How to be a smarter online shopper

How to be a smarter online shopper

How do you protect yourself when shopping online?


As with shopping the traditional way, choose who you give your money to with great care.

Know that doing business online with a company or entity which doesn’t have an established track record is potentially very risky.

First, the worst case scenario - the person advertising that puppy, camera, cellphone or car is completely fraudulent - spinning you a series of complete lies about who they are and what they have to sale, at bargain prices, of course. 

The goods don’t even exist and the only thing that’s real is your money landing up in their bank accounts.

It was inevitable that they’d exploit South Africans’ current demand for generators created by loadshedding. 

I’ve had a couple of complaints about a company going by the name of Magic Technology or LRJ Technology, which advertises generators, insisted on upfront payment and then failed to deliver the generators as promised.

Binnie Nel of Empangeni paid R6350 for a generator on August 17, and has yet to receive it or a refund, and Corrie Coetzer of Boksburg paid R7000 for a generator back in May - same story.

I’ve sent two emails to the address used by a “Maxwell” they both dealt with, querying the non-delivery - no response. When I called the cell number yesterday, I was rudely told to call back in two hours, and when I did I got voicemail. Clearly none of this behaviour is consistent with a legitimate company.

Asked why he decided to buy a generator online rather than from a shop in his town, Binnie Nel told me the prices were cheaper online. Sadly, going that route as proved the most expensive option of all for him.

If it’s not a big name company with a reputation to uphold, proceed with extreme caution. Do your homework. It doesn’t take much - put key words - and the phone numbers you've been given - into a Google search, and see what comes up.

When it comes to legitimate companies operating online, after-sales customer service is key, because when things go wrong after you’ve paid, not being able to visit a store to sort the problem out can be very time-consuming and frustrating.

Mogie's online purchase 

In February, Mogie Govender went on to Bid or Buy to choose a watch for her husband’s birthday. She found what she was looking for on offer by a Cape Town-based company called Matt Arend Timepieces.

She selected and paid R699 for it. A few weeks later when her husband called the company to ask about the watch, he was told that his chosen watch was out of stock, and asked to choose another, which he did. So that was the first issue.

His second choice was duly couriered to the couple’s home, and within two months, the watch’s second hand fell off. When Mogie reported this, she was told to send video evidence of the defect, which she did. Then she was told to courier the watch back to the company so that it could be repaired.

She agreed, although she had the legal right to choose a refund or replacement watch at that point. 

But she refused to pay the courier, arguing, rightly, that according to the Consumer Protection Act, if a product proves to be defective within six months or purchase or delivery, the consumer may send it back - at the supplier’s cost - for their choice - that’s the consumer’s choice, of a refund, replacement or repair.

Matt Arend Timepieces then paid the courier. The watch was apparently fixed, but Mogie never saw it again - it went missing while in the hands of the courier company, Arend himself later saying it had been stolen.

By this time it was June and Mogie, being fed up, said she wanted a refund, in terms of the CPA. 

She sent the company an email stating this on June 11, but two weeks ago, she got to her workplace to discover that another watch had been sent to her by Matt Arend Timepieces. She contacted the company immediately, telling them she didn’t want it, she wanted a refund, and they must have it uplifted.

Neither Mogie nor her husband had a say in the choice of that replacement watch, by the way - and Mogie says it was very different from the one which was sent for repair. So that was a totally unilateral decision on the part of the company: they decided on the remedy - replacement - and even opted to send a different watch as a replacement. 

About a week later, the company had the watch collected.

Matt Arend has since told me that Mogie will be refunded.

"We have sent two watches to Mogie Govender,” he told me, "one got stolen by the couriers employee and the second one, a perfectly working non defective item was taken back at our cost from the client and the client refunded.

"We have provided a service that is over and above the legal obligations that we are bound by and we are asking that the client considers the matter closed as much as we do now."

Know your rights 

Right, so here are the rights the CPA gives you when it comes to defective goods, rights, incidentally, which trump any store’s internal policies:

*If the product you’ve bought online breaks within 6 months, you get to send it back, but refuse to pay for the courier - the supplier must do that, in terms of the CPA.

*You are entitled to choose your remedy - refund, replacement or repair - and if you choose a refund, it must be in full - they may NOT charge you a transaction or admin fee, even if you don't return it in its original packaging. Note, I’m referring to defective goods here.

*Do not be pressurised into accepting a repair - YOU have the choice if the defect arises within six months of the product being delivered to you.

Better protection when shopping online 

How can you protect yourself when buying from private individuals advertising in free classifieds?

If you see someone selling a second-hand pram, or windsurfer, on Gumtree, and you really want to buy it, you may be worried - and rightly so - that you won’t get the goods once you’ve paid, or that they won’t be in good condition?

Port Elizabeth entrepreneur Martin Reynolds has launched an online payment service called Shepherd, as an independent third party which “looks after” both the goods and the money, ensuring that neither party gets done down.

Only when the buyer has inspected and accepted the item is the money they’ve paid - to Shepherd, via cash or credit card - released to the seller.

Standard Bank provides the banking platform, RAM couriers is on board as official courier, and Gumtree is also affiliated.

So aside from safeguarding the money, Shepherd eliminates the need for buyer and seller to meet either in the virtual or the real world.

Who pays what? The seller pays a competitive courier fee and a transaction fee of 3.95%, which is deducted from the purchase price. 

When buyer and seller agree online to do the deal, either party can suggest using Shepherd, but it’s the seller who must initiate it, by logging on to Shepherd - www. - and e-mailing the buyer a unique transaction number.

Buyer logs in using that number and pays the agreed amount to Shepherd, which notifies the seller that the money’s being reserved. They pay the courier rate, print a waybill and wait for collection.

The courier collects and delivers the goods and the buyer gets to inspect and either accept or reject the item - on the spot.
If the buyer rejects, they get their money back, minus the return courier fees.If they accept, the Shepherd pays the money to the seller, minus the transaction fee.

No doubt the fraudsters will start abusing the Shepherd name to con their victims, so never click on a link to “Shepherd” - except to confirm your email address during the registration process. The “real” Shepherd can be contacted on [email protected].


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