How to Find Thrift Store Treasures

Thrift stores are, by definition, stores that sell secondhand clothes, furniture, and other items at deeply discounted prices. Well-known thrift stores in the United States include Goodwill, ARC, and Salvation Army stores. These three examples have social missions built into their business operations, such as employing developmentally disabled adults or providing donations of money or goods to the underprivileged. For a complex set of reasons, including the fact that thrift stores’ merchandise is used, there is a prevalent stereotype that only people who are very poor can or should shop and thrift stores, and that secondhand products found at thrift stores are bad or worthless.

The Truth about Thrift Stores

It is true that thrift stores often have very large inventories. Because their merchandise is acquired through charitable donations from individuals, they do not select items to keep in stock. As a result, almost everything they receive as a donation ends up for sale in the store, and there can be extreme variation in type and quality. If one doesn’t take the time to look closely in thrift stores, one might get the impression that clothes there are ripped, stained, or otherwise unusable. However, if one takes the time to look closely in thrift stores, one can find clothes that are in excellent condition, even brand new clothes, for very low prices.

Tip #1: Shop by Neighborhood

Thrift store shopping can be particularly productive in large cities if one knows where to look. The first and most important guideline for thrift store shopping, or “thrifting,” is to consider the neighborhood. Donations of clothes and other items usually come from people who live in the area surrounding a thrift store. Therefore, if a thrift store is located in or near an upscale neighborhood or well-to-do part of town, chances are good that a high percentage of the donations are good quality, brand name items donated by individuals who simply wanted to update their wardrobes. On the other hand, thrift stores in less well-kept neighborhoods might be likely to have a lot of damaged items and should be avoided.

Tip #2: Shop by Color

If you are the type of person who is interested in keeping up with current fashions, you might think that you can’t find what you are looking for at thrift stores because the merchandise is “old.” This is a common misconception. Large thrift stores contain clothing that’s both old and new. Sometimes people give away new clothes that they received as a gift but don’t like, sometimes whole wardrobes are donated when a family moves away, etc. The wide variety of circumstances under which people donate to thrift stores means that thrift store shoppers have a good chance of finding what they are looking for. A tip to help you quickly and easily find clothes that are current and in-season: shop by color. Thrift stores have so many clothes that they often do not have time to sort them in any meaningful way, so it’s up to the shopper to find the needle in the haystack. You can easily pick out things that are in season by only looking at items with current colors. For example, sometimes pastel colors are in season for spring. If you look for these colors, you can save time by not considering items that are in off-season colors.

Tip #3: Check and Clean New Clothes

Make sure to double-check any item you find at a thrift store for stains, tears, and other problems, before you purchase it. Additionally, you should always wash anything you buy at a thrift store before you wear it. This is because thrift stores have a strict disinfecting process to which they subject clothes before they sell them. The chemicals they use to make sure donations are disinfected can be harsh on skin and can have a distinct smell, so it is a good idea to wash them when you get them home. (This is also true of consignment stores that sell secondhand clothes at higher prices.) By following these tips, you’ll be able to find stylish, brand-name clothes in like-new condition for unbeatably low prices. With a little patience and luck, you’ll be able to update your wardrobe sustainably.

Why You Should Only Go Shopping in a Good Mood

Common wisdom suggests that it’s a bad idea to go grocery shopping while hungry. If you haven’t eaten in some time, chances are everything in the store will look good, and you might end up wasting money by making frivolous purchase you wouldn’t normally make. Hunger clouds your better judgment, and you could end up with a lot of ingredients that add up to nothing, or with several precooked ‘quick fix’ items that you would have been better off leaving behind.

Retail Therapy

The same logic applies to shopping for new clothes, but this fact is far less accepted. When people are in a bad mood, they occasionally head to the mall to make themselves feel better, a phenomenon sometimes called ‘retail therapy’. Retail therapy may work in the short term, but in the long run, engaging in this practice results in losing money by making impulsive buying decisions and spending irrationally. As a general rule, then, it’s better to go shopping in a good mood.

