Shopping online can net you a bargain, with top-selling items such as clothing, electronics, books and sporting goods costing far less than if you’d bought them in a local bricks and mortar store, especially if you use coupons. So it’s no wonder that online shopping is on the increase, but despite its popularity there are still some hazards that savvy shoppers can avoid.
This ultimate online shopping guide will help the beginner internet buyer, and probably give experienced online shopaholics a few extra tips as well.
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Where to shop online?
There are different sorts of online stores, and each one has its advantages and disadvantages.
Let’s start by looking at the different types of online stores, shall we?
Online auctions are popular places for trading goods. Almost everything you could possibly think of is available, whether you want to sell or buy goods. Register as a user and away you go. But be aware, there are risks alongside the benefits:
- Prices can be much cheaper.
- Can obtain hard-to-get items.
- Can often get “past history” of users to evaluate honesty and trading.
- Vendors may not be willing to ship overseas.
- Vendors are registered with the auction house but aren’t official businesses, so the risk is higher.
Online auction is still an emerging market in Nigeria. At the moment, the only Nigeria based auction site we can find is ShopAndMall.com.ng.
Over the years, online classified has gained some popularity in Nigeria and it continues to grow. The likes of OLX opened the door to online classified in Nigeria and more online classified sites like has emerged.
Online classified are similar to traditional newspaper classifieds where sellers list their used product for sell. A buyer sees the product and contacts the seller, they both agree on a price and where to meet for the exchange.
Some features of online classified:
- Can locate hard to get or used items.
- May get good discounts.
- Traders’ history is hard to evaluate, so risks are higher.
These online shopping centres gather multiple shopping destinations together in one location. A popular online comparison site in Nigeria is PriceCheck.com.ng.
Main things to note about comparison sites:
- There are many stores to choose from.
- Navigating between shops is simplified.
- You may be moved between sites without being told.
- Advertising may determine what sites are available as destinations.
Manufacturers and retailers
This is the traditional online shopping sites, where we have the likes of Jumia, Konga, Yudala, etc. Check out our top 10 online shopping sites in Nigeria for more on that.
One quick thing to know about e-retailers is that most of them are marketplace. What this means is that other vendors also sell on their sites but they take responsibility of every transaction unlike in auction or classified where the seller not the site owner is responsible for everything they do.
Things you need to know about online retailers:
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- You can buy direct from the retailer/producer. A producer can be a vendor.
- There’s often a lot of information available.
- The risk is less because the site owners take responsibility of every transaction.
- You may not get the best deal.
Can you trust the online shopping sites?
Safe online shopping is all about doing your homework. If you’ve never shopped online, start with recommendations from family and friends, and always try to find out as much as possible about the company before you hand over your credit card details.
If something goes wrong with your transaction, the more information you have, the better off you’ll be. Look for the business’s street address, phone numbers, email address. This tells you it’s a bona fide business.
If you’re unsure about a company’s track record, do some research online:
- Search for complaints by typing the company’s name, plus “complaint” or “problem” into Google search engine or other search engines.
- Or, if the website is a registered business, it should be listed with the department of consumer affairs or fair trading in your state or territory.
What about buying abroad?
Overseas goods are often cheaper, even taking exchange rates and shipping into account. Nigerian retailers argue that there’s good reason for this, and good reasons to still shop locally, including local warranties and after-sale support.
Things that may worth buying in oversea online shopping sites are things that you may not find in the local online stores. However, you should note that greater risks are associated with shopping overseas because getting in touch with customer support may be difficult.
Overcoming the distance barrier
Before the online shopping boom it was hard – and sometimes impossible – to shop in places like US or China from the other side of the planet, unless you had a US credit card and shipping address. Other shopping destinations posed similar challenges.
Nigerians used third party transaction and delivery services such as Payoneer, PayPal or Shiptomydoor to get around this, but their services are becoming less necessary. Meanwhile, many Chinese based online retailers ship directly to Nigeria, as do a growing number of overseas stores. Some of this stores include Gearbest, Everybuying, DHgate etc.
Beware different rules
Consumer law changes from country to country, and if you’re shopping using a website not based in Nigeria there are other considerations in addition to the usual precautions.
- If in doubt about your rights, be doubly careful when checking your ‘contract of sale’ – the site’s general policies and terms and conditions – and what consumer protection measures are available.
- It can be difficult to get assistance when things go wrong with an international transaction. If you have trouble resolving a complaint, contact the relevant consumer affairs organisation in the country where the company’s located.
- You can use websites such as the National Information Fraud Centre in the US and Companies House in the UK to check the credibility of international businesses.
When it comes to payment when shopping online, there are many options available depending on your location and the site you are shopping from. ATM cards are the widely accepted payment option and they are readily available.
The rising concern about online fraud, however, suggests it’s not an entirely safe option. So what are the other options?
Third party payment options
If you’re dead set against keying in your credit card details every time you shop online, a third-party payment service may suit you. These facilities act as an intermediary between you and the merchant so you don’t have to disclose your details to sellers. The drawbacks, however, may include registration fees, transaction charges and a limited number of participating websites.
Some of the popular third party payment options used by online shopping sites in Nigeria are Paga, KongaPay, Quickteller, GTpay, SimplePay etc.
A popular third party payment option when it comes to shopping abroad is PayPal.
PayPal is an online payment service owned by eBay that allows you to send money to anyone (as long as they have an email address) via the internet. You register with PayPal to set up an account that’s linked to your credit card or nominated bank account. To pay for items, you log in to your PayPal account and enter the email address of the recipient and the amount. PayPal then sends an email notification to the recipient, who logs into their PayPal account and checks that the money’s arrived.
PayPal supports US dollars, Canadian dollars, euros, pounds sterling and yen. It’s one of the safest ways to pay for goods, particularly if you use online auction services and when you are shopping abroad.
