Monday, November 30, 2015

The Dark Side to Cyber Monday

Last Friday was Black Friday for brick and mortar retailers. The nickname comes from the fact that this one day will often put unprofitable stores into the black (profit) for the year. Next up: Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, which is traditionally the busiest day of the year for online shoppers. While the Internet is undoubtedly convenient for shopping and many online stores offer lower prices than can be found in real stores, there are some things worth considering before clicking on the “buy” button.

The most obvious, potentially irritating problem with online buying is returning something should a product be defective. For brick and mortar stores, the return policies for cameras and other high tech electronics is often shorter than for other merchandise. The same is often true online. Unlike a regular retail store, returning something to an online vendor is not as simple as taking the product back. Online retailers often have specific instructions for returning an item in regards to packing and shipping. Sometimes the customer must gain prior approval beforehand as well. So if you buy something online and then have to make a return, be sure to follow the directions carefully.

After the returning process should something go wrong, the fact that there is no hands-on with your prospective buy is the second main drawback of buying online. Generally, cameras should be a safe bet. However, SLR lenses can be a different story. While most lenses work as they should right out of the box, there is always a small percentage that have bugs, often amounting to focusing inaccuracy where the lens will front or back focus in relation to the intended subject. This is most common (although still rare) in third party lenses, but it can occur on manufacturer optics as well. While newer mid to high-end digital SLRs have a feature to compensate for this, older and entry level models do not, which means having to return the lens. In a brick and mortar store, the salesman will often allow you to bring your camera and try out the lens before buying.

Lastly, for people wishing to avoid sales taxes brought about by buying in-store, consider this: shipping charges. While you may save on the taxes, the savings there will probably be wiped out by the cost of getting the bought online item to your front door. The good news is that some online retailers offer free shipping on some items. Also, with the shopping officially season upon us, many online retailers are more likely to sweeten the deal with free shipping this time of year. Back to taxes, you may or may not have to pay. Generally speaking, if your product ships from a different state, you're off the hook to Uncle Sam.

Yes, online stores are great for convenience and saving money. Millions of satisfied shoppers will attest to this fact. However, it is only fair to point out the down sides to online shopping.

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