When people feel bad about themselves, they want to surround themselves with items that will make them feel better, whether about their physical appearance, social stature, or romantic prospects. Sometimes, a change is required to get out of a bad mood, and while it’s important to recognize this, a change in wardrobe probably will not ultimately do the trick. Although we might feel compelled to buy clothes that convey a different personality than the clothes we usually wear, the end result of such impulse buys could accomplish the opposite result.

New clothes, if chosen wisely, can inspire confidence, and this could be the motive that drives some people to engage in retail therapy. As with hunger, however, negative emotions can cloud our usual, rational judgment, and cause us to buy things that, in a better mood, we would never have considered. If you are passed up for a promotion at work, you may think that buying a few items will spruce up your appearance and make you more impressive, giving you an edge next time around. This could be true, but visiting the department store on the way home from work will probably not solve the problem.

Your Unique Style

There are a few reasons for this. First, even though the idea of adding flare to your wardrobe is not bad in itself, the emotional state you are in will influence how you shop. Even if you don’t consciously think about it, you may be more likely to buy clothes similar to those worn by the person who got promoted over you, or to those you think will attract a particular individual to you. Just because these styles have worked for other people, however, does not mean that they will work as well for you. If you are shopping to make yourself feel better, chances are that you have already spent several years developing a style that is uniquely yours and that suits you fairly well. Attempting, even unconsciously, to emulate someone else’s style, will prevent you from expressing yourself in a style that is yours alone.

Even if you manage to avoid the pitfall of accidentally dressing like your successful neighbor, you may have a difficult time confidently wearing new clothes if you were upset when you bought them. Despite all your rationalizations, at bottom you probably know that retail therapy is an irrational behavior and that you are being frivolous with your money. This knowledge could prevent you from taking the same delight in your purchases as you would have if you had made those purchases in a secure, happy mood. If you can’t wear your new clothes with confidence and pride, you might as well not have bought them at all.

So even if a new suit is the solution to all of your problems, it’s better to wait until the sting of your missed promotion has worn off, and buy the suit on a good day.

The Concept of Buy Now Pay Later Catalogs

Pushing sales, or rather selling progressive number of units is something that retailers, superstores, and mega stores do on a daily basis. One very good strategy that is implemented by retail stores is the buy now and pay later strategy. As the name suggests, the buy now pay later option gives credit to its consumers. Such catalogs are issued by a variety of retailers in the United States, and in several cases, they have proved to be a great boon, not only for the retailers, but have also proved to be quite convenient for the buyers as well.

Buy Now Pay Later Shopping Catalogs

The mechanism of buy now pay later shopping is very similar to the mechanism of credit cards. When you visit the store, you need to open a credit account with the store. In such cases, all your personal details, such as your identity, credit report, and employment status are checked by the retailer. Often a debit card number is also demanded, for security or collateral purposes. Some stores also take a crossed check that is dated to the next month as an assurance. The process principally differs from enterprise to enterprise. In some cases, the prospectus itself can be ordered home and the ordered items are shipped to your place. This is possible in cases where you are a regular customer of the store and pay through a credit card or you have a certain credit account with the store. Some stores, however, adopt deep scrutiny where in the credit report is analyzed.

There are variations in these catalogs. For example, the catalogs with no credit check are provided to regular customers, who are ready to provide the stores with income details. In some cases, certain stores also take up the risk of issuing catalogs with bad credit. In such cases, a strict income check is implemented by the store.

Types

A considerable number of variants of such catalogs exist. Here are a few examples:

– Deferred billing is the first variant of these shopping catalogs. In case of differed billing, the transaction is completed on the purchase date and a credit is extended. Now, one must bear in mind that there is a credit limit that is imposed on the amount that can be purchased per billing cycle. One billing cycle goes on till the entire settlement is made in full. Some sellers offering differed billing cycles include, Home Shopping Network, Newport News, Spiegel, Palm Beach Jewelry, and Taylor Gifts
– Some stores even offer installment billing. Shops that sell really expensive commodities usually have this provision. Scrutiny in such processes is very strict and is almost as tough as getting a small loan. Bradford Exchange, Gettington, and Fingerhut are some examples where the installment billing is prevalent.
– Websites also tend to give such facilities where the billing cycle is prevalent at future dates. In such cases, unused credit limit on the credit card is restricted against your purchase.

