My experiments with online shopping

Disclaimer:
This post is not intended to serve as an endorsement for any specific business. 

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I’m not going to proclaim myself an expert in this subject, but I’ve been shopping and testing online sites for over a year now and would like to share my experiences on the same.

But before I begin, you need to understand that these observations are restricted to e-commerce sites in India and may not apply to all sites in general ( for some parts).

Having said this, shall we begin?

Requisites to shop online:

1)An internet connection
2)A valid credit/debit card/net banking account/cash for “cash on delivery (COD)” schemes
3)A valid shipping address
4)A valid e-mail address and phone number

For those who are  unfamiliar with online shopping, I have outlined the high level steps to an place order. You may skip the section below and proceed to observations if you are familiar with the process :

Procedure:
1) Type the site URL
2) Search for the product
3) Add item(s) to cart and proceed to checkout
4) Enter promo codes if available
5) Enter your shipping and billing details
6) Complete order
7) Check e-mail for order confirmation and wait for the item to be delivered at your door-step!!

Observations:

As with all things, online shopping has its own pros and cons.
I’m going to talk about the obvious cons, interspersed with my first hand experience here:

1) Online shopping is a gamble.You can never be sure about the quality of the product and will have to go by what is listed on the site.

Let’s say, you are buying a silk gown. How does it feel? The texture, size etc?

You’ll never know…

In other words, there is no trial concept when it comes to online shopping. Of course, you have the return policy to your rescue, but most sites do not pay for your return. You need to shell it out of your own pocket and for most items which require a return, the courier charges amount to a minimum rs. 100 .
Return is never easy. You need to wait for a longer time to get hold of the product.

Snapdeal.com has an impressive return policy. They send their guys to collect it from your home  for free!!
Sites like fashionandyou.com are not really pro-return and have rigid return policies.

Now, while I’m at it, I should make a special mention of the tradus.com site. They have great prices, mega deals etc. , but their product quality sucks consistently. I’ve got 3 different products from this site and all of them have malfunctioned at a relatively early stage of their usage. When you write to them, they’ll (tradus folks) probably give you a discount of Rs.300 on your next purchase on the site, but what’s the use ??

Tip:
When you shop online, always go through the return policy of the seller.
The last thing you want is to be stuck with a bad product. Most site offer a week’s return policy at the least, but, you better confirm …

2) Online shopping comes with a “waiting time”.
The shipping takes a few days at the least, but some sites have a great warehouse system that facilitates “same day delivery”!!
Again, same day delivery doesn’t happen most of the times and you may have to contact the customer care service to place such special requests.
Flipkart has a great system. They treat your special requests with importance and ensure that your products reach you on time & as specified on the site. I made several last min purchases for a trip and their delivery time was super prompt.

3) You may not want to buy electronic items such as a laptops, online. Buying such products from a shop is any day better. You have the liberty to ask the seller questions in case of device malfunction and also get a better service. Most shops which sell laptops also have a service center and the service process is easier. I recently purchased a laptop without an operating system from Flipkart!! Weird ? I called up the customer service to find out why the laptop didn’t have an OS,but, was told that it was specified on the site !!
So, I had apparently missed this important point while buying it!! And these guys had only a replacement policy for this product- not a return. I was running out of time!!
It took some networking to get the system working with a windows 7 OS.
At the end of this, I was tired.

Tip:
So, go to a store to purchase laptops, washing machines, air conditioners etc. Getting it online might be cheaper by a few thousands, but the post- purchase hassles are not worth the money that you save…

4) I’m not a big fan of the eBay model. The details of the sellers are never quite satisfying. They have a top rated seller badge, but , experience tells me that it’s not a great measure!!
I bought a product, but was quite not satisfied. I returned it after shelling out the return courier charges and the seller asked me to rate him highly before accepting my return stating that he deserved the rating for accepting the return!!

Maybe it was just that 1 seller, but…

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Now that we’ve discussed some not so great things about shopping online, let’s talk about the pros:

1) The prices are always cheaper than those in stores. The reasoning is quite simple: these online sellers save on maintenance costs unlike the shop sellers. There are no wage related expenses, electricity costs, rent etc. That gives them the liberty to fix such competitive prices. Also, the prices allow these online sellers to include the courier charges too for orders which exceed a certain amount.Most of them have tie ups with various courier agencies (to cater to the needs) and all of it works out profitable as a whole.
Tip:
Buying books , DVDs etc online is a great thing. In addition, these online portals have the concept of “user reviews” which gives a first hand review of the product.
You get the option to choose after reading through the reviews. Of course you can read these reviews and buy your product at the store, but, remember ??
It’s cheaper online!
Sites such as flipkart display a tag “certified buyer” for reviews by users who purchased the product from the site. That way, you even get to know the quality of the product sold at the site…

2) You save on fuel costs associated with the travel to a store.. Yes, this is quite important if you are concerned about the environment.

3) The packaging is great. You don’t have to worry about the delivery quality. The packaging is compact and you get to use the boxes for creative purposes and gift re- wrapping later. 😉

Myntra. com delivers the products in oversized packages. Their deliveries are prompt, but they could improve on their packaging.

4) Buying lens online is quite good too. I’m sure most of us would think twice before attempting to buy eye glasses online, but trust me, the service is good. I’m talking about lenskart. I bought a pair of glasses, contact lenses etc and I’ve not had any issues.. They offer some home eye check services too for certain locations and you may want to give this a try… The glasses have never been cheaper!!!

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Now, I’m going to give you some tips and hacks on getting the most out of online shopping:

1) If you are using a credit/a debit card, check out the bank site for offers on the card. Use the offer codes on the shopping site and you’ve just made a super cool shopping deal for yourself

2) Google for coupon codes for”xyz.com” and try the codes. They work sometimes, but you need a lot of patience to get the most out of it.

3) Most sites have a “deals page”. You may check them out before buying

4) Some useful sites have been tested badly. They let you enter the coupon codes applicable for certain cards before payment selection and as a result, you get to use the code even without using the credit/debit card for which it’s applicable..Ethical? Maybe not, but, blame it on the site! 😛
You get a Double deal!!

5) Always compare prices before buying. If you are a compulsive shopper, this technique will help you save a lot of money in a long run. For example, let’s say you are purchasing a car charger. It costs around rs.300 and most sites charge a 50 rs shipping charge.
Now, Flipkart may charge you for shipping, but infibeam may not. And since you own an xyz bank’s debit card, you become eligible for an additional x% off on purchase at infibeam !!( examples quoted for understanding alone)

So, always be aware of all the shopping portals. Let me list down some for you: ( I shall update this list to a detailed classification soon)

-Flipkart
-Snapdeal
-E-bay
-infibeam
-Myntra

6) Get yourself a payback card. These guys have partnered with a lot of online sites and you end up earning points for all your purchases. You get payback points for shopping on stores too.
You can redeem your payback points for something.. I use payback points to pay my mobile bills ( applicable at the time of writing this post). So, it’s pretty cool…

Having said all this, I should also add that the list is not a comprehensive one. It is more of a personal experience. I’ve had some great and not so great experiences with the online portals. You may have a different one altogether. The write up was meant to serve as a guide – not a definitive verdict.

So, build up your own experience and let me know how you felt in the comments of this post.

P.S. This post shall be edited for more pointers as and when they arise…

Apeiron (c)

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