WARNING: PayPal is a popular target for online email scams in which fraudsters try to steal your account details in order to access your money. Read all emails claiming to be from PayPal carefully, and always type in the website address when accessing your account.
ATM/Debit card security blanket
If you prefer to use your ATM card, consider registering for the additional authorization services offered by your bank. This includes using a code known as “safe token” to authorize every transaction.
The services from MasterCard (SecureCode) and Visa (Verified by Visa) require you to add a password or secure PIN to your credit card. In addition to entering your credit card number as usual, you’ll be prompted for your SecureCode PIN or Verified by Visa password when you’re shopping at participating stores. These verify that you’re the authorized holder of the credit card. If you don’t enter the password or PIN, your transaction won’t be finalised.
To find stores that allow the type of card you use, look for the card logos on websites.
Always at risk
No matter which payment option you choose to use, there’s always some element of risk – online or offline. It’s good practice to:
- always check your account statements carefully. If a transaction doesn’t look familiar, raise the issue with your bank or card provider as soon as possible
- only shop at websites that use a secure payment facility indicated by a locked padlock in the right-hand corner and https:// in the address line
- read emails from your bank, credit union or a third-party payment service carefully. These organisations don’t ask for account details via email
- never tell anyone your passwords or PINs.
Extra costs of buying abroad
If you’re buying from an overseas website, don’t forget to factor in the extra charges associated with foreign financial transactions, or you might be shocked when you see the final cost on your statement.
The first thing to calculate is the exchange rate. Some sites may list the US or UK price, probably the most common foreign currencies you’ll use. You can also use an online currency converter such as www.xe.com to give you a rough idea of the cost.
Your bank or financial institution will convert the amount into Naira using the exchange rate on the day you made the transaction. Using a formula more complicated than the multiplication of complex trigonometry, each bank sets its own rate, although the end result is usually quite similar.
You’ll also pay a foreign currency conversion fee, which is a percentage of the sale price. For example, a CD from a UK website that costs £16 will be converted to about ₦7000 and then a conversion fee of, say, 2.5% will add another ₦175. So the £16 CD actually costs you nearly ₦7175.
It may seem like a small figure, but it can quickly add up if you’re making large or multiple transactions. You should also consider overseas delivery costs. Some sites may give postage discounts or even wipe the costs all together, but you may need to spend hundreds of dollars to qualify.
If you regularly shop online, it’s worth checking with your bank or financial institution about the conversion rate — it may be more relevant than the interest rate, especially if you pay the balance in full each month.
When you’re confident you’ve found a trustworthy site and you’re ready to buy, follow these steps.
- Check the description of the product, price — including delivery costs, currency and taxes — and warranty details. Good shopping sites should give you the opportunity to confirm or reject your order before you pay for it, and also have a reasonable return policies.
- Choose a payment method — ATM card, cheque, bank deposit, transfer, PayPal etc. Where available, you should opt in for pay on delivery because it is the safest, especially if you don’t fully trust the shopping site.
- Confirm the site has a secure checkout— Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) software is the most common technology used to secure shopping sites. It encrypts or scrambles your personal information as it travels over the web. When you move to a secure web page, you might see a pop-up box that says “click OK if you’re happy to proceed”. If you don’t get the pop-up, you can tell if a website has secure shopping facilities by looking for a locked padlock on the browser’s status bar.
- Use encryption. Check to see that the website uses at least 128-bit encryption. You’ll often find this information on the site’s FAQs or ‘About us’ page. Other less common security protocols include Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Electronic Transaction (SET).
- Check if and where your details will be stored later — some online businesses store them on a secure server or destroy them once the transaction has been processed.
Delivery problems are one of the most common complaints reported by online shoppers, with goods taking weeks to turn up, arriving damaged or not getting to you at all.
As a precaution, try to make sure your item is in stock and check the expected delivery time before completing your transaction. Most good retailers will notify you via email when your order’s been received, as well as when the item is shipped or if there are problems or hold-ups.
- Late delivery. If your item doesn’t arrive on time, contact the retailer to check the status of your order and, if you’re planning to cancel it, find out whether they’ve already charged you for the purchase – some companies process your payment even before the item’s been shipped. You should be entitled to a refund.
- No delivery. If your product never arrives, put your complaint in writing and try contacting the retailer more directly, by phone or in person if possible. Have the details of your order handy and remember that you’re entitled to a refund. If problems continue, file a complaint with the department of fair trading or consumer protection in your state or territory and inform your bank.
Read the fine print
While standard consumer rights apply to most items bought online (except through auctions), it can be difficult to achieve redress in the virtual world. Taking precautions early on can save you hassle down the track.
Before buying, check all the terms and conditions including:
- delivery costs
- if your item’s in stock
- whether you’re entitled to refunds or repairs
- if the company accepts returns and cancellations.
Find out how a company handles complaints or disputes. Reputable online retailers often have processes to solve problems quickly. If you’re not confident there’s a clear procedure to follow, look for another retailer.
Maintaining your privacy
If you have to provide personal details in order to access a site or buy anything, think carefully about the information you give away. In most cases, you don’t have to fill in every field – mandatory ones are usually indicated with an asterisk.
For the same reasons you keep receipts and invoices in the real world, it’s important to keep track of online transactions. A good website should send you an email confirmation of your transaction, as well as provide the opportunity to print your order.
For future reference we recommend keeping a hard copy record of all correspondence with retailers, as well as a copy of the returns policy that’s current at the time of ordering.
Now that you are grounded in online shopping, it is time to start shopping the professional way.
Additional tip: always use coupons and promotional offers to save some some money when shopping online. There is no better place to find latest coupons and offers than NairaBargain.
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