Online shopping: it's convenient, easy, and often cheap. How can you go wrong with that?

Well, you can. Very easily at that, if I might add, and that's what this article is about.

There is too much risk involved; you don't know what you're getting until it's too late. Category systems are a mess. There are also huge issues with whether or not the product is legitimate. Lastly, shipping is always a pain.

Let's get down n' dirty.

The Risk Factors of the Unknown §

All of the problems with online shopping are risks. Here are the factors to consider:

Is the item even listed correctly? §

Due to Amazon's website architecture, grouping listings into one "type" page, sellers aren't allowed to provide their own pictures of an item. This makes it a problem for items that have specific types that could be easily confused for one another, such as Sega Genesis power adapters (is it model 1, or model 2 and 3?). Additionally, this makes it easier for the seller to rip you off.

However, this architecture makes reviews feasible, letting you judge the reputation of a product.

On eBay, due to its opposite nature of letting you see all sellers' listings in one search, most listings have pictures, and a picture-free listing is easily noticed as abnormal.

However, this architecture makes reviews infeasible, as listings are treated individually, rather than grouped. Item pages exist, but it just doesn't seem to show up most of the time.

The solution to this, would be to have a balance between these two systems. There needs to be easily-accessible item pages, with easily-accessible reviews for items on it, as well as a item-matching type of system for selling items, that files them under the page. Sellers MUST have not only a chance, but a requirement to provide their own pictures, to show the customer exactly what they are going to get, or else the effort is in vain.

How do you know its size is suitable? §

Since you're not there to see the item stock, you don't know how big (or small) it is. For classes of items such as clothing, furniture, and electronic components, where an incorrect size can mean that the item is nigh-worthless to the customer, this makes online shopping a lot riskier.

Solving this would involve in the seller making a determined and courageous effort in listing things exactly as they are, and the shopping site investing in a similar type of effort, by adding careful categorization options per item type. Let's not even think about how difficult this would be, for general-purpose sales sites like Amazon and eBay, as opposed to sites like NewEgg, which at least are generally electronics-centric.

Is it in the correct category? §

These listings have to be set up by humans, who all interpret things differently. Even if we're all weird in some way, thus giving us interesting points, it makes us prone to making mistakes in our listings. As such, buyers won't always be able to find what they're looking for, or may even be fooled into thinking the product is what they want, when it isn't. If the listing has no pictures, the risk is even bigger.

Is the product legitimate? §

This issue is a huge issue.

How can you know that the product is not counterfeit?

Allowing in-depth, item-specific listing like eBay's (as opposed to Amazon's) approach undoubtedly helps with this, but the seller may still provide little to no evidence of what the product truly is.

There are tons of counterfeit products on the market. The only way that these can be dealt with, are for the sales sites to have policies that enforce sellers to be very specific on their items, labeling non-genuine items as unoriginal replacements, and, if any seller is caught by a customer with undeniable evidence as doing otherwise, they must be shown the banhammer.

This makes a scary situation for the sellers, who already fight an uphill battle against absent-minded and malicious buyers, but if we already have eBay's Money-Back Guarantee, why couldn't we have this system against counterfeit items? After all, if the sellers list the items accurately, they have nothing to hide or be afraid about. Just be truthful.

The Shipping Kills It! §

Often, for items like electronic components, the item is so cheap (say, several cents to a few dollars) that the shipping actually costs more than the item itself. If only RadioShack stocked more electronic components!

The potential return shipping makes it hurt even more; what if the item is defective, and you must ship it back? Chances are pretty good that you'll have to pay for the shipping to send the seller's own broken item back to them. What a joke. It's even more sickening if you wind up taking a loss from it!

Meanwhile, the old-style of having real-life stores actually meant you could avoid a lot of these risks, since you could see, and perhaps even touch the item before buying it.

Despite this, the "smart" phone-obsessive type of people who don't go outside enough, are obsessing over being able to buy things online with their aforementioned kind of cell phones, forgetting about all the factors that made real-life shopping better.

And that's the uncertainties of online shopping.

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