Vol.1, No.5

Hidden fees when shopping online

You can find some great bargains on the Internet, especially if you know a few tips to help avoid hidden online shopping fees.

Hidden shipping charges online
Photo Credit: Kenneth C. Zirkel
In 2004, online retail sales in the U.S. amounted to $65 billion, and by 2008 that figure is expected to rise to $117 billion. Business is booming on the Internet, and with good reason - just about everything a consumer could possibly need is now available for sale online, from groceries to automobiles and everything in between. But the Internet isn't exactly a shopping paradise; consumers still need to be savvy shoppers to avoid hidden fees that may significantly reduce the savings they're hoping to find online.

How to Avoid Common Hidden Fees When Shopping Online

1. Compare Prices

Even though you can find great deals on the Internet, that doesn't mean that every web site offers them. You still need to shop around for the best price, whether you're comparing costs to other web sites or to traditional stores in your neighborhood. Online prices for the same item can differ greatly, so it can be worth it to spend a little extra time using a search engine to find all the web sites that sell an item you're looking for. You might even want to make some phone calls to brick & mortar stores in your area to make sure you're getting the best bargain. Sometimes, just because an item you need is on the Internet doesn't mean that it's at the best price available. If you take the time to shop around, the most easily discovered hidden fee is an overpriced item.

2. Find Out Shipping Prices Before You Check Out

Before you press the 'Submit My Order' button, make sure you know exactly what your shipping charges are going to be. Most reputable web sites will make these costs easy to find, but occasionally a web site will keep this hidden until after you've submitted your credit card information. Even though you usually have the opportunity to cancel your order at this point, if you decide the shipping charges are exorbitant you've already wasted time that could have been spent shopping for a better deal.

3. Be Prepared To Pay Return Shipping Charges

This is one it's hard to avoid, but be aware that if you buy an item that you want to return for any reason, you'll be responsible for the return shipping charges under most circumstances.

Colors on your computer screen will always vary slightly from what an item actually looks like, so if you're shopping for something that needs to match an item you already own, see if you can get a fabric sample of some kind before committing to a full purchase. This is only occasionally available at web sites that sell clothing, but is very common on sites that sell home furnishings.

4. Be Aware Of Expedited Shipping Costs

If you need an item in a hurry, a common hidden fee that shoppers fall victim to are expedited shipping prices. The cost of ground transportation can be very reasonable, but if you need to receive an item quickly you might be better off shopping at a nearby mall. Online prices for Overnight and Second Day Delivery can be outrageously expensive, sometimes even more than the item you're purchasing.

5. Avoid Re-Stocking Fees

Fortunately, most web sites don't require that you pay a 're-stocking fee' if you want to return an item, but if you're not prepared this can be a shock. The price of a re-stocking fee can be anywhere from 5%-20% of the item's purchase price, and is meant to discourage customers from returning items. While this fee may not exactly be hidden on a web site, it's never prominently displayed. Make sure you've explored every page you can find regarding an online store's return policies, to avoid this particularly distasteful hidden fee.

For just about anything you can think of, there's a web site somewhere online that's selling it. Many of those web sites belong to the major department stores located throughout the U.S., who have invested heavily in their online retail stores. Because an online store's overhead is reduced by not having to spend as much in maintaining brick & mortar facilities, they can pass that savings on to consumers. Many online stores offer products at deep discounts compared to traditional storefronts - and being aware of hidden fees can help you take advantage of the great bargains you can find on the Internet.