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Scotsman Column

24 December 2011

It's Christmas Eve and one shopping spree is over for another year but, for millions, another starts in the early hours of Monday morning as the Boxing Day sales begin.

For some, sales shopping might even start with a laptop in front of the Queen's Speech as Christmas dinner digests - such is the freedom that the continued growth of online retail has brought.

It is so easy to go crazy in the sales, and the convenience of the internet enhances the likelihood that consumers will do so.

However, during the rush to bag a bargain, it is vital that shoppers do not forget that staying safe online is more important than getting a few pounds off a purchase. It is all very well finding a pair of Jimmy Choos with 5% off and free delivery, but if they never arrive and you find yourself trudging barefoot through a battle to get your money back, you may wish you hadn't bothered.

With that in mind, here are some of the key safety precautions and pitfalls which shoppers should remember:

  • One of the worst mistakes to make is probably the easiest to avoid. Do not buy from a site that doesn't have a secure server to encrypt your credit card details. Make sure you look for the padlock. Another good sign which is becoming more frequently used is the additional 's for secure' at the end of the traditional http in the address bar. https tells you that security is in place and gives additional peace of mind.
  • Avoid buying from a web site that doesn't have any contact details, or only has a PO Box. Don't leave your brain behind when you log on, because buying from a web site you can't get in touch with shows lack of common sense.
  • This may seem like a simple piece of advice, but again, it is all about common sense. Don't buy from a web site that you haven't heard of or that doesn't display an accredited logo, like the shopsafe.co.uk seal.
  • Buying from a web site that sent you an unsolicited email is an absolute 'no no'. We all get them, but the best thing to do with them is to hit the junk button.
  • Don't buy from the first web site you find without shopping around. There are thousands of web sites, some with great deals - and a good reputation, so make sure you find them... but don't forget to keep an eye out for the other pitfalls.
  • Not checking the delivery prices and times can not only lead to heartache when a birthday or anniversary is missed, but also to more disappointment and problems. However, even more importantly, ensure the site says it abides by the Distance Selling Regulations, established to give greater protection to those buying online.
  • Entering the wrong address or card details when you're paying is something which can be avoided with care. The quality of the site isn't always the reason things go wrong.
  • Here's a simple one: use a credit card. Credit cards offer more protection than other cards, so if things go wrong you have a stronger position from which to fight your corner.
  • Print out either your confirmation page or e-mail when you place an order. You'll need your order details in case it doesn't arrive in time, or at all, or you wish to make a complaint about the goods received.
  • Among all of the problems you may face when shopping online, going over budget is one which is very easy to do. Shopping online can be so simple, but try not to land yourself in trouble with the bank manager.

For some, the lure of a 5am queue on Boxing Day is too good to miss, but for an increasing number of people online retail is a first port of call. However, staying secure online is vital, so keep an eye on the pointers above, have a very Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year.

Simon Crisp is director of www.shopsafe.co.uk, a leading online shopping portal which has vetted each of the 4,000-plus listed retailers for safety and customer service.

ENDS

ENDS