Most of the stores giving such buy now, pay later facilities tend to have a limit for repayment, after which a fine, charge, or a straight interest is levied. In some stores, the interest or fee is levied by default, on all transactions conducted through these catalogs. Of late, many factory or manufacturer-controlled stores have also introduced this concept, Walmart, Apple, Massey’s, and Figi’s are some common examples.

Consignment Shopping―Used is the New ‘New’

Consignment shopping, once thought of as embarrassing and shameful, has now become the chic and fashionable way to shop. No longer do we have to hide and sneak our used purchases from our friends and family. We can now hold our heads up high and proudly exclaim to all the great bargains we have just acquired.

Back in the day, consignment shops were dingy little stores with low lighting and dusty merchandise. The tightening of the purse strings has led to an evolution of the consignment business. Many of the new resale stores are more like boutiques. These places usually accept only new or very gently used items that are up-to-date and trendy. Items are usually priced at one-third of the original cost. You can get a lot more bang for your buck.

Getting a bargain is only part of the appeal of the consignment store. Not only do we save money and get great things, we can also make money by taking in our clothing and furniture and other items that we no longer use. Most resale shops give you 30-60% of the selling price once your items sell. That’s a lot of cash just for getting rid of things that you no longer want! To stretch that bargain even further, you can then turn around and buy things that you DO want from the same consignment store for a discounted price.

In addition to the bargains and the money, another huge appeal is its impact on the environment. The state of the environment is on everyone’s minds these days. Everywhere you turn you hear about reducing your carbon footprint and how to make things more ‘green’. When you buy and sell on consignment, you are doing your part to try to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in our landfills. Why throw away a perfectly good sofa or pair of jeans that you just purchased last year and are either sick of, or they just don’t fit anymore? More than hundred thousand tons of unwanted goods and gadgets get thrown away each year. Recycling your unwanted items and buying others’ diminishes these numbers vastly.

Most importantly, consignment shopping is fun and exciting! It’s like going on a treasure hunt. You aren’t looking through rows and rows of the same boring stuff that you would find in the malls. Most are organized by size, color, or style. Each item that you look at is different from the last. These stores often receive items that were originally purchased from all parts of the world and somehow landed in your neighborhood. You could be the only person on your block to own one of these jewels.

There is no other place you can shop, earn money, be green, and have fun at the same time! You can find your local consignment shops by going online or looking in your area yellow pages. They are so popular these days, most cities and towns have them, and new ones are cropping up every day.

Shopping Malls

Previously, there were exclusive shopping centers where a customer could move around the quaint shops or blocks and choose whatever he or she fancied. A shopping mall is no different, its only larger. It is a building or sometimes a set of buildings, with a number of retail outlets. The difference lies in the interconnecting corridors or walks that enable customers to access each unit and move back and forth, if needed, before investing in any particular product or service. The visitors can walk from unit to unit and relax at the in-between sit-outs or snack bars as they shop! Malls are also referred to as retail parks or precincts.

Products and Services Available

Shopping malls are either enclosed retail structures or open-air retail complexes. They flaunt a mix of local shops and international chain stores. They make available easy access to a number of products and services like apparel, electronic items, footwear, accessories, exclusive jewelry, beauty products, and even services! Arcades also enable the shoppers to lounge around, listen to music, entrust children to a play pen, and enjoy a snack or a beverage as they shop. The whole shopping experience has been redefined. It is now a family affair and no more cumbersome even for dad! He gets space to continue work on the laptop or sip on hot chocolate or a lemonade, as mom drains his bank balance!

Types

The early indoor mall was usually two or three-story, complete with a basement and shops located on all levels. Today, the difference is the vertical expansion; it have many more levels. The in-house utilities and the variety has increased too. The concept of the enclosed mall was experimented on and pioneered by the American immigrant from Austria, Victor Gruen. This new generation arcade is an open-air pedestrian shopping center enclosed to enhance the appeal and experience within the dense, new, sprawling, and large residential suburbs. Today there are complexes that are agglomerations and literally, distinct landmarks. The malls today have hundreds of retail centers and speciality stores.

