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ShopTalk Discoveries Updates Ideas FAQ Tools Books PR Communication Circle


Frequently Asked Questions

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What Do I Need?

What Stores?

Where Do I Find a Store?

How Do I Find a Product?

Why Register?

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?

How Do 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 ordering?
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 online store?
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 rebate?

How long after I submit my order is it acted upon?

If you buy or sell stocks, your transaction should be completed in 10 to 60 seconds. Ninety seconds is considered slow, because by then the market may have moved, and the prices bid and offered have changed from what you thought was available.

Reservations for airfare, hotel, and rental cars are usually completed within a minute.

If you have ordered something tangible, like a book, your order goes right into the store’s computer system and enters the queue of products to be shipped. After that, the stores vary quite a bit in the speed with which they actually ship. The product itself may be "picked" from a warehouse shelf in anywhere from a few hours to a few days if the item is in stock, in two to four weeks if it is out of stock or back-ordered, and in six to eight weeks if you asked for engraving, customization, or hand crafting.

Why do I have to verify some information after ordering?

If you asked for an academic discount on software, you have to fax in your student or faculty identification, a course schedule, or school bill, to prove you are really in academia. (This is a requirement by the software companies who extend this discount.)

Software upgrades are similar: You have to prove you own the original software to qualify for the discounted rate. You may have to fax them a page from the original manual, or the original serial number.

Why was my credit card refused?

Who knows? The Web shop does not know why the card was turned down. Only the credit card company knows for sure. Common causes include:

• You can easily have made a typo in that long string of numbers. Recheck. (If you entered spaces between those blocks of numbers, try again without any spaces.)

• Perhaps you typed in a version of your name that does not match the name on the card or on the billing.

• Maybe you typed in a billing address that is different from the one the credit card recognizes.

• Perhaps you typed or selected the wrong expiration date.

Any one of these mistakes will result in a turndown.

We find it helps to have the card right in front of us when we re-enter the information.

And if you get bumped two or three times, well, try a different card. Then call the original card company and find out if you have reached your limit.

How do I get a record my order?

Do your part by printing out the form before you submit it, and then printing and saving the confirmation that should come up directly after you submit the order.

Good stores confirm a) on the screen, right after you send the order in, or b) by email, or c) both ways.

Once you see the confirmation, the order has been placed and you cannot easily change it. If you see a terrible mistake, look for a customer service number or email, and call or send a message right away. The faster you intervene, the more likely you can head off disaster.

The confirmation may be called a purchase verification, and you are sometimes asked, one more time, to confirm that you really, really want to place this order.

What if I don't get a confirmation of my order?

If you do not receive a confirmation by email within 24 hours, in addition to a confirming message on screen, you should call customer service, to make sure all is well. You have to be concerned that:

• The order has not been received by their system.

• The order was mysteriously rejected, and they have not told you.

• You typed in a wrong email address, and someone who has an address very like yours is wondering, right now, why this company has charged them for your purchase.

How do I cancel an order with an online store?

You need to act quickly, because these places ship quickly, and once the product has been shipped you cannot completely cancel. You may be able to plan for a return, but you will often be dinged for shipping costs.

• Phone Customer Service, so you can talk with a real human.

• If no one answers for half an hour or so, send email to the Customer Service people, using the Contact Us email address.

You’ll be in luck if you ordered a product that is not in stock, because then the store has not shipped it and canceling is easy.

Is there any limit to the hours when I can order from an online store?

Most sites that use secure servers are set up to take orders 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But if delivery times are crucial, order very early in the day, to be sure that the product can go out that day, or at slower stores, the next day. Wonder when their cutoff time is for shipments? Look on the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list, under shipping, to see when they process orders, or when the cutoff time is, after which your order goes out the next day.

A few sites want to call you back to confirm the details of a messy or complex order, such as a two-week adventure in Mongolia. Some online stockbrokers are so suspicious that they insist on calling you just to make sure you are the one trying to set up the account. In these cases, your order is not really processed until a clerk calls you for confirmation during business hours.

