Ready to buy that new computer? Or maybe a digital camera? Or some other electronic device? There are any number of conventional retail and online sources from which you can make your purchase. But, how do you know you won't get stung? How do you know you won't plunk down $1,000 to $3,000 or more and wind up with a product doesn't work properly and can't be returned? Here are some suggestions to keep in mind whether you plan to make your purchase through a web site, conventional mail order, or a local retail outlet.
Ask what the return policy is before you make a purchase. Even if you've shopped in the store before, be sure to verify the return policy for the specific item you are buying. The store may have changed its policy or have different return policies for different types of merchandise.
Ask if there is a restocking fee and under what circumstances it applies. A restocking fee is a fee some stores charge for taking back an item. The fee is usually a percentage (often 10-15% of the purchase price) of your purchase price. Some stores apply the restocking fee even the item you purchased is unopened and the carton is intact.
Ask whether the original packaging must be retained (and in what condition). When returning one product I bought by mail I was told the packaging had to be intact and that I could not tape the original carton shut or put a label on it to return the item. I had to purchase a shipping box and place the original shipping carton and item inside the new box before I could return the item.
Ask when the countdown for return begins. Does the time you're allowed to return the item begin the day you order the merchandise or the day you receive it? Does your item count as being returned starting on the day you shipped it or on the day it is received?
Pay with a credit card. If your purchase doesn't arrive or doesn't operate as described and you can't work out the problem with the company that sold you the merchandise, contact the credit card company and ask them to intervene.
Never send credit card information in conventional email. Ordering should take place only using secure transactions either using your browser on the web or the order forms in an online store such as those at keyword shopping on America Online.
Don't give out the password for your Internet or online account to anyone.
Find out how long it will take for the merchandise to be delivered.
Print and save a copy of your order and any confirmation number you are shown.
Find out how long the warranty period is and get it in writing
Be careful where you shop. If you've never heard of the vendor before and if they offer prices that sound too good to be true, be on your guard. Take steps to verify that the company is legitimate, that the quality of the goods they sell meets your requirements, and that they are indeed authorized to sell the products they offer. (Particularly important if purchasing software or branded merchandise. Don't get ripped off by counterfeit merchandise.)
Open the merchandise and install it immediately to determine if it works as advertised. Don't leave the carton unopened until you "have time" to get the equipment set up. The return period will run from either the day you order the merchandise or the day you receive it. Not the day you get around to setting it up.
Get an experienced friend to install and test equipment for you if you aren't sure how to do it yourself, or if you have any trouble getting your new equipment to work properly.
Immediately report any problems you encounter. Keep a record of who you talked to, what you were told, and any tracking numbers you are given by the technical support people.