Easy ways to stay savvy when shopping online this festive season

Distance buying carries a large cautionary sticker if you don’t know your push notifications from your IBAN
Easy ways to stay savvy when shopping online this festive season

Online purchases and telephone purchases have a standard cooling-off period of seven days after delivery, with a 30-day refund on cancellation of the transaction. File pictures

From those of us rooting out rock-bottom Amazon deals to challenge high street sellers, to retail flirts who abandon their virtual trolley piled high at checkout — many of us have razor-sharp e-commerce savvy, and we’re not afraid to use it. 

Still, distance buying carries a large cautionary sticker if you don’t know your push notifications from your IBAN. I prefer to look someone in the eye and feel the quality wherever possible, buying Irish or at least from Irish retailers.

With Christmas approaching, we’re moving a little faster, panicking a little more, and validating our relationships with desk-bombers at work with overpriced gew-gaws. 


Scammers lurk everywhere from online shopping websites to social media channels, to fake advertising and dubious classifieds. They even host merry rogue virtual auctions. Together with deploying common sense, whenever you receive an unsolicited request for your financial information or any odd communication from an illegitimate or suspicious source, delete it immediately from your device. 

This is “phishing”, and it can wreak havoc on your finances and peace of mind. Don’t even click on this material or open it for a peak. Visit the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s pages at to find out everything you need to know.


When going online for serious buys, check the seller’s reputation is also — serious. Aim for respected, long-serving, reputable suppliers proving themselves in diligent follow-up customer service even when things go pear-shaped. 

I trust 1000 completed transactions and a 99% approval rating in eBay. Where are they? Having an Irish-sounding name does not mean this is an Irish company. If Dympna O’Grady’s Seaweed Soaps happen to lurk outside the EU, your customer rights will be very different. 

Search engine rankings on Google reflect a firm’s ability to pay for pole position. Search out real customer reviews. 

Google Business offers moderated reviews (use Google Search or Google Maps), and Trust Pilot ( is excellent for untouched consumer feedback. The Trusted Shops Trustmark has been awarded about 30,000 European online shops that meet or exceed all requirements for the security of personal data,


Social media is an increasingly popular marketplace. Going online, we are not always being supplied by the person we are buying from. That’s not unusual. 

You may be tempted in by an affiliate marketer on YouTube for example. This is a legitimate way thousands of Youtubers and Instagram hosts make money using their social media face — promoting goods and providing a discount code to use with the actual supplier. You’re not buying from Ms Glow-up, you’re just ordering through them. They get a kickback. These postings should carry #Ad or #Gift by law. Following a purchase, you will be dealing with the supplier an online celebrity for any customer issues.

Someone on Instagram may be “drop-shipping”, a common and legal way of doing retail business online. You order from them, and the item is shipped directly to you from a supplier (increasingly there’s no physical warehouse at the seller’s premises). 

You order, they order. That book/table/lamp could be from Dublin, London, China, Turkey — anywhere. The seller doesn’t physically “stock” anything. Sellers also use Amazon’s Fulfilment by Amazon centres (FBA) to hold pre-purchased goods. There’s a new 630,000-square-foot FBA centre in Dublin. Drop-shipping offers low-profit margins and can be abused. Look for skill, reputation and credentials. Items should be shipped swiftly (notice any flabby promises), all duties paid, and the terms on returns explained. 

Reviews, reviews, reviews. You can find my guide to finding real reviews here.


Every time you go online with any device you are potentially infecting it with malignant spyware and viruses. SPAM, identity theft and credit card fraud can seize your details without sufficient protection for your vulnerable information — that means a firewall, plus an antivirus/anti-spyware program for a computer. 

Free software is available to download online or you ask your local computer outlet to recommend a dedicated suite of products. Windows features a host firewall as standard. Avoid public Wi-Fi when shopping online – it’s a lot less secure, and ensure your passwords are not ridiculously simple to crack. If you are out with your laptop, try tethering your phone to your laptop rather than using a café’s guest Wi-Fi.

Your credit card is a powerful tool, blistering with protections. Used by 173 million people worldwide, PayPal allows you to pay, send money, and accept payments without revealing your financial details, sheltered from the scammers behind encryption and anti-fraud technology to keep your information secure, reducing the risk of online fraud. We only want to supply the least amount of information needed to complete one transaction. 

Alternates include Apple Pay and Google Pay. is another great place to get familiar with tripping out online to shop and they can find you a good credit card deal for your situation. Together with prepaid cards and buy now/pay later devices, they advise, “Consider a virtual card or single-use card: It works exactly like your physical bank card, but it’s stored on your phone and is secured by encryption. With a one-time virtual card, the details can only be used once.” See


You have the same consumer rights buying online from a legitimate Irish or EU seller that you do in person. In fact, under EU consumer legislation you have a few more with a registered company. EU online sellers must by law supply their contact details, the main characteristics of the product or service and the total cost of the product, including all taxes and delivery charges. 

Under EU rules, any faults (rather than damage) that become apparent within six months of the goods being delivered are presumed to have existed at the time of delivery, and you could be due a full refund. According to the EU Distance Selling rules, goods must be of satisfactory quality, durable, match the description given on the website, free of any faults, including minor ones, and fit for purpose. Buying from outside the EU/EEA, things become nebulous. Expect extra duties and excise to apply.


Online purchases and telephone purchases have a standard cooling-off period of seven days after delivery, with a 30-day refund on cancellation of the transaction. 

The returns policy is going to matter now (check before you buy). Returned goods should be in their original packaging and perfect shape unless you are returning them as damaged (take pictures). This is not easily managed at Christmas time. If you cancel your order due to a ridiculous wait on delivery (30 days plus is not on) — you still may be charged a re-stocking fee. For larger, heavier goods this can be expensive. Study those T&Cs.


Buy from sites with a secure payment page, a solid code of buyer information, privacy and a clear returns policy. Two-factor verification with a SIM push notification to my phone is a prerequisite for me to part with more than a tenner outside the protection of PayPal. 

Together with the presence of the padlock symbol for a secure payment page the ECC advise us to be vigilant that “the website is a legitimate representation of the brand, and not a mirror or lookalike site. That giveaways are not misspelt brand names, and that no identifying details and prices are too low for the misrepresented site.” See

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