Want to shop online for Christmas? Then walk this way...
With more than 90% of shoppers buying presents on the internet, it's vital to protect your purchases
Are you dreading the Christmas shopping crush? The drudgery of traipsing around trying to find the right colour cardigan for aunty Kate is bad enough.
And this year it's even worse with the icy blasts of an arctic winter that make even a simple shopping trip seem like a polar expedition.
But you don't have to get kitted out like Ernest Shackleton off in search of the South Pole to tick off your Christmas gift list.
More people than ever before are getting much of their shopping done from the comfort of their home -- by doing it online.
And there is still time to get your order in -- and snap up a bargain -- says Donovan Hutchinson, of the online shopping website ShopIreland.ie.
"It's certainly not too late to get delivery, as orders can be placed up till as late as December 20th (assuming the item states 'Usually ships within 24 hours')," he says.
"Delivery can vary as the orders are sometimes sent through a courier when postal services are slower than usual, but usually it's three to five business days for normal Airmail or Super Saver Shipping, and one to two business days for priority shipping."
Despite our economic woes, Irish consumers are set to spend €356 million online on gifts in the run up to Christmas -- an average of €172 each, according to new figures from Visa Europe.
However, this year's 'Cyber Monday' (November 29th), the day in which most online retailers see their biggest spike in purchases, was around 20% slower than last year on Shopireland.ie.
"I wouldn't want to blame it on the recession, though, as it's as likely people were out in the snow. Traffic and sales have been strong and we expect this year to be a good one," O'Donovan says.
The recession manifested itself mainly in a tendency for online shoppers to go for special offers and seek out the best deals, according to Donovan
And e-retailers have responded, cutting up to 80% off DVDs and books.
Most Irish shoppers (85%) shop online because they believe they can save an average of 18% on Christmas gifts compared to the High Street.
This year more than 94% of people plan to buy some Christmas gifts online with men likely to spend more (€192) online than women (€162), according to research by Visa Europe.
And that's probably an underestimate as the survey was done before Ireland was hit by the latest mini-ice age.
Visa also found that nearly three-quarters of people believe that their virtual shopping spree is secure.
But how safe is it really?
It certainly spares you the physical risk of negotiating icy pavements and roads
And if you do splash out online you do have some extra protections such as a seven-day "cooling off" period (see panel).
But don't get lulled into complacency; the internet is a minefield and only secure if you stick to the right path.
Here are the basic tips to keep you on track:
- Use websites you know or which are recommended. Check ratings given to the seller by other shoppers. Satisfaction rates should be in the high-90s and with a large overall number of respondents.
- Check sites' reputations on forums such as www.boards.ie or www.askaboutmoney.com.
- Giving your credit card details online is always a bit dodgy but you can make it safer by paying through a trusted third party such as Paypal.
- Know exactly what you are buying -- and make sure you don't buy it twice. If you are unsure whether a purchase has gone through, wait for confirmation before putting another order in.
- Be very wary of buying stuff outside the EU. It's not easy to sort out problems with a vendor on the other side of the planet and warrantees and consumer rights may be problematic.
- If fraud occurs in the EU, the credit card company will usually refund you -- depending on the circumstances.
You may have to prove that you were the victim and report the incident in a timely manner.
- Non-EU purchases may be liable for VAT. If an item costs more than €22 you will have to pay VAT.
If your online purchase costs more than €150 you will also have to pay Customs Duty. This will be collected by the company that delivers your parcel.
- Check the site you deal with is secure. An address that starts with "https://" (rather than http://) is more secure.
Also look out for a closed padlock symbol at the bottom corner of the screen, which verifies that your details are protected during transmission.
- Keep a copy of the confirmation message from the supplier.
- Look at your credit card statement to ensure you have been billed correctly and respond swiftly if there is a problem.
- If you buy something in an internet auction, get the full contact details of the seller in case there are problems.
Do not go offline to complete the transaction as this will negate any protection offered by the site. And don't transfer cash through money-transfer networks as this can be difficult to trace.