The 2016 holiday season was one of growth for online retailers. Online Black Friday sales hit a new record this year, up 22% from 2015, and sales on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday totaled over $3 billion each, breaking single-day e-commerce records. This growth continued throughout the holiday season, with the majority of shopping days totaling at least $1 billion in online sales. In an ongoing attempt to attract more consumers, online retailers have made changes to improve the online shopping experiences of customers. Retailers have improved their website’s mobile capabilities, and some have extended the shipping deadline, making it possible for shoppers to make their last-minute purchases online.

Online shopping has become more convenient than ever, but consumers must still do their due diligence to ensure that products ordered online are up to their standards of quality. Well-known online retailers like Amazon, which held the largest market share of online purchases this holiday season, holds its sellers to high standards of quality and service, but other vendors may not be as trustworthy. Scams and poor quality products will be even more prevalent during the holiday season in order to take advantage of panic-stricken consumers frantically attempting to cross everyone off of their shopping lists. Listed below are our tips to ensure you have the best online shopping experience:

Research the product and vendor

When scouting a product online, it’s important to check both product and vendor reviews. Crosscheck product reviews against multiple sources – if the product is being sold on Amazon as well as the original retailer’s site, read the reviews on both to get the most accurate representation. Pay attention to the date when reading reviews; products change over time and a more recent review will give you an idea of what the product is like today.

Even if the product is of the highest quality, it is of no use to you if it arrives two months after the holiday. If you’re buying a product from another person through a third-party site, be sure to vet the seller to make sure they’re trustworthy. Sites like Amazon and Etsy allow customers to both contact and review sellers on the website, which can be helpful when deciding which seller to buy from. If the vendor isn’t a well-known brand, it’s best to do your own research. A simple Google search can help give you an idea if other customers have had problems with a vendor.

Beware of scams

Increases in E-commerce can also mean an increase in scams designed to rip off consumers. Online shoppers should be wary of fake retail websites that mimic trusted brands. Scammers may produce copycat websites or applications with names that are very similar to the actual retailer’s domain. Be sure you’re on the correct website when ordering a product or service online. Look out for websites that end in less common domain extensions (e.g., .biz), or misspellings of company names as these could be spam sites.

Learn to spot fake reviews

Reading reviews across multiple websites and knowing how to spot the most obviously fake comments will allow you to get an accurate, overall review of the product. Relevance is an important factor to consider. Those that describe the product or service itself and the advantages or disadvantages of using it are more accurate and helpful than general statements affirming a customer’s general fondness or dislike. Finally, shoppers should be wary of third party “fake review detectors” that claim to help consumers identify products and services that have received fake reviews, as they can often be inaccurate and biased.

Understand the retailer’s policies on reviews

Fake reviews are nearly unavoidable online, even on trusted domains. With this in mind, it’s important to be aware of the review policies of the sites you’re using. Various E-commerce sites will have different policies when it comes to reviews. Retail giant Amazon, for example, has a history of fake reviews being left on its site, but has been vigilant in shutting down offenders. The site’s review policies have been altered over the years and users are no longer able to post an unlimited number of reviews for items not purchased on Amazon. The retailer has also committed to deleting incentivized reviews and those tied to free or significantly discounted products.

Read up on dedicated review sites

Several dedicated review sites exist that are intended to help consumers cut through the clutter and get an accurate portrayal of a product or service prior to purchase. It is important to understand the policies and terms of these sites as well, but do so before deciding how much weight to place on their recommendations for or against a product or service. Review sites that accept advertising, for example, could potentially be biased in reviews of those companies that pay for ads. Consumers should understand how each of these sites is monetized to determine if there is potential for a review to be biased. Always take the time to research how a particular review site operates before accepting a review at face value.

According to Neilsen’s 2015 “Global Trust in Advertising” Report, around two-thirds of surveyed consumers indicated that they trust consumer opinions posted online, and that they were either always or sometimes willing to take action based on those opinions. Reviews have a significant impact on a business’ bottom line, which could potentially motivate a business or competitor to manipulate reviews posted online about the brand. It is always important to do thorough research before making a purchase, but it’s even more important when purchasing online, especially around the holidays.

Photo of Brianna MacBlane
About the Author

After earning her Master’s in New Media Management from Syracuse University, Brianna now serves as Reputation Strategy Advisor and oversees strategy development on multiple reputation management projects.

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