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?
When Will I Get
How fast will the store get around to
shipping my product?
How reliable are the company's promises about when they will get the
product out the door?
What shipping options do I have?
Why won't they ship to a post office box?
On a military base, what kind of shipping can I get?
How much does shipping cost?
How do I check on my order, while I'm waiting for it to arrive?
Do I have to sign for the package?
What should I do the moment I receive my package?
Does the product have a warranty?
What is guaranteed by the online store, if anything?
How fast will the store get
around to shipping my product?
That depends on the way you pay the store, and on their routine for picking and packing
If you send your order in electronically from the Web site, or phone with your credit
card info, you get the shipping process started right away. The clock ticks from that
But if you send the order by fax or email, a human has to read it, call up the credit
card company, and get the OK before anything else happens; a day or so may go by before
the clerk gets around to verifying the card.
Slowest of all is sending your order in by mail, because that adds another two to five
days to the delay.
Once the stores computer system receives the fully confirmed order, the staff has
to read the order, pick the products off the shelf, pack them, and pile them up for a
delivery service to collect. In some stores, if you get an order into their system by a
certain time (from early morning until right after lunch, their time), your order is
shipped that day or the next morning. For instance, most orders for flowers go out the
same day if ordered before lunchtime.
Most stores take 24 to 48 hours before they actually hand the package over to the
delivery service. Stores run by individuals or families may take three days to ship.
And all of these figures assume that the product is in stock.
If its not available, you may have to wait a few weeks (you should receive an
email warning you of the delay and offering to let you cancel the order).
And if you have asked for special engraving, or customization, you may have to wait a
month and a half or more before the personalized product is ready to be shipped.
If delivery times are critical, you should check the stores policy on shipping.
The best stores have a button called Shipping, taking you to this kind of information.
Others put the info under Customer Service, FAQ, or Help. In some cases, you have to start
ordering in order to find out when they ship.
How reliable are the company's
promises about when they will get the product out the door?
Pretty good, in our experience, as long as the items are in stock.
With items that come from some other company, though, the store has less control, and
you may have to wait as long as a month for "back-ordered" items.
The Federal Trade Commission has a Mail Order Rule that applies here:
1) The company has to ship whenever they say they will.
2) If they encounter a delay, they must tell you about it, and get your agreement to
that delay. You have the right to cancel the order at that time.
What shipping options do I
Some stores ship only by ground or via the mail. But most offer a variety of methods,
with delivery coming the next day, or two or three days after the product leaves the
store. (Remember, the store may take a while to pack your order, which adds significantly
to the total time until delivery.) Here are typical options offered by stores using
Overnight, in the morning or during the day
Ground, which means about a week of business days
Saturday (not offered very often)
And then there are the various services offered by the U.S. Postal Service, at http://www.usps.gov/
Priority Mail, which may take two or three days for delivery. For a fee you can
also get package tracking, insurance, and confirmation of delivery, making this almost as
expensive as the services Ground delivery, but not quite as reliable.
Express Mail, which generally gets to you overnight, with the added plus of
being insured and having a tracking number, so you can locate the package if it gets lost
Parcel Post or Book Rate, which may take a few weeks
Very few stores are willing to ship for Cash on Delivery (COD), and if they do ship
this way, they insist on receiving a cashiers check or money order.
Why won't they ship to a post
Delivery services like Airborne Express, DHL, FedEx, and UPS are not allowed
into post offices.
Credit card companies take a dim view of a P.O. box as a billing address, and
prefer that the store ship only to the same address as the billing address on the credit
On a military base, what kind
of shipping can I get?
Youll have to rely on the government, that is, the U.S. Post Office, for
delivery, because the brass do not like delivery services wandering around the base trying
to deliver a package directly to your barracks or house.
How much does shipping cost?
Good question, because some sites refuse to tell you how much the shipping charges will
be until you give them credit card info, billing address, and shipping address, all of
which could take a few minutes, so you get committed to the order. Only then will they let
you know. Bad practice. The best sites tell you, right in the product description, how
much each kind of shipping will cost you for that product, so you can estimate your total
cost, not just the price of the product.
Here are some of the ways sites disclose shipping costs:
Some stores charge a standard amount, and just drop that figure into the order
without telling you what you get for the moneythat is, how long it will take to
deliver, given that fee.
