customers are buying anything from groceries, undergarments, and property to diamond jewelry online, so we believe the internet platform can be and is being used to transact just about every category”, says Ishita Swarup, CEO and co-founder of 99labels Pvt Ltd, a private online shopping site providing premium and luxury fashion and lifestyle brands. “Even though Internet shopping has been considered a male dominated activity, we have seen a predominant shift towards women buyers on 99labels”, she adds.

How does it work?

Literally, at the click of a few buttons. If you’re comfortable using a keyboard and mouse, you are a potential online shopper. Most online retailers provide an online catalogue of products. The first step is to search for specific product categories using integrated search function. Once you find the required product, put it in a virtual “Shopping Cart”, which is similar to the physical shopping cart in a conventional store. A “checkout” process follows in which you can see and confirm the selected products and the total value of your order. The next step is to login using a username and password. Many stores first require you to register with them before allowing you to pay for the items. You are required to enter your name, email address and postal address. You can also select the payment mode here, following which, you will be asked to fill your payment details. Some of the most commonly used modes of payment include credit card, debit card, cash on delivery, postal money order and SMS billing to mobile phones. After payment, the goods and services are delivered through download (for digital media products such as software, music, movies, or images), shipping, in-store pickup (the product is collected from the closest store), etc.

Why go online?

1. COST SAVING: “Generally the prices of products online would be less than the physical stores as online stores do not have to spend on retail space and therefore can add on the savings to customers,” says Sachin Bansal of flipkart.com. Shopping online also opens the option of exploring the prices of the products across various geographies. Rates of exchange on the US Dollar and the British pound mean you can pick up bargains from other countries.

2. INFORMATIVE: You have access to all product-related information (such as instructions, demonstrations, manufacturer specifications, or customer services) at the click of a mouse. Some sites provide customer reviews in the form of comments and ratings. For inquiries, you have well-trained ‘live’ sales representatives at your service through emails, phone calls or at times even real-time chat feature. No need to wait in long queues or search the aisles with that feeling of “does anyone work here?”

3. CONVENIENT AND HASSLE-FREE: You have a world of products at your fingertips, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, and you don’t have to venture out in the city, waste gas or deal with parking hassles, mall crowds, and long lines. You can shop peacefully regardless if it’s snowing or sweltering outside.

“Ironically, in smaller towns, it is possible that online is the only way for selling several products / brands. They may simply not be available at a retail store in the concerned geography,” says Sachin of flipkart.com.

4. CHOICE AND VARIETY: Now you can make east meet west, and find the strange and exotic from far off countries across the globe.

“You can have a large inventory online, something impossible for an offline store to achieve. Flipkart has around 6 million books displayed on its website. No offline store can boast of that kind of variety. Due to limitations of shelf space and problems in distribution, a lot of times some products are not available with the offline retailers, which we make available online,” says Flipkart’s Sachin Bansal.

5. PRICE COMPARISON: You don’t have to drive around all over town comparing prices and options. It’s all there in front of you! Price comparison sites, such as PriceGrabber.com, enable the customers to find the best deals for items or services. At these sites, one can instantly find and compare millions of products and services and their respective pricing information.

6. ECO-FRIENDLY: Imagine if all of us do our shopping on the internet. Environmental pollution due to plastic bags and traffic conditions will become a thing of the past.

Look out for…

But shopping online is not necessarily a safe option, with credit card frauds frequently making headlines. Here’s what you need to be aware of:

 1. PHISHING AND FRAUDS: “The most important disadvantage is: not knowing who is selling to you. Therefore it makes sense to stick to well known online stores,” says Sachin Bansal of Flipkart. You can be fooled into thinking that you are dealing with a reputable retailer, when actually you would have been manipulated into feeding private information to a system operated by a malicious party – known as phishing. “Since a lot of imitations are present on the net, ensure that you go to the correct URL,” he adds.

Then there is the risk of credit card fraud, where your personal data / credit card information is deciphered by a third party. However, there are also precautionary steps you can take.

Says Flipkart’s Sachin Bansal, “while making a payment, look at the top of your screen where the web site address is displayed. You should see https://. The “s” that is displayed after “http” indicates that website is secure. Also, never reveal your password to anyone. When selecting a password, do not use commonly known information, such as your birth date, mother’s name, or numbers from your driver’s license.” As a rule of thumb, avoid spammers and never fill a form with sensitive data such as User ID, Password, PINs, ATM and account number information, unless you’re on a secure website.

