No doubt about it — the Internet has revolutionised our lives and our bank balances. It's usually cheaper to shop online, not only because prices are cheaper but because retailers offer exclusive online discounts and voucher codes to avid bargain-hunters.
But when is shopping online actually a bad idea? When can it actually cost you money?
Here are seven things you should never buy online:
1) Secondhand cars
Whether you want a brand new car or a secondhand model, researching the price you should pay online is a good idea. But never hand over money online.
Many scammers offer secondhand cars in online forums at fantastic prices but will take your money and run. Always test-drive a car before buying it — and if an offer looks too good to be true, remember: it probably is.
2) A property valuation
Property site Hometrack will offer to sell you an online valuation of your property for 'only £19.95'. But you can find out a lot of information about a property for free, just by surfing the web.
You can find out the price it was last sold for and what's happened to house prices since then. You can find out how much crime there is nearby and how good the schools are.
You can even find out what newspapers the neighbours read and how much they earn via upmystreet.com, as well heaps of other fascinating neighbourhood statistics from neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk.
And most importantly, you can get a free online estimate of your property's value from Zoopla.com!
It's true that it's often cheaper to buy a book online rather than in a store, especially now Amazon has stopped charging for delivery. But if you're going online anyway, why buy a book at all when you can swap one you no longer want and get it for free instead?
There are two big free book swap sites out there: bookmooch.com (which is international) and readitswapit.co.uk (which is UK-based). Both have literally hundreds of thousands of books available for free.
Alternatively, if you've got an ebook reader, head over to Project Gutenberg and download thousands of works of literature for free.
4) Newspaper subscriptions
The Financial Times, The News of The World, The Sunday Times and The Times now charge you if you want full access to all their content online. But on the Yahoo! front page, you can read the biggest stories from a wide range of different publications, including The Telegraph and The Press Association, entirely for free.
Similarly, The Guardian and the BBC offer their content for free. And of course, if you want personal finance stories, you can read all the content at lovemoney.com and you won't be charged a penny!
5) Last-minute presents
Anyone caught out by the snow last Christmas can vouch for this one: never, ever, ever buy last-minute presents online.
Could you face having to tell someone you care about that you're empty-handed on their birthday because you couldn't be bothered to order their present enough in advance to ensure it arrives on time? The fact that everyone knows it's often cheaper and less effort to buy stuff online can be pretty embarrassing in this situation.
To avoid this, most of us get desperate waiting for our deliveries to arrive and end up rushing to the shops to buy a replacement gift.
And that's where it starts to get costly. Buy the same present, probably at a higher price, and you'll have to return the one you bought online and pay delivery costs. Or, alternatively, we hope it arrives on time but splash out on something 'extra' just in case.
Either way, we end up forking out more than we would have done if we hadn't tried to buy it online in the first place!
The fact is, if you've left it to the last-minute — even if the website promises next day delivery - don't risk it. Head to the shops and get it safely home!
6) Cheap 'designer' goods
The reason designer goods are expensive is because you pay for the designer brand. If you spy a pair of designer shoes or sunglasses that look suspiciously cheap, then you should be just that: suspicious.
The same goes for handbags. It's no good knowing how to spot a fake in the flesh when you're buying online; here, the biggest clue is the price it's been sold for. (You can also do a domain check to see which company the site is registered to.)
7) Anything that's expensive to deliver
Finally, here's a general rule-of-thumb to follow when you're unsure whether or not to buy something online.
One of the great things about shopping online is that you are protected by Distance Selling Regulations. This means, if you change your mind, you have the legal right to return the item and get a full refund. If you buy it in a shop, however, you are only legally entitled to a full refund if the item turns out to be faulty.
The trouble is, you are not entitled to claim back the cost of delivery. So if an item is expensive to deliver and equally expensive to return, you will end up seriously out of pocket.
Moral of the story: avoid buying anything online that you're not sure you want, if it's expensive to deliver!
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