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What is online shopping?

A shopping basket full of goods

Online shopping has been happening for a while – so how does it work, and are there any problems you should be aware of?

WebWise Team | 10th October 2012

People have been using their computers to shop for over a decade now. It’s easy to do and it’s mostly safe, although some people are still a little nervous.

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How does it work?

You’ll need a credit or debit card and a secure password. This is something you can make up, something unique to you and something nobody should be able to guess.

A different password for each site you use is ideal – perhaps a set of squiggles you can memorise followed by the name of the site you’re using. So, your password for this site might be &*^$^bbcwebwise – as long as nobody knows the &*^$^ bit, it’s unique and pretty safe.

Online shopping is easy. Go to the site on which you want to shop. Click on the item you want, click “add to basket” and then stop. Check that the web address in the browser starts with https (rather than http) – this means they’re using some sort of security when handling your money.

Enter your credit or debit card details. There will often be a few random characters on a display and you’ll be asked to enter those too. This is called ‘Captcha’, and it’s a way of making sure you’re a real person, not a piece of software designed to defraud.

So, you enter your details, complete your purchase and wait for your goods to arrive. It’s as straightforward as that!

Benefits of online shopping

  • It is brilliant for ’commodity’ products such as books, CDs, clothes – stuff that’s going to be identical, no matter where you get it from.
  • Many supermarkets offer an online shopping service with delivery and most are excellent. Bear in mind that you won’t be able to sort through fruit and veg to look for the best, and the sell-by dates on the cold stuff will be out of your control.
  • Auctions are another way of shopping. You can set up an account with an online money transfer account and link it to your bank or debit/credit details. PayPal currently has a monopoly on this kind of service.

Finally, if a website doesn’t give you an address and doesn’t give you a procedure on what to do if there’s a problem and you need to return goods, it’s in breach of the Distance Selling Regulations (consumer protection law) and shouldn’t be used.


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WebWise Team

WebWise was first launched in 1998 and since then has helped people of all ages to learn about and love the internet.