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Buying Electronics on the Internet

Buying Electronics on the Internet

Nowadays, it is simpler and safer than ever to buy electronic equipment and other products online. But be sure to be an informed shopper to ensure that your transaction goes smoothly.
Buzzle Staff
By Gary Orlando

Oh, the joy of getting that neat piece of electronic gear you've always dreamed of! Nowadays, with the aid of the Internet, you can do all your research, check out the best companies to deal with, and buy it, without ever leaving your home. Well ... it's almost that easy.

Buying online requires that you trust the information you have gathered up, and then give out your credit information. Unfortunately, there are always bad guys just waiting for you to drop your guard, and then it's all over except the time required to fix it―which can range from hours to actual years, and more frustration than you can possibly imagine. So what do we do? It is best to divide the purchase up into three different sections and treat each section independently.

Section one would be the actual product research. For example, what do you need your device to do? Will it accomplish all the tasks you require of it? What price range will best fit your budget without compromising quality? Does the manufacturer have a good track record of producing items that are well made and reliable? Once you have a general idea of which products will fill the bill, the next step is to find some people out there using your prospective product and find out what they think of it. You need to be careful here―if you go to a website that has a review of your product and also sells it, they are probably biased. That is not the type of review you should be looking for. Look for a site that doesn't sell anything, and has independent reviews of products, preferably by consumers who use the product. Two sites that fit the bill are Epinions and ConsumerReview, both of which provide product reviews and ratings written by consumers on product quality, customer service, and best buys. Most of these reviewers are average consumers and tell it like it is. If a particular product doesn't work very well they will surely tell you, in great detail; they hold no punches.

Section two is probably the trickiest part of an online purchase. Once you know what you want, you need to start looking to find a company that will sell it to you at a good price. This is the most difficult section, because if a company is dishonest or does not stand behind its products, or customer service is nonexistent, this is where the hair-pulling comes in. Many consumer review sites also provide price comparison charts and company ratings to help you decide where to purchase your product after you decide what you want. Be sure to review these ratings carefully. Does the seller have a phone number that you can use to contact them? Is the product they are selling brand new with a warranty applicable to the country you live in? What is the seller's refund policy? Do they offer a refund if you are not satisfied with your purchase within a few days of receiving the product? If you have a problem with your product later, when and how can you return it to the seller? Do you have to return it to an authorized repair facility, and what would that entail? Is the product in stock? If not, when will it ship? Does the seller show his complete address? VERY IMPORTANT: Be sure to keep all documentation related to your communication with the seller, make note of the dates and times you called, the names of people you spoke with, and save all e-mails. The best looking website or best price is not synonymous with a seller that will do a good job of taking care of you and your order. It also is a good idea to talk with your friends or co-workers about who they like to buy from and their experiences.

Section three is the actual purchase. After completing sections one and two above, you can now buy your product with confidence. If you are uncomfortable purchasing the product online, call the seller and give them your credit card information over the telephone, or make arrangements to mail them your payment. If you decide to purchase the product online from a website, you should always use a credit card if possible, because you will have the most buyer protection. With today's security software, firewalls, and encryption utilities, online purchases are usually very safe and secure. You will most likely need to set up an account first. Usually the only information you need to provide is your name, mailing address, e-mail address, and possibly your phone number. Be a little leery if they ask for more personal information such as your age, annual income, or shopping preferences. This type of information may be used for targeted marketing, and sellers don't need it to sell you a product. If such fields are marked 'required', you can usually get away with putting in fake information just so your purchase will go through without you giving away too much information. Before finalizing your purchase, make sure you understand the shipping rates; the faster you get it, the more it costs.

If you follow these steps, your online purchasing should go smoothly. If you purchased the product with a credit card and problems arise before you pay the credit card bill, you can usually alert your credit card company to dispute the bill and they may help you clear up the problem with the seller. If you have any problems after paying your bill, contact the Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, or other consumer protection groups in the state or country the seller is located in. In an absolute worst-case scenario, you can also contact that state's Attorney General for further legal action.

Thankfully, most electronics purchases from online companies today go pretty smoothly. The main things to remember are: research the product, find out what other people think, and learn as much as you can about the seller before making your purchase. And after your product arrives, be sure to go online and post your own reviews of the product and the seller, to help other people navigate their way through the world of online electronics purchases.