Pedestrian Precincts

A mall is also a term used to refer to a place that has a collection of outlets, adjoining a pedestrian area. This enables the shoppers to walk around and check out the products and services without interference from vehicle traffic. Usually, the term arcade is also used for such an arrangement with a narrow pedestrian-only street between closely spaced buildings. The trend is to create the shopping centers within old shopping districts, surrounded by subsidiary streets. The retail parks comprise warehouse style shops with individual entrances and accessibility from the outdoors. The pedestrian precincts also have hundreds of shops, restaurants, and screen cinema avenues.

Components

Shopping malls now have exclusive food courts that offer different cuisine. The food court enables the shoppers to order the snack or meal and carry it to a common dining area. These venues are usually plaza contiguous, flaunting counters of a number of food vendors. Malls have their own underground or adjacent parking facilities, not to side-line the valet parking services. They also have segments within the main basement or the entrance arena to look after toddlers. The adolescents can indulge in the cyber cafes or the gaming arcades within. There are masseur services and make overs regularly announced, along with DJ music! Malls are weather-protected and offer the ultimate ‘under-one-roof’ shopping experience.

A shopping property management company specializes in managing malls. This management is welcomed by the retailers who either own the shops or rent them, since the functionality of the utilities, like the escalators and elevators, are taken care of by the management firm.

Advantages of the Buy Now Pay Later Option

The ‘buy now pay later’ option has made shopping even more fun than it ever has been―an unabashed reflection of the consumerist society we live in today. Have you ever experienced the disappointed feeling when you just fell in love with a dress that you felt you must have, only to discover that you had run out of funds? However, now with the order now pay later choice, also called credit shopping, you can go right ahead and buy anything that catches your fancy and pay for it later.

Makes Shopping Faster
It is many online stores that have made buy now pay later shopping even more convenient, by allowing online shoppers to opt for the ‘bill me later’ option when they checkout. The experience with the bill me later option is really simple to use. Most of us lead busy lives; this is the reason why we opt for online shopping. This option makes purchasing through your computer faster than ever before.

No Need to Provide Account Numbers
The process is really fast because of the fact that you need not worry about giving your account numbers, and neither is there any waiting involved. The information that you are obliged to give with the bill me later feature is superficial, which you would have memorized anyway. This is why most impatient shoppers find this option such a boon.

It is Secure
When shopping online, most shoppers want to feel secure. Many people experience a nervous feeling every time they have to enter their account information online, particularly of late with all identity theft cases that have been brought to light. However, with this option, there is no need to give any personal information.

It Offers Attractive Credit Options
Another convenience that many stores offer is credit facilities, such as not having to pay from 90 to 120 days. In fact, some stores also waive off the interest if payments are made within 90 days. These facilities are usually offered on purchases over a certain amount, which can vary from USD 100 to even up to USD 500, and sometimes even more.

Plenty of Items Available
There are practically endless items that you can buy these days with credit shopping. From clothing items, to accessories, to bed linen, to jewelry, home appliances, to home décor items, to furniture; you name it and you will find it. In fact, many buy now pay later online stores offer myriad products at the same site. All you need to do is choose what you want to buy and simply follow the simple procedures and opt for the bill me later option.

A Word of Caution
Due to the ease of buying, you can easily end up spending beyond your means. Some day, you will have to find the money to pay off the credit card bill or the overdraft. One way to avoid that is to pay off your full bill every month. This is highly recommended, otherwise you will have to pay the interest charges if the balance is carried over from one month to another. But, buy now pay later also has the added convenience of letting you pay in installments instead of having to pay off the whole bill at one shot.

In conclusion, it must be said that the buy now pay later option provides you with great convenience due to its flexibility of making deferred payments. It even allows you to make purchases of expensive products. However, you must use it judiciously and sensibly in order to have fun while you shop to your heart’s content.

On Thinking Before Buying

Now that it’s November, it’s important to go right out this second and buy as many holiday/Christmas gifts as you can and cannot afford. Don’t wait for the big Thanksgiving sales. Don’t wait for the weekend. Don’t even wait until you’ve read the rest of this article. Go out, right this instant, and buy things! Because if you don’t buy things, it means you don’t love people enough, and everyone will know that you don’t really care about them. Don’t think; just buy! Happy holidays!