Others let you pick different shipping services and delivery times, but do not
tell you how much they cost until you submit the order.
Better stores offer you the complete table of choices, and let you pick before
you decide whether to submit the order.
The absolute best stores tell you how much each delivery type will cost you, and
how soon you can expect delivery that way, on the product description page, so you can
factor that information into your decision to buy.
Increasingly, stores compete with each other on shipping costs, which is good, because
this pressure will drive them all to advertise what a good deal they offer. The best deal,
apparently, is free shipping.
But how long does that take? Usually a week, because the store is talking about
shipping by ground, or at the cheapest postal rates. You always pay more for faster
delivery. Charges for shipping go up when:
You ask for faster delivery. (The cost of delivery of a CD overnight in the
morning may be more than $25, whereas if you could wait a week, you might pay less than
You order more products than are covered by their standard or flat fee. (For
instance, some music stores will ship four CDs for a set fee, but start charging you a bit
more if you order more than that.)
You order a heavy product, or one that weighs more than a certain threshold
The store charges you by the item, whereas other stores charge by the whole
order, which is usually cheaper.
You ask to have your multiple-item order shipped as items become available,
rather than waiting for all of them to be sent in a single shipment. (You may have to pay
a separate charge for each shipment.)
So, if you can stand waiting, you can save quite a bit of money by accepting the
slowest delivery, which usually takes about a week.
Also, if you get the chance, take the option that says, "Only ship when all the
products are ready," because then you pay only one shipping charge, not several.
How do I check on my order,
while I'm waiting for it to arrive?
If your order was shipped with a delivery service such as FedEx or UPS, the store can
tell you the package number, so you can go to the delivery services Web site and
check on the packages progress. (You may have to wait 24 hours after the order is
actually shipped to see your package on the Web site.)
Or, if you registered or became a member at the store, you may be able to log in with
that name and password, go to an order tracking area on the site itself, use your
confirmation code (from the store), and plug into the delivery services tracking
systems from there.
Do I have to sign for the package?
In many cases, the store likes to have you sign a receipt to confirm that the package
really reached you. The delivery services obey these requests.
But if you must go out, you can put up a note authorizing the driver to leave the
package (print your name and sign it).
Or, if you get a lot of packages but you are often out, you can get a small form from
the delivery service to glue to your door, authorizing them to leave packages even if you
are not home. Weve found that this little sticker often encourages drivers to ignore
the requirement for a signature, so we come home to find a package on the doorstep. (Our
front door is hidden from the street by a gate and an adobe wall.)
What should I do the moment I
receive my package?
Try it out quickly, so you can get credit if it fails. If you wait more than 10 days,
some stores refuse to accept returns. (Other stores extend the grace period to 30 days.)
Save everything, in case you have to return the product: manuals, cards, warranty,
packing slip, original box, foam pellets. Dont fill out the registration form until
you know the product works.
Does the product have a warranty?
Well, we cant say for sure, but most products that cost more than $20 have some
kind of warranty, however feeble. The warranty is issued by the original manufacturer,
though, not the store.
If the product has a warranty, that will come with the product, as long as you are
buying a new item. (Once a product has been used, or bought in auction from the original
user, the warranty may no longer apply.)
Some stores mention that there is a warranty, but only an excellent few actually show
you the warranty online.
What is guaranteed by the
online store, if anything?
If the store promises to ship your package out within a certain time, the Federal Trade
Commission considers that a guarantee. Ditto for any statements such as "Lowest
prices guaranteed." Usually any store that actually uses the word guarantee
has a long legalistic explanation of what is included and what is excluded, but we have
found that the sheer effort their lawyers have expended on this description indicates that
the store takes the guarantee seriously. (These stores usually do have extremely low
Money-back guarantees are heavily advertised, if they exist, and usually require that
you complain about the product within 10 to 30 days after receipt. Many stores charge a
10% restocking fee if you wait for 15 days to complain. If you dawdle for more than 30
days, you may find the store refuses to accept a return, or accepts a return only in
exchange for another copy of the same product, and then only if the product turns out to
be defective and is still covered by its warranty. You can see that if you have a problem
with a product, youd better call or email immediately. (Remember: Even if the
product is an OOBF, that is, an Out-of-Box Failure, you probably will not get your
shipping costs back.)