Top 5ive Things NOT to Buy Online - SmartMoney.com
By Kelli Grant
THESE DAYS, YOU can buy pretty much anything online, from wedding dresses to cars.
The perks are obvious: There's no need to move off the couch and you can take advantage of online-only discounts and sales tax breaks.
But believe it or not, there are still some things you should buy in-store। Here are five:
1. Luxury Goods
Sure, you can find good deals online, but how about a Rolex for $50? A Prada handbag for $150? If you believe you're getting the real deal when you spot such steals, there's also a bridge for sale in Brooklyn that you might be interested in.
Counterfeit goods account for about 13% of Internet purchases, says Stephen Polinsky, vice president of sales for GenuOne, a security technology company specializing in brand protection. "There's a real chance for an item to be misrepresented," he says. For example, you'll spot plenty of trendy Louis Vuitton Globe Shopper handbags on eBay. The photos, pulled from the brand web sites, are of the real thing. But the real bag retails for $1,280, so what you see isn't going to be what you get when the sale price is $100.
Many luxury brands don't allow online transactions, period. Head to the web sites of two high-end watch manufacturers, Breitling and Corum, and the first thing you'll see is a warning — genuine products are not sold on the Internet. What you're getting from sites like Overstock.com and SmartBargains are grey-market products that are missing key components like a serial number or the manufacturer's warranty. Without those, the brand will refuse to repair or service your purchase.
Getting around it: Put simply, know the item and the retailer। Getting familiar with the little details is the easiest way to separate the knockoffs from the real thing. To find authorized retailers, visit the brand's web site and check for store locations.
2. Prescription Medications
Question: Just how badly do you want to save a few bucks on that Viagra prescription? Fact is, knockoff prescription meds are as plentiful online as other fake goods, says Polinsky — but they are much more dangerous. At best, you're buying sugar pills. At worst, according to the Food and Drug Administration, the meds could be expired, contaminated or contain improper dosages.
In 2004, for example, the FDA shut down several web sites that had been selling contraceptive patches that contained no active ingredients. More recently, a Colorado doctor is facing criminal and civil lawsuits for filling a prescription for antidepressants over the Internet to a 19-year-old Stanford University student who later committed suicide. The civil suit alleges that the doctor signed off on the prescription without a consultation.
Getting around it: If you do fill prescriptions online, head to a reliable source। There are plenty of legitimate places, from Drugstore.com to 1-800-Contacts. Your state board of pharmacy must license a web site to fill prescriptions in your state. A quick phone call (click here to find your state's board) can tell you if a site is on the up-and-up.
3. Fragile Electronics
When you buy a flat-screen TV from your local electronics store, you expect that it'll be handled with care by store employees every step of the way, from the store to your living room. But online, you have no way of knowing if that delicate screen will be schlepped to your doorstep on a truck that's also carrying a carton of loose bowling balls.
The retailers don't make it easy, either. Most foist responsibility on the shipping carrier, rather than handle it themselves. PC Connection, for example, requires you to refuse damaged goods from the carrier, or note the damage when you sign for the delivery.
Online buying also means you're making an expensive purchase sight unseen, which isn't smart when it comes to electronics. It's impossible to gauge the clarity of a TV or picture quality on the digital viewfinder of a camera by looking at images on a retailer's site. Change your mind, and you'll be subject to additional fees. BuyDig.com only accepts returns within 10 days of receipt-and you'll have to pay a 10% to 20% restocking fee, on top of the shipping charges to mail the item back. At MacMall.com, Apple products can't be returned at all.
Getting around it: Online prices can easily be 30% lower than those in-store, so the key is to do your homework. Visit your local electronics retailer to check out the color on that plasma screen, or the ease of use for that digital camera. While you're there, ask if they match prices. Best Buy, for example, will offer the same deals as its web site (and those of major competitors) if you bring in a print-out.
When you do buy online from a mom-and-pop retailer, it's best to be the squeaky wheel। Call up before you order and get the details on how your item will be shipped, and whether it will have any extras like padding or shipping insurance.
If you're the type of shopper who likes to tap the melons, purchasing groceries online may already sound a little dodgy. But the price is the real reason to head to your local supermarket instead of online, says Teri Gault, founder of the Grocery Game, a consumer savings program.
When shopping online, expect to pay a premium for the convenience. You also miss out on the two hallmarks of savvy shopping: store specials and manufacturer's coupons. "You can't use manufacturer's coupons online," says Gault. And there's no way for the store to translate some steals, such as half-price meats and bakery breads at the end of the shopping day. Add in a delivery fee of $4 to $15 and the convenience of shopping online seems a little less handy for your wallet. Here's a breakdown of how much more you might spend online:
Grocer Web Site(Gristedes.com)
Cascade dishwasher detergent, 45 oz.
$3.99-0.40 (store sale)-1.00 (coupon)
$3.99-0.40 (store sale)
Colgate Simply White toothpaste, 4.6 oz.
Folger's Classic Roast, 13 oz.
$4.79-1.80 (store sale)
Coca-Cola, 2 liter.
$1.70-0.20 (store sale)
Hunt's Tomato Paste, 29 oz.
Subtotal (not including tax)
$13.36($17.76 without coupons)
$23.21($18.66 without coupons or delivery fee)
* Prices from Gristedes, a supermarket chain in New York City.
Getting around it: Despite the higher prices, the appeal of buying online may still be alluring — there's no need to make a grocery list when you're ordering within yards of your pantry। If the convenience outweighs the costs, there are a few ways to cut down your bill. Some virtual supermarkets offer free delivery (HomeGrocer.com) or accept manufacturer's coupons (Peapod and Shop Rite, among others). To weigh your options, see our column Visiting Your Virtual Grocer.
5. Intimate Clothings
No one relishes swimsuit shopping, so the inclination to do it online — without the harsh and unflattering lights of a dressing room — is tempting. But retailers may charge you an additional shipping fee to send items back, as well as restocking fees of up to 15%.
While women have come to expect that finding the right bathing suit will take hours of try-on trial-and-error, buying bras and underwear can be equally tricky. Bra-cup size varies slightly by manufacturer. And many online retailers are (rightly so) finicky about accepting returns for such personal items.
Getting around it: The easiest solution is a little legwork। "Go in the store and try the item on and then buy it online," suggests Kathryn Finney, author of "How to Be a Budget Fashionista." That way, you can take full advantage of stackable online sales and discounts. At Victoria's Secret, for example, you might browse the Summer Clearance (up to 70% off), take $30 off your purchase of $150 or more (code AUG at checkout) and get free shipping (code FA62365 at checkout). Or you might seek out web sites that offer free return shipping. (Some examples include Figleaves.com and Bluefly.) Order the item in various sizes, and send back the ones that don't fit.