Are you a little, or more than a little, tired of that particular set of messages? Are you tired, too, of having the same conversation every year with salespeople, about how it seems like the ‘holiday shopping season’ comes earlier every year? Or of reading human interest stories about intense shopping experiences each year in your local paper? If so, this article’s for you. If not, well, I probably sound like a bit of a Grinch.

But isn’t that kind of funny in itself? Somehow, weariness of the consumer folderol that surrounds the winter holidays gets equated with being a Grinch. Well, don’t worry; I don’t intend to steal Christmas. (Though wasn’t the moral of that story that Christmas isn’t about the presents? That’s at least how the story gets presented, though one might well wonder if we, as consumers-viewers-readers, would find it quite so satisfying if, at the end, the Grinch didn’t bring back all the presents.) Instead, I just want to ask you to think for a moment about buying things. Not about which things you’ll buy and for whom, but about the process of buying things itself.

Spend ten or fifteen minutes really thinking about holiday gift-buying: why you do it, when, and so forth. If you’re feeling hardcore, actually sit down and write about it. And if you’re having difficulty (or even if you’re not), try answering some or all the following questions.

– When you buy someone a gift, why do you do so?
– If you feel anxious about finding the ‘right’ gift, why is that?
– What do you think may happen if you get the ‘wrong’ gift?
– When do you buy your gifts for the holidays? Why at that time?
– How would it change your experience of the whole process if you bought all your holiday gifts in June?
– Why don’t you buy gifts in June (unless, of course, you do)?
– How do you decide which people you’ll buy gifts for and which you won’t?
– How do you feel when people you haven’t given anything to buy gifts for you? Why? How do you react?
– How much money do you think is appropriate or necessary to spend on a gift (think about different categories: for a workmate, for your lover, for your parents, etc.)? Why?
– What factors in your own life influence how much money you think should be spent on gifts?
– What do you think would happen if you bought no gifts at all?
– What do you think would happen if you bought something, however small, for every single person you know?
– What’s your opinion on home-made gifts? Why?
– What factors in your own life might have influenced that perspective?

Like I said before, I don’t aim to steal Christmas. This isn’t an article that’s trying to get you not to buy gifts for anybody. It’s not even trying to get you to complain to your local store manager about the Christmas tree that’s going up in the window on November 2nd. In fact, this article is not trying to get you to do anything. Anything but think, that is. Where thinking about buying gifts takes you afterwards is entirely your business. Now, though, I’ve got to go; I’m going to sit down and think about this a little more myself. Luckily, there’s a handy list of questions to help me do so right at hand.

Online Shopping: Where to Compare?

As a quick glance through the articles surrounding this one will show, these days, you’re unlikely to find an even halfway savvy consumer buying anything without looking around a little online first. Well, except for eBay auction items, maybe. In fact, I just bought a crummy camera posing as a much better one on eBay, and was so caught up in a small bidding war and in really wanting to get something good for cheap that I didn’t even look the thing up before entering the winning bid. But that’s different―I’m not an even halfway savvy consumer. Maybe a quarter way savvy, but that’s about it. I’m talking here about people who buy smart.

Except here’s the thing: what does it mean to buy smart, actually? I’m not comparison shopping is bad―not at all―but I do want to suggest that even a habit of comparison shopping doesn’t guarantee the ‘best buy’. Moreover, I suspect that doing all one’s comparison shopping online actually makes finding the ‘best buy’ less likely, especially if we really stop to think about what we mean by the ‘best buy’. Here is a personal anecdote to draw out the points I hope to make.

I moved to Paris almost two months ago―Paris, the shopping capital of the world! And I’m broke, working 70-hour weeks to live downtown in a 7th-story walk-up. Now, you might quite reasonably take issue with my life choices, but you cannot dispute that I’m in need of finding the ‘best buy’ with each purchase I make. Especially once you know that I’ve had to mostly furnish this apartment myself, and have been renovating it, too. Let’s re-cap: I’m broke, living in one of the world’s more expensive cities, surrounded by a plethora of options for every consumer decision, and am renovating and outfitting a studio apartment for as little as I possibly can.

