The Monitor

Technology for All of Us

By - Nov 1st, 2004 02:52 pm
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By Lightburn Designs

The holidays are just around the corner and that means two things – shopping, and spending quality time with Aunt Betty! If you are like me, you may not fully appreciate the art of dodging little tikes in the mall, walking eight blocks in a slushy parking lot or dealing with a 16-year old cashier with an attitude. As the malls grow busier and time more scarce, it’s no surprise online shopping has grown exponentially over the last few years. It’s perfect for those of us who prefer to shop in our PJ’s late at night while watching reruns of Cheers.

eCommerce, my how you’ve grown!Compared to other tools we use to trade and purchase goods, the Internet is by far the fastest-growing of all time. The telephone took 38 years to reach 50 million users and the television took thirteen. The Internet? Four years.

According to the Census Bureau, eCommerce sales in the second quarter of 2004 were $15.7 billion (yes, billion!), up 23.1rom the second quarter of 2003. It is projected that eCommerce transactions will increase annually by 22�compound).

Part of the appeal is selection. Without leaving your house, you can find everything from digital cameras and designer clothes to rare wine. I did a search for the phrase ‘Holiday Gifts’ on Google and it returned 5.1 million results!

New shoppers might want to start with the more popular, established sites that offer a larger variety of items across multiple categories. Amazon, Blue Nile and eBay are three of the biggest. Many even have the ability to cross-match potential gifts or mention items that others have purchased, offering shoppers even more options. And if you have absolutely no idea what to get your second Uncle Steve, try www.surprise.com or www.findgift.com for suggestions.

Shop safely.Online shopping is convenient, and most gift-type vendors are legit. But anytime you’re giving out your personal information, common sense must rule the day. Just as you could get robbed at the mall, or taken by a merchant with bad intentions, the same can happen to you online. But there are simple ways to protect yourself.

Reputable merchants should always use Secure Socket Layers (SSLs) for transactions, which scramble, or encrypt, the information you send to a vendor (billing address, credit card numbers, etc.). The best way to see if a vendor is using a SSL is to look in the lower right-hand corner of your browser for a little padlock icon or an unbroken key, or  for a web address that starts with “https:” – the  ‘s’ stands for secure. If a site is not using SSL, when you submit the information, a pop-up box will notify you that the site is not secure, at which time you can cancel the transaction (strongly encouraged).

I also recommend you start with small purchases the first time you shop at a particular online store and keep a personal record of your online transactions.

Keep Your Private Info Private.A simple rule to follow: never share personal information unless you are sure who is receiving it. And never release such sensitive information as birthdates, social security numbers and credit card account numbers to any online source unless you are absolutely sure the site receiving the information is secure and trustworthy. You can usually decide if a company is trustworthy by reading over the company’s privacy policy. Upright companies will not share your personal information with any other sources. If a company does not publish a policy statement online, you can contact them by phone. Or better yet, move on. After all, there’s more than one place to buy a Kangol cap.

Use a Separate Credit Card for Online Purchases. Just like you may use a separate charge card for travel, I would advise doing the same for your online purchases, if possible. If you pay by charge or credit card you are covered by the Fair Credit Billing Act, which protects consumers against fraud by allowing them to dispute any charges they did not make, only holding them liable for the first $50 until the dispute is settled. Using a dedicated card helps you keep track of where you spent (or didn’t spend).

Shop early.Now that you found the new Ab-Master 5000 for Cousin Bill, you will want to make sure he gets it in time to work off that holiday dinner feast. Most online vendors will ship to the recipient on or before its intended date. But if you are like me, you may procrastinate. Just remember, the longer you wait, the more shipping you will pay, and the less likely that your item will be in stock. And if you know Cousin Bill’s New Year’s resolution is to have six-pack abs in eight weeks—go on, get on the Net. After a few clicks, you can sit back, and relax, and let Bill do the work! VS

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