There’s always a degree of trust involved when handing over your cash, whether it be in the pub, on the highstreet or online. On the highstreet your guarantee is the fact that it takes a certain amount of money to be on the highstreet and present an image. Setting up and online store is a lot cheaper and it means there is more opportunities for unscrupulous dealers. I’m not saving you should avoid buying online, far from it, but you need to be aware there are risks and you need to watch out for them.

I’m always a little wary of using online stores I have not bought things from before. So I I head to Google and do a search for review and complaints. The fact that there are complaints isn’t necessarily a bad thing, most big stores have their haters and periods of bad customer service. So sift through the pages to see if anything dodgy turns up. If all the reviews are negative then take heed and steer clear.

A lack of any feedback, meanwhile, can mean one of two things:

  1. they are a good company and no-one has seen fit to praise or criticise, this most often happens with stores selling unexciting or inexpensive items
  2. they’re new and no one has had a chance to write a bad review yet, generally I would proceed with caution

Either way, you still need to be careful.

It’s always worth checking if the store is part of a trust scheme (such as Internet Shopping Is Safe), but make sure you click the logo and verify their status (it’s easy just to stick the logo on the page), it should link through to a verification page with the company’s name. Also look for things like a Thawte certificate (make sure to click through again), which can indicate they are secure.

Lastly, and this is perhaps more perception than anything else, take a look at the site and see if it looks professionally designed. If it’s a hideous site with links all over the place, poor layout and a generally unprofessional feel walk away. If they can’t take the time to get the look right, just how much time have they put into making sure you details are secure?

You may also want to check out my advice on Things to Check When Buying Online.