What Do I Need?
Where Do I Find a Store?
How Do I Find a Product?
How do I get Help?
How Do I Order?
When will I get my Package?
What about Returns?
Where Can I Go to Solve Problems?
I Order and Pay?
Are there different ways to pay?
What exactly does the Buy button commit me to?
What is this shopping cart thing?
What is checkout?
What is this express checkout or 1-Click purchase?
Why do I need a billing address?
How safe is my credit card information with an online store?
What exactly is encryption?
Which credit cards do stores take?
What does this mean, submit?
How long after I submit my order is it acted upon?
Why do I have to verify some information after
Why was my credit card refused?
How do I get a record my order?
What if I don't get a confirmation of my order?
How do I cancel an order with an online store?
Is there any limit to the hours when I can order from an
Is there a problem ordering from outside the U.S.?
What if the product is not in stock?
When is my credit card charged for the order?
Do I have to pay sales tax?
How do I take advantage of a manufacturer's coupon or
Are there different ways to
Most stores offer several ways to order, but only the larger, more
professional stores offer four or five methods.
If you prefer the familiar, you can still pay using the old-fashioned ways:
Calling an 800 number and placing an order, using your credit card over the
phone (just as fast as it has always been, with shipments going out within a day or two,
Taking the information about the product, writing a letter, slipping a check or
money order into the envelope, and sending it to the stores snail mail address
(delaying the date of shipment by a week or two)
Cutting a purchase order and sending it in by mail (again, causing a delay of a
few weeks as they verify credit and set up a formal account)
If you want to order electronically, there are several ways to do that:
Going to a secure server, filling out the form with your credit card info, and
Printing out the form, filling it in, and faxing it to the store (causing a
slight delay, perhaps a day or so, as they verify the credit card by phone)
Emailing the form to the store with your credit card information (the least
secure method, and not recommended)
Of all these methods, we recommend ordering online, as long as you are dealing with a
reputable store that has a secure server. The very worst is email. By mistake, you can
send your credit card information to your department list at work, or the people on that
newsgroup youve been following. Uh-oh!
What exactly does the Buy
button commit me to?
Nothing. So far. Clicking a button like Buy, Order, or Place in Shopping Cart just
starts the purchase, placing an item in your imaginary shopping cart. Glitch: Sometimes
you have to enter a quantity into the slot next to the Buy button, or else you get
rejected because the stupid system thinks you have not asked to buy anything, because you
did not select the zero under Quantity and change it to one. (Why do programmers set the
quantity to zero? Do they really think someone will eagerly order zero units of the
Generally, you wait a moment, and then you see information about the product you are
proposing to buy. Often, this information is displayed in what is known as your shopping
cart, or shopping bag, which contains everything you have thought you might buy so far.
The shopping cart just lets you make a pile of items you might buy, without ordering any
of them yet. You just get to see your order so far, with information like this about each
The product name
The product number
The extended price (price times quantity)
Perhaps the shipping costs for this item
You have not committed to anything yet. You are just staring at your cart full of items
as you rest in the aisle of the online store.
What is this shopping cart
The shopping cart (or shopping bag, or whatnot) is the mechanism by which the store
keeps track of your order, as if you were putting items into a cart at the supermarket.
The idea is that you dont have to actually pay when you drop items into the cart,
and you can remove them, change quantities, and so on before you go to checkout. In some
stores you can edit the order directly, and in other stores, you have to click a button
named Modify Cart, or something like that. To remove an item, just revise the quantity to
In some stores, you can choose shipping methods at this time. Other stores just ship by
ground, so you dont get a choice.
In a well-designed site, you can view your order or shopping cart at any time. In a
lousy site you have to pretend to buy something to see what you already have in the cart.
What is checkout?
As in a real store, when you have finally decided what you want to buy, you wheel your
cart by the checkout counter.
In many stores, this is the time you have to enter your credit card info, or confirm
the info you gave when you registered, which now shows up again (except for your
password). For instance, your billing and shipping addresses appear all filled in, but you
can change them now, although many stores insist that your shipping and billing addresses
match the address to which the credit card company sends its bills. You also get one last
chance to edit quantities and remove products. Pay particular attention to the shipping
method to make sure that is really what you want. (In some systems, you must wait until
checkout to pick a shipping method, and find out how much it will cost only during
When everything is the way you like it, click Submit or Order to send your order in. In
a well-designed site, you should immediately get a page confirming the order details and
asking you, one more time, to confirm that this is really, really what you want. One more
OK, and the order is really, really sent in. (Poorly designed or greedy sites just accept
your order the first time, not giving you a moment to reconsider.)