So, the ‘best buy’ would seem at first glance simple: it’s whatever’s cheapest. Or, at second glance, it’s the cheapest option that I actually like. At a third glance, it’s more complex, but stays along these same lines: the ‘best buy’ is whatever item that feels like the best negotiation between what I want (from virtually limitless options) and what I can afford (with a more than a little restricted pocketbook).

In fact, though, the ‘best buy’ has come to mean something more than that for me. It’s not just about an item; it’s about an overall experience. The ‘best buy’ is that which offers the best interaction with my environment, balancing a delicate complex of factors: the standard price, style, quality, sure; but also a new experience, an interesting encounter with someone, seeing a different part of the city, some moral satisfaction with the purchase, even physical exercise.

Take, for example, the aforementioned (digital) camera. Now, that was not the best purchase, not at all. I bought it for about 80 Euros (~110 to 115 USD), and I didn’t check around in advance, and now I’m stuck with this lousy piece of thick plastic with awkward sliding mechanisms, no lens cover, and a wait-time of about half-a-minute after each photo. Not good. (By the way, that’s an Easypix S312―not recommended.) What’s worse, it just arrived in my mailbox one day; I didn’t even have to leave my house. I know that last part is something a lot of people value, but I don’t. Even if this had been a ‘good buy’ in terms of price and quality, it wouldn’t have been a ‘best buy’ because it gave me nothing, in terms of an experience of the world around me. After all, isn’t a large part of the historical value of trade―so often touted by subscribers to the system of capitalism―precisely its ability to bring people together, to motivate new movements? So, why on earth would I want to buy a camera online, eschewing the world of opportunities around me here in Paris?

Here’s the thing: I was comparison shopping at the time. I was checking out camera prices on eBay in order to know if I were getting a good deal on one here in town. Then, sadly, I got caught up in auction madness. Again, that’s not exactly a point against comparison shopping as such―it seems to have a lot more to do with my own psyche―but I suspect I’m not 100% alone in this particular tendency. Especially given what I hear and read about other people’s credit card debt.

Far better would have been―as I did for my sheets, my computer monitor and speakers, lamps, a coffee table, a toaster oven, and other sundries―to check on Craigslist (paris.craigslist.org) and to window shop. Because, see, here’s the thing: For every item I’ve bought from a private individual or at a shop somewhere along the way (some were bargains, and others were not), I’ve had an interesting interaction and have seen a little more of the city I live in. By exercising a little common sense in my purchases (and doing some budgeting), I really haven’t had or wanted to ‘comparison shop’ for most of my purchases, at least not in the sense of obsessive checking around on the internet.

A final example, and that’s it from me. I need a new pair of shoes, and I’ve tried both methods: hardcore comparison shopping through Internet merchants, and lots and lots of window shopping. The latter, almost needless to say, is far more pleasurable. As I stroll from place to place (and remember, I’m working my tail off; it’s not like I’m just hanging around the city), I stop here and there to check out a good pair in a window. Sometimes, if I have an extra moment, I’ll stop in, maybe even try on a pair. I’ve seen a lot of shoes I like―and, truth be told, I really need a pair; I don’t have any black ‘dress’ shoes at the moment, and that’s no good―but I’m not ready to buy just yet. I wouldn’t say I’m comparison shopping, exactly. I’m just waiting for the right pair to make themselves known to me. And that’s the way shopping should be.
Read more at Buzzle: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/online-shopping-where-to-compare.html

Making Shopping Online as Enjoyable and Safe as Shopping at the Mall

With just a click of your mouse, you can buy virtually any product online―from electronics to gifts, clothing, food, and even cars and homes. The Internet has made it possible for consumers to shop at literally thousands of online stores, browse through dozens of products to find just what they’re looking for, and pay for their purchases without ever leaving home. For many people, e-commerce has completely replaced a Saturday afternoon trip to the mall.

There used to be many inherent flaws and risks associated with online shopping. Computer glitches caused orders to get lost, and poor customer service made it impossible to get problems resolved. Shoppers would often be at the mercy of cybercrooks always on the prowl to take advantage of their naivety and cheat them. But in recent years, e-commerce has become much more safe and secure, thanks to the growing competition of online shops, the security services that rate e-commerce sites, more advanced encryption technology, and shoppers increased Internet savvy. Things can still go wrong, but there are several things you can control that will make your online shopping experience a good one.

