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Black Friday: 10 Tips for Safe Online Shopping

A guest blog by Will Earp, Digital Experience Manager from the South West Grid For Learning, a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre.

How did Black Friday come about?

Black Friday is a shopping event on the Friday after Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday of November. Black Friday has traditionally been the day that kicks off the festive shopping season and this year Black Friday falls on the 25th November.

What is Cyber Monday?

The Monday following Thanksgiving is also known as Cyber Monday, as data shows it is the biggest online retail day of the year with online sales of £968 million in the UK in 2015.

So how do you go about safely getting that great deal? Here are our top ten tips to help you stay safe when shopping online this Christmas.

1. Plan where to shop

All the major online retailers already have special pages dedicated to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but they will not tell you what the deals are actually going to be until the day. Some will allow you to access the deals early by signing up to their mailing list.

Work out which items you want to buy, and check that the online retailers who have Black Friday events sell those items. Then sign up to their mailing lists so you know in plenty of time whether the items you want are going to be on offer.

Smaller online retailers may also have deals that can beat the bigger outlets, either on Black Friday or during November and December.

2. Check that the company is reputable

So you have found the product you want at a great price, but you have never heard of the retailer, how do you know they are all they are cracked up to be?

Always check that the company is reputable, this can be done fairly simply by looking for the obvious signs: check that the company is displaying a UK based address and telephone number on their website and that they have a number of contact details available, not just an email address or contact form.

You could also take their limited company number and check it is still active on the companies register, this will also tell you how long they have been trading and what other company names they have used previously.

Make sure you feel confident they are who they say they are, if you are not sure – look elsewhere.

3. Read Reviews

Average ratings are useful in that if they have a high rating with a large number of reviews, then they should be a reputable online retailer. If their average rating is not quite hitting the 5/5 mark, it is always worth seeing why customers were not happy with their service.

Sometimes the poor ratings are generated by factors such as slow delivery times, which may not be a priority if you want to get a good price. Check the website is upfront about slow delivery if this is the case. If the reviews cite problems such as unresponsive customer service or poor quality items then you should think about avoiding those retailers and taking your money elsewhere.

4. Check your basket before going through to the checkout

Before you go through to the checkout, check you have selected the right products and quantities.

As you proceed through the checkout make sure you have explored all postage options, some retailers will add express postage as the default, but they may offer a slower but cheaper alternative.

5. Verify the checkout is secure

When buying online, you want to know that your transaction is going to be handled securely. Here are a number of steps you can take:

Is the connection secure?

The first thing to check is that the checkout process is secured by SSL. You can do this by:

  • Looking at your browsers address bar to look for the padlock icon.
  • Checking that the address begins with https://. (This means that the communication between you and the website is secure.)

Sometimes the payment page will be hosted somewhere else, such as Paypal, this is fine. Just make sure that the page where you enter your personal details is secure as well as the payment page.

Does the merchant support 3D Secure?

Make sure the merchant used by the online retailer supports 3D Secure for your card type. Depending on your card provider this will be called “Verified by Visa”, “MasterCard SecureCode”, or “American Express SafeKey”.

As well as offering better protection against online card fraud, this also moves the liability for certain types of Chargebacks onto the card issuer.

6. Protect your personal information

Giving online retailers your personal details is an inevitable part of online shopping, they need to know your email address to send you a copy of your invoice and keep you up to date with shipping etc. And of course they will need your address, otherwise they will not know where to send the items!

So you want to know that they are going to look after your details and not use them for purposes outside of what is needed for the shopping process.

Do you need to register?

Only register an account with a website if you think you will purchase from them again, otherwise checkout as a guest, although some websites require registration. If you do register, make sure to use a strong password that is not the same as your other passwords.

Enter minimal details

Firstly only enter your details into the required fields, if the field is optional; do not enter data into it unless you think they need it.

Beware of any newsletters that you may be signed up to as part of the checkout process. Legally if you buy something retailers are automatically allowed to opt you in to marketing materials, but most will give you the option to opt out.

Check protection assurances

You also want to know that the retailer is going to look after your data once they have it. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the homepage and see what assurances they give you about protection of customers through their shopping experience; this could be money back guarantees or data protection statements.

Look out for information about how the site will store and share your data. If you do not like what they will do with it or if this information is absent then look elsewhere.

7. Know your rights when buying online

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 covers your rights both when ordering online and in shops:

Make sure the goods that arrive are as described, if the website description is different to what you received or the quality is not satisfactory, you are entitled to a full refund
The goods should be fit for purpose and last a reasonable length of time
If something is faulty, you are entitled to a full refund within 30 days, after this your rights become more limited, such as being able to ask for repair, replacement, or partial refund

If you would like to know more check out this handy guide on consumer rights.

8. Extra protection from your credit card

Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 states that a credit provider must take the same responsibility as a retailer if things go wrong. This protection covers most purchases that are between £100 and £30,000 and means that if for example, the company that you purchased from went into liquidation before you received your goods you can claim the money back from your credit provider.

This protection covers credit cards, store cards, store instalment credit and some car finance agreements where a single item is between those values. As an added bonus, even if you just pay for part of the item on credit, you are still protected for the full value of the item.

So if you are making any big purchases this Christmas, make sure some or all of it is paid for on credit. Find out more here about how to protect your purchases.

9. What to do when something goes wrong

Hopefully the buying process will be completely pain free, but if something does go wrong, you want to know you can easily solve it. If you have used the tips above and you are dealing with a reputable online retailer, the process should be fairly painless.

The first port of call is to contact the retailer; email is probably easiest as you can deal with their responses in your own time, and you will have a paper trail to refer back to. Whatever method you use, make sure you have the purchase details handy, such as your email address, the order number and a concise description of the problem.

If you are having trouble getting hold of the retailer, make sure you try all methods of contact that they offer, failing this you could look for alternative methods such as Twitter, if you think taking it public may force them into taking you seriously, or you could contact the Citizens Advice Bureau or Trading Standards.

As a final resort you can take them to court, which if the value of the goods is under £5,000, you can do in small claims court without a solicitor.

10. Check for added protection when using a marketplace

Online marketplaces such as Amazon and Ebay, as well as selling their own products, are a storefront for other retailers to sell you their goods; so as well as dealing with the main website, you are also dealing with a third party seller. Your buying rights do not change with this arrangement, but it can make things more complex if things go wrong.

To mitigate this some marketplaces offer extra money back guarantees if there are problems. If you have any issues with the product and the seller is being unreasonable, you can elevate it to the marketplace and they will often refund you and take the money out of the sellers account.

Hopefully these tips will help you have some confidence when buying online this Cyber Monday and for the rest of the holiday season.