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Reduce Your Online and Offline Shopping Problems

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Have you ever bought a digital camera with brand-new batteries, only to find that it switches off before 30 minutes are up? Have you ever bought an assemble-yourself fan only to find that there is no parts-assembly guide? Have you ever had to take leave from work just to have your product replaced (or to ask for a full refund)? If you do your own shopping for your own electronics and other consumables, most likely you've been through one.

Although it's inevitable to bump into consumer woes, here's what you can do to avoid going through shoppers' inconvenience or shopping hell for online and offline shopping:

1. Don't give big departmental stores your business just because it's easier to get discounts or find everything you want under one roof. Smaller physical shops and small mom-and-pop shops are more careful with electronic products' warranty cards, for example. A store-stamped or company-stamped warranty card means you don't need to return to the shop to ask them to stamp the to-be-mailed-out portion of your warranty card.

2. Another reason small physical shops are good is that they are more willing to open up that sealed-up box and assemble it for you to self-test. You do not want to go home only to find a missing part. (This actually happened once to me when we went out to get a Cornell fan from a department store. There was no companion to the screw that helped to hold the blades of the fan down firmly.)

3. Some product manufacturers require you to enclose a copy of the original receipt when you mail back the warranty card. They also require seeing a copy of your receipt before they start giving you any free repair during warranty period (usually one year). This most likely means you'd have to go through the hassle of photocopying/scanning the receipt for your own reference.

It makes sense that regardless of whether you buy your stuff from a physical department store or a physical smaller shop, you may want to ask sales staff for two copies of your receipt. This is a must if you are also already using one receipt to enter and submit your lucky draw (if any).

4. Only buy from departmental stores or shops that cover your products for at least three days from date of purchase. For online stores, it's a boon if they offer 30 days or more from date of purchase, since your physical products may arrive anywhere between three to ten days. This is in case, as a last resort, you need to send or mail back the whole thing back to the shop for a full refund.

5. Be aware that services differ from country to country. In Korea, it's very common to be able to return a product for repair to the physical shop where you bought it. Here in Singapore, unless it's a shop that serves only one brand (e.g.: Canon, Samsung, Sony Ericson), you'd have to bring a faulty product back to its manufacturing headquarters. If unsure, always call first to make sure you're not going to the wrong place.

6. If it's the last product on the floor (or in the display window), bargain for a lower price (even in a fixed-price departmental store). Speak to the manager. People have the view that the last product may have flaws and scratches, and they may never get that last one sold. If it really has flaws, you'll be less likely to feel heartbroken than if you paid retail price.

7. If you intend to shop online, find out all delivery and refund policies first, and consider these as well:

  • Are purchases insured in case products are lost in transit?
  • Does the online shop offer you the option of tracking your purchase online? If not, can you email support to find out?
  • Do you have to apply for an authorisation to the online shop before a
    product can be physically returned for a refund (an additional department
    that decides product-returns or product-refunds on a case-by-case basis)?
  • Would you be getting back a full refund or a partial refund? (They might not return your shipping fees, for example.)
  • Are they willing to cover your shopping costs in case you need to mail
    back the item?
  • Does the online shop have comprehensive details concerning clothing sizes and measurements?
  • Do you know the differences between "warranty" and "guarantee"
    and how it affects your purchases?
  • Not all online shops have a ticketing system or Instant IM service to handle customers' enquiries and complaints, but are your questions and complaints (when not found
    in the frequently-asked-questions section) answered in a timely manner? Service can be indicative of what you'll be getting for your money.

8. Who can miss online product reviews? Find a couple of review sites to bookmark and use them. Find some things said about products on Blogcritics, Twitority.com, and Monitter.com (for Twitter members).  

Can you think of other ways to prevent online and offline shopping hell? It's your turn to talk back!

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