Is there a problem ordering from outside the U.S.?

Many American stores refuse to accept orders where the credit card billing address is outside the U.S. Some stores are more international than others; for instance, music stores seem to be better prepared to ship anywhere in the world than other stores are. Most stores that ship internationally specifically disclaim responsibility for customs difficulties. And they absolutely won’t ship to countries we are currently bombing, or terrorist and outlaw regimes. Plus, some fancy computers and advanced software cannot be shipped to countries that might use it for military advantage (read Iraq, North Korea, and Serbia, these days).

If the store is in Europe or Australia, they are more likely to be set up to accept international orders. (They tend to ship by air to the U.S.)

What if the product is not in stock?

Some companies tell you, in every product description, exactly how many copies they have in stock, so you know in advance if something is currently available, out of stock, or back-ordered.

But many stores do not tell you ahead of time whether the product is really available. This failure, often due to laziness or poor systems integration, can be a real nuisance, because these are the very stores that wait a week or so before grudgingly acknowledging that the product is not in stock. You have a legal right to cancel the order at that time, whether or not the store tells you so.

Even worse, disreputable companies just put your order on hold without telling you, and you have to call in or use order tracking to find out why it didn’t arrive. (This casual habit is against the law and the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission, a fact you might point out to any store that pulls this trick.)

A responsible company will keep notifying you if the date of shipping keeps getting pushed out, perhaps because a manufacturer is slow, or the product is not yet released (like a CD you have requested ahead of its publication date, or a video game for which the orders have overwhelmed the manufacturer).

When is my credit card charged for the order?

The timing varies. We think you should not be charged until the product ships.

But some sites run the charge through as soon as they receive the order. Technically, this is not quite legal, but you often do not discover this trick until you receive your credit card statement.

A few sites have to charge you right away for reservations of airfare, car rentals, or hotel space, in order to lock in the discounts you want. Once you have paid for the reservation, you get that discount rate. If you were to wait to pay, the discount could evaporate.

Most stores, though, charge only when they ship.

Do I have to pay sales tax?

Yes, if you are in the same state as the offices of the company. For instance, if you live in New York, New Jersey, or Virginia, you have to pay sales tax to Barnes and Noble, which has offices in each of those states.

So if you want to avoid sales tax, be alert to any indication that you live in the same state as the store’s main office. If you think you might be stuck with sales tax but aren’t sure, look in the Customer Service area, Help, or Frequently Asked Questions to find out. Of course, the other way to find out is to place your order, which always involves mentioning what state you live in as part of your billing and shipping addresses. Bingo! As soon as they find out, the sales tax goes on.

A few places actually collect sales taxes for a dozen states that have been extremely assertive about their right to taxes on any goods shipped into their borders, and stores that go along with this demand often tax the shipping and handling fees as well.

Eventually, you can figure that all the governors of all the states will march on Washington and insist that online stores impose your local sales tax on anything you buy, and transmit the proceeds to the state treasury electronically, so that the states can put a straw in this fountain of cash. This could reduce the discounts you enjoy online by a quarter to a half. So get ready to send protest email to your congressperson and senators.

How do I take advantage of a manufacturer's coupon or rebate?

Usually you have to deal directly with the manufacturer to get the extra discount or money back. To be sure you can apply the coupon or rebate, though, take these steps:

• Make sure the site advertises the rebate, and if it does not, email them asking whether you can get the rebate if you buy the product through them.

• Make sure you get a rebate form in the package when it arrives.

• Send the rebate form or filled-out coupon to the original manufacturer right away. (And wait a few months.)


--Excerpted from our book The Best of Online Shopping, Ballantine Books

To buy our book at a discount, please visit's electronic bookstore.  We are proud to be an Associate.


The Best of Online Shopping: : ShopTalk/Discoveries/Updates/Ideas/FAQ/Tools/Books/PR

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