Shop at only secure websites.
Secure e-commerce sites use encryption technology to transfer information from your computer to the merchant’s computer. Encryption scrambles the information you send, such as address, phone number, and credit card numbers, to prevent hackers from obtaining the information as it travels from your computer to the store’s computer. The only people who can unscramble the encryption are those who have legitimate access privileges. Usually you can tell if a website is secure if the URL of the site begins with https://. The ‘s’ at the end indicates that the website is secure. You may not actually see the ‘s’ until you proceed to the actual order page of the website.

Research the website before you place an order.
Online stores that also have an established brick-and-mortar presence, such as Target, Walmart, Barnes & Noble, and others, have websites that are very safe and secure. If the company is unfamiliar to you, do your homework before you trust them with your personal information. Reliable companies should display a physical business address and at least one telephone number. Call the phone number and ask questions to determine whether the business is legitimate. Ask any questions you may have, such as how they handle returns or complaints. You can also research a company by visiting ratings sites such as epinions.com, where other online shoppers write posts detailing their experiences with online shopping sites.

Read the website’s security policies and privacy statement.
Every reputable online shopping site provides information about how it processes your order, and what it does with the information it collects from you. The privacy policies should tell you what type of information they gather, what they do with it, and whether or not it will be shared with other companies. Often the merchant’s data security practices are also explained in the Privacy Policy. Look for online merchants who are members of a program that gives a seal of approval to safe online shopping sites. TRUSTe, Verisign, and BBBonline are the most commonly seen programs. Be aware that a security policy and a seal of approval do not guarantee that a merchant will protect the privacy of your information indefinitely. You may have little control over your information if the company files for bankruptcy, sells its customer database, is purchased by another company, or has to give up its customer information for law enforcement investigations.

Use a credit card if at all possible.
The safest way to shop online is with a credit card, because if something goes wrong you are protected. The federal Fair Credit Billing Act gives you the right to dispute charges on your credit card, and you don’t have to pay anything on the balance while an investigation is being conducted. If it is determined that your card number was used without your authorization, you are responsible for only the first $50 in charges, but credit card companies rarely enforce this. The best approach to online shopping is to use only one credit card for all online purchases, so it will be easier for you to detect incorrect charges. Make sure the card is a true credit card and not a debit card, check card, or ATM card. Shopping by check is never a good idea, since it leaves you vulnerable to bank fraud, and sending a money order doesn’t give you any protection if you have problems with the purchase. Debit and ATM cards are not protected by federal laws the way credit cards are.

Never, ever give out your Social Security number or information not related to your purchase.
There is never any reason for an online merchant to ask for your Social Security number, so if they do, this should be a huge red flag to you. Giving out your Social Security number could lead to having your identity stolen. Additionally, some online merchants try to get more information about you to target you for marketing purchases. You don’t need to provide information about your other interests, lifestyle, or annual income. Usually websites will mark with an asterisk the questions you are required to answer in order to make your purchase, but if a company requires information you aren’t comfortable in providing, then don’t order from them.

Always print out a copy of your order.
After you place an order online, you should receive a confirmation page that details your entire order, including charges, customer information you provided, product information, and a confirmation or order number. You should print out at least one copy of this page, as well as the page showing the company’s name, address, phone number, and return policy. You may also receive a confirmation message in your e-mail, and you should save and/or print this message as well.

Pay attention to the company’s shipping information and return policies.
A company must ship your order within the time stated in their ad. If no time frame is stated, the merchant must ship the product within 30 days, or give you the option of canceling the order and receiving a refund. Be sure to review the choices offered for shipping, and be sure you know the shipping and handling fees before you place the order. Find out how the merchant handles returns or complaints, and whether or not you will get a full refund if there is a problem with your order.

Last but not least―listen to your gut instinct.
If, while browsing through an online store’s information, you get a feeling that you shouldn’t shop there, don’t ignore those warning bells. There is much truth to the adage that if something doesn’t sound right, then it probably isn’t.

One of the best rules you can follow is to shop only with companies located in the United States, so you will have some legal recourse if your purchase results in a problem. When you shop within the U.S. you are protected by state and federal consumer laws. You might not get the same protection if you order something from a company located in another country.