Do some research on the website before filling in your credit card details. Diving in head first without making sure of the seller is riskier than it seems. Check the seller’s reputation with your state/local consumer agencies or the Better Business Bureau, if you don’t know the merchant. Further, you can call the manufacturer of the product, or visit the manufacturer’s web site to check if the seller has been authorised to sell the manufacturer’s product.

“It is important to check the authenticity of the brands you are buying online. Sometimes, good fakes make their inroads in the system. The portal selling the merchandise must give a guarantee on the merchandise authenticity especially when it comes to premium and luxury brands,” says Ishita Swarup of 99labels.

“Always check that there is a good return policy. That ensures the company is genuine about its merchandise and claims,” she adds. Also, before making the purchase, be in compliance with the taxes, shipping, duties, handling and other applicable charges, and insurance on your purchase. Print everything, including product information, sales transactions, delivery details, warranties and confirmations. “At Flipkart, we follow a no-questions asked return policy. Within 7 days of receiving a shipment, one can return any un-opened book in its original packaging for a refund (excluding shipping costs). In case of a defective book, it is picked up and replaced at no extra cost,” says Flipkart’s Sachin Bansal.

It is always wise to pay using credit card only, as then you can easily dispute fraudulent charges, and by law, your liability is limited. If you give your credit card information over the phone, make a note of the phone number, company, the date and time of your call, and the name of the person who recorded your credit card number.

2. LACK OF PHYSICAL INSPECTION: Misinterpretation and misunderstanding of items bought online is a common problem. “A big deterrent to online shopping is the ‘touch and feel’ experience. You cannot see the product, feel it, and try it on before making a decision,” says Ishita Swarup of 99labels.  You may get lured by a cheap price and at the end of it, obtain a substandard or refurbished item. “We have tried to work around the concern with a detailed size measurement chart, shooting our products in a way the customers see a 360 degree view of the product. All product shots are exactly how the product with look in design and color. These features range from extra zoom options to highlighting the detailing on fabric and design to showing products shot from different angles. And with a “no questions asked” return policy, touch and feel barrier is all but broken,” she adds.

3. ONLINE CONNECTIVITY ISSUES: It becomes a rather frustrating experience if you’re on a slow internet. You enter your credit card information and press “submit”. What if the confirmation screen times out due to connectivity issues? You do not know if the order went through correctly or not. This can even lead to double dealings. To avoid this, some companies/banks provide an “automatic timeout” facility – if there is no activity for 5 minutes, your secured online session is automatically terminated.

4. SHIPPING AND DELIVERY RISKS: You have to be on tenterhooks until the product is delivered.  What if the item you are expecting never arrives, you will be lost in a series of phone calls to the seller and the courier company. You’ll have to ensure that you are at home at the time of delivery. Also, the shipping charges may be a deterrent, but weigh the pros and cons. If you’re getting something exclusive, it may be worth paying the extra.

“There have been a few incidents where we have returned payments for reasons like unavailability of the item, late delivery, receiving excess payment, etc. In all these cases we immediately assure the customer that the payment will be returned and we work with the respective banks to ensure that it is done as soon as possible,” says Sachin Bansal of flipkart.com.

Make sure you inspect the product as soon as it arrives. Dispute a purchase if anything goes wrong – remember, you’re protected!

 Good to know

Anyone can use your card by knowing all that is visible on it, such as name, card number, expiry date and CVV (card verification value) number. So to avoid this, last year, a directive by the Reserve Bank of India made it mandatory for online shoppers to have an additional authentication PIN verified by Visa or Master card.

“As 70 percent of the buyers transact using a credit card/debit card or through Internet banking, it is in any bank’s interest to provide special services to promote online shopping,” says Ishita Swarup of 99labels. Banks try to steer customers towards card-based payments so that they earn fee revenue from card-accepting merchants. “Banks work closely with e-commerce portals to provide secure transactions to the customers. They also do their bit in doing special promotions and offers to promote online shopping,” she adds.

Online shopping is here to stay…

With India poised to have the third largest internet users by 2013, the growing economy and worsening traffic conditions, there certainly would be more online purchasers. Hence all the large business houses in India have either entered or are planning to enter the online retail space. Says Ishita Swarup of 99labels, “Online sales is tried and tested abroad, and its success in India is all but guaranteed because Indian buyers love discounts”.

Experts: Sachin Bansal, CEO and co-founder, flipkart.com and Ishita Swarup, CEO and co-founder, 99labels Pvt Ltd

This story was published in the October 2010 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine.

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2 Comments on “At the click of a button…”

  1. Great information. Lucky me I found your website by accident (stumbleupon).
    I’ve saved as a favorite for later!

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