A few days ago, while scrolling through my Facebook News Feed (as one does), I came across a post from an acquaintance warning his friends about buying from a certain online vendor. At the end of his lengthy missive, he urged people to shop in stores because there are "so many scams out there."
It's true. I have, on a few occasions, found myself falling in love with a gorgeous sweater, or interesting kitchen gadget, then stopping in my tracks before hitting the "buy now" button, to do some research on the vendor. They've clearly paid for social media advertising, and their ads were approved, so surely it's legit, right? Not necessarily.
While these vendors might not actually be doing anything illegal, customers can be "had" in a number of ways, whether it's through a product that takes months to arrive, that is not as advertised, or that is clearly a knock-off - not a true brand name but you, of course, don't notice this until it arrives. Sorry to advise, but this can even happen through Amazon (though they are very good about returns and taking action when needed).
A few months before Christmas, a friend alerted me about a hot new toy called the Fingerling by Wowwee, a well-known brand in tech toys. Trusting her advice, and knowing how toys in high demand are magically hard to find and sell well over the usual price during the holiday season, I ordered a few as gifts on Amazon to beat the rush. But after staring at my order confirmation, I started to get a queasy feeling. The toys weren't being shipped direct from Amazon. The vendor was an unknown name from China. And this was the perfect product to attract fraudsters. So I cancelled the order immediately, went to the Toys R Us Website, and ordered what I could find there. It was a bit more money, but I also had much more peace of mind. (Sure enough, I later read horror stories of people who had received "finger monkeys" and other knock-offs that were clearly not made by Wowwee. Even if they look and work the same, there's no guarantee if harmful materials are used in their manufacture, or if there's a potential danger from shoddy electronics. It's not worth saving a few bucks, folks, especially if it's something you plan to give to a child.)
So could the potential for being "scammed" deter people from shopping online? In some cases, sure. I'd be reluctant, for example, to buy a charging cable for my phone without having an idea where it came from and if it's really from the brand on the label. If I buy a Belkin accessory from Best Buy, a Telus store, or even Belkin online, I'm confident that it's a tested and true product. But through some online vendor? It's the Wild West, and you never know what you're getting.
Scamming isn't going to put a complete stop to online sales . I'm still just as confident buying online through Best Buy, Toys R Us, Walmart or even Amazon, as I might be in a bricks-and-mortar store. And usually, I'll only defer to these options when I can't find something specific in store, and don't have the time to go hunting around for it. But the more money that is wasted on sweaters that arrive sized for a doll instead of a human, cheaply-constructed tools that break after one use, and shoddy electronics, the better the story is for traditional bricks-and-mortar retailing. In person, you have to look me in the eye when you're selling something to me - there's no keyboard and World Wide Web behind which to hide!
If I'm dolling out my hard earned money in exchange for goods and services, trust is critical. And how can you have that if you don't truly know from whom you are buying?
Photo by Stuart Miles; freedigitalphotos.net