Online shopping is when you buy a product or service over the Internet. Online shopping is known as ecommerce in the retail industry. What was somewhat of a novelty over a decade ago is now a common activity. For young people online shopping has always been there. This article discusses the basic of online shopping, including shopping carts, security, store memberships, shipping and more.
How to Shop Online
Online shopping makes life easier in many ways. One click of the mouse or a tap on your phone and an item can be yours. You never have to leave the house. The item will arrive at your home in a box a few days after you place the order. It can even arrive at your door within hours using some services available primarily in large cities. However, just because online shopping is easy does not mean there are not pitfalls. Online shoppers should always have concerns about security, price and returns. The ease of online shopping also means people have to be careful not to overspend.
What You Need to Shop Online
- A device with Internet access. We think it is easiest to use a computer but you can also shop with a mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone.
- A credit card, Pay Pal or other type of digital wallet account. Do not use a debit card.
- Email account - you will probably have to register with the online store if you are not already registered. An email account also lets you receive updates about your package delivery.
- Address - you need a place your item can be mailed to
- Pricing - you should have a general idea of what you want to spend, including your expectations about shipping costs
Finding an Online Store
There are thousands and thousands of online stores. You can use a search engine like google to find a store by entering the name of the store or the type of store, such as pet store or clothing store. Most physical stores use their brand name and a dot com address. For example, type walmart.com or target.com into your browser and you will arrive at the online store for the brand. We also have a store directory where you can find many great online stores.
Online Shopping Steps
Once you arrive at the website for the online store you will take the following steps:
- Search for a product or browse the site by category
- Add items to your shopping cart
- Proceed to checkout, i.e. click on the checkout link
- Register with the online store if you have not already
- Enter your billing and shipping information
- Place your order
- Follow your order with delivery tracking
- Check your order once it has arrived
Here is some additional information about each of these steps.
Online retailers spend millions trying to make it easy for customers to find items and make purchases. Online stores almost always have visible a search box where you can search for the item you are looking for. You should also be able to browse the site using pull down menus located near the top of the site.
For example, if you are on a fashion store there will be options to browse by clothing type, size and designer. If you are on the Home Depot site you can browse by department, room, DIY projects are other options. If you are at an online tech store, like Best Buy, you can browse by brands and product categories, like TVs, computers, audio, cell phones, etc.
Here are a few store search tips:
- Try searching the brand name as well as the product name.
- Try the search using different words.
- Try a search using a wildcard. One some store searches the asterisk will function as a wild card.
- Try a search under "all departments." The item may not be in the department you think.
- On some sites you can exclude items from your search with a minus sign
When you are shopping at at an online store you have a virtual shopping cart. You can add or remove items to your cart just like you can with a real shopping car. Items are added to your cart as you select them. The option to add an item to your cart will be easy to see. You might have to select size or color options before the item is added to your cart.
You can generally get to your cart from any page on the site. Some retailers may have a mini cart that is always visible as you shop. Other retailers have a link on every page to the shopping cart page. Retailers should make it easy to add and remove items from your cart. There should also be a toggle that lets you change the quantity of an item. On some sites reducing the item quantity to zero removes it from the cart.
On the shopping cart page you will also see an option to continue shopping or checkout.
When are you ready to order your items you have to check out. This involves entering your billing address, mailing address and billing information. This information may already be saved if previously registered at the store. If you have not registered then you will have to register with the online store by creating a password and giving the online store your email address. It can be a pain but it is important to create a strong and unique password for each store. The reason for this is if one of your store accounts is hacked it prevents the hacker from using the same password to get into all your other accounts. Registration is also a good idea because you will get an emailed copy of your order. The order information will also contain your tracker so you can track the item's delivery.
Shipping rates vary greatly from site to site. Some of the larger retailers have negotiated deals with delivery services that enable them to offer lower shipping rates. A site may also offer a membership (such as Amazon Prime) that enables you to get lower shipping or free shipping on a number of items. Shipping costs tend to be lowest (and take longer to deliver) when you use ground shipping. They are highest when you want your item overnight or two-day shipping. Some sites will offer free shipping if you spend over a certain amount. The retailers usually make this free shipping deal very visible and put it at the top of every page.
There are almost always deals and discounts available. We mention them daily on our Best Daily Deals page. You can also usually find deals on the store websites. Look for a deals link on the site or check the top of the site where there are usually current offers. An offer for free shipping with purchases over a certain amount is visible on most retail sites.
The major delivery services all provide trackers so you can follow your package as it leaves the retailer's warehouse and heads to its destination. This could be your home or another address if it was a gift.
Here are the websites for some common delivery trackers:
You want to be careful when unboxing your package so that you keep everything together and you are able to reuse the box it came in if need be. If you an item is damaged or it was not what you expected then you have to send it back to the retailer. If the is damaged or not what you ordered you should also take a picture of item with your smartphone. Many retailers make returns easier by providing a shipping label. Some retailers offer free returns for a limited amount of time, such as 30 days. It makes life easier for consumers and encourages purchases from a retailer's perspective. Don't wait too long to return an item if it is damaged or wasn't what you wanted.
The account section typically contains your email address, mailing address and security setting. Most sites also provide an order history and tracking information. Some stores make it easy for you to reorder items you ordered previously. If an online store offers store rewards or store cash it is also usually found in your account or member section. If you have order any digital products - such as a software download or digital movie - it is probably in your accounts section under your digital library.
We hope this gives you a good overview of online shopping. Happy Shopping!