In a few minutes an email should go out from the site confirming the purchase. (You may
get the confirmation in a quarter hour, or a few hours, depending in part on the traffic
on the Internet and the speed with which your email is delivered.) Be sure to save this
confirming email, in case anything goes wrong with the order. You might even consider
setting up a folder to save mail from stores so you can find it quickly.
What is this express checkout
or 1-Click purchase?
This is a neat way to buy with one click of your mouse. You have to sign up for this
privilege, giving your address, preferred shipping method, and credit card number ahead of
time. Because the store has all that information on file, and you agree that they should
use it whenever you click the Express or 1-Click button, you can now go browsing away, and
whenever you feel the impulse, click that button. Thats all you have to do. They
confirm that you have ordered such and such, and in a few days it arrives.
Of course, this method is so easy that you may find you order unnecessary or impulse
items. We certainly do.
Why do I need a billing
Your billing address helps the credit card company confirm that you are who you say you
Most stores will reject your order if the credit card number is wrong, or if your
address does not match the address the credit card sends its bills to.
At most stores, then, you must enter a billing address, and for many that must also be
the shipping address, so they can be sure you are not a criminal who has stolen a card and
wants stuff sent direct to a motel room.
Sites specifically set up for gifts do allow you to have the present sent directly to
the recipient, but that is unusual.
How safe is my credit card
information with an online store?
exactly is encryption?
Your credit card information is safer online than at your local gas station,
convenience store, or restaurantat least if the online store uses a secure server
for your order. A secure server is a computer that uses software that protects your
personal and credit card information.
Just make sure that you have gone to a secure site before you hand over credit card
info. How can you tell? Well, every time you leave a "nonsecure" area and go to
the "secure" site, you are notified with a little pop-up window, saying,
"You are about to view pages over a secure connection" (unless you have told
your browser to stop showing you this little message). Although this alert sounds like a
warning, it is actually a reassuring signal that your transaction will, in fact, be
private. Other good signs: the address line changes from http to https,
meaning you are using a secure site. Also, in Internet Explorer you see an icon of a lock
in the status bar at the bottom of the screen; or in Netscape Navigator, you get a bright
yellow key on a blue background at the bottom of the screen. You may also see the letters
SSL, which stand for Secure Sockets Layer (a set of standards for plugging in to the
secure server), or SET, which stands for Secured Electronic Transaction. You should also
see the address change from http to https, for secure, and an icon of a key or lock
appears in your status bar.
Techie note: The Secure Sockets Layer, developed by Netscape, authenticates you to the
store, and vice versa, and scrambles your messages back and forth so anyone who tapped
into them could not figure them out. This encoding is called encryption, like what
governments use to hide their messages from prying eyes. Good encryption means that it
would take a team of programmers months or years, using a supercomputer, to figure out
that you were ordering a hair dryer.
The purpose of encryption is simply to keep messages private and whole, so
they cannot be read by outsiders and cannot be tampered with en route.
Encryption takes your order and turns it into a secret code so that only the intended
recipient (you or the store) can read it after mutual authenticationthat is,
confirmation that the store is who they say they are, and that you are who you say you
How does encryption work?
That computer, the secure server, has two secret codes, called keys.
One is a public key: a big complicated number sent to you, which is embedded in your
messages back to the site, which is itself coded, or "encrypted," which is just
a fancy word for "made secret by turning it into code."
The other is the private key, for you alone, which is what the site uses to match up
with the public key, to authenticate that this message comes from you. When the keys
match, the system can unlock the code to translate your scrambled information.
Techie note: The private key is the prime factors of the public key. Thus, if the
public key were 45, the private key would be 5 and 9, the factors that multiplied together
Once all these keys match up, the server translates your order and sends it to the
accounting or ordering system. No human gets to read your credit card number during this,
and there are no paper receipts lying around for vicious jerks to steal. Thats why
this process is, ultimately, a lot safer for you than giving your card to the clerk down
at the dry-cleaning store.
Which credit cards do stores take?
Almost every online store takes both MasterCard and Visa. Many also take American
Express and Discover.
What does this mean, submit?
At the end of checkout, you are asked whether you want to submit the order or clear the
form. Submitting the order just means sending the order in officially, committing yourself
to the purchase.
Generally, the system digests the order, checks with your credit card company, checks
product availability, then comes back with a confirmation showing what you ordered, where
it will be sent, and oh yes, what the order ID or confirmation number is.
Save this number.
If possible, print this confirmation page or save it on your hard disk, because this
number is what you need to use to track your order or cancel.