I LIVE off the Internet – I admit that. I need it for scholastic research, for updates on class announcements, for games, for making online bookings and hotel reservations, for keeping in touch with my family and friends, for keeping up with the news. I can’t remember the last time I watched the news on TV ever since the latest news seemed to be fed to people online in real-time. Furthermore, I use the Internet for purchasing things – plane tickets, fast-food delivery, and even clothes and gadgets.

What first got me into online shopping was my obsession with K-Pop. And every K-Pop fan in the Philippines would understand my frustration with the lack of K-Pop merchandise sold in the country – if there are any, they are mostly likely fan-made.

For high quality, original merchandise such as CD albums, concert DVDs, apparel, calendars, fans, pins, etc., we would have to resort to buying in Korea or buy one online. But of course, buying online instead of personally buying the product and inspecting the quality comes with the risk of receiving something not quite what it was described online – that is, if it comes at all. It is because of that possible risk and of the many scams committed that many are hesitant to shop online even though there are so many good buys.

From my very first online purchase until this day, I have yet to encounter a bad online shopping experience. Every purchase I have made so far has been successful and the product delivered came in the exact specification and in good condition. I, too, was hesitant with shopping online, especially buying from online sellers that have a payment-first policy. It was only until some friends of mine shopping online for shoes and clothes that I decided to make my first buy. And it is with my personal experience in shopping online that I have come up with a few tips to remember.

1. Use familiar websites and shops.

Websites like eBay and Amazon have long been into the online retail business. For added security, purchases on their site can only be made through a third-party online paying system like PayPal. They also have a feedback rating feature where previous customers of online sellers can rate their shopping experience based on the quality of the product, ease of communication with the seller, shipping time and charges. The higher the rating, the more reliable the seller. For Facebook-based sellers, be sure to check for other buyers’ reviews to prevent being scammed. Sellers often ask their clients to post pictures of their received package to build up reliability.

2. Never overshare personal information.

All online shops do not need more than just basic information and in no case would they need social security numbers, the numbers on the back of your credit card, or other personal information for you to secure your purchase. As much as possible, try not to give out any information at all until you are sure on making the buy.

3. Use credit card or PayPal.

The safest payment method for online shopping is by credit card or PayPal where payments can be traced or cancelled. Direct payment by bank deposit or by debit card are used by smaller online shops but it runs the risk that the product may not be delivered after the payment is made. For credit card payments, there is more recourse such as being able to question fraudulent charges and putting a limit for credit card usage. Cash on delivery is also another payment option for most shops but make sure to be around when the package arrives.

4. Buyer beware.

This is common sense in any situation but online shopping would require more diligence on the part of the buyer to check the reliability of the website and of the products being sold. Online shopping does not end at payment. Keep records of your purchases and check your statements and billings for any unauthorized charge.

5. Read reviews, reputation ratings.

The best way in checking out online shops is through other buyers’ experiences. Reviews can also share on how long shipping could take and how well the packages are handled. Of course, reviews can also expose a bogus seller and prevent other potential buyers from going through the same bad online shopping experience.

6. Use coupons and discount codes.

Online shops love giving out big discounts to entice more shoppers. The same is true for airlines carrying out seat sales and peso fares. Using discount codes and coupons can shed off considerable amount from your tab.

7. Canvass.

In online markets where there are many sellers, don’t buy the first product shown. Check for similar products. A lot of online sellers carry the same product but price it at different amounts. Even shops like Lazada and Zalora sometimes carry many of the same things with the same specifications but different prices.

8. Do not shop when on a public computer.

Never shop when using the computer of a computer shop or a public café that may have its computer set on remembering passwords or data entered in online forms. Other dangers such as forgetting to log out of your account or someone looking over your shoulder as you type your credit card number is also a risk.