Is traditional shopping obsolete?

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There are a lot of advantages with buying online. Not least of all, a combination of intense competition and a drastic reduction in overheads means that many companies charge far less for their products and services that are bought online than they do for sales from their shops or even over the telephone, so you can enjoy some excellent discounts on a regular basis. Keep your eyes open and you can get even better bargains; companies with surplus stock to sell don't have to spend a fortune on promotion, they just change the details on websites and offer low prices; result you get high, one-off discounts. Looking for the latest gizmos that have sold out in the local shops? Relax, someone online has got a few to sell at a reasonable price and delivery companies in the UK are pretty good; I have often bought items online in the late afternoon and had them delivered to my home before 9.00am the next day. It certainly beats burning my expensive petrol to drive through the jams in the pouring rain (I know, I sound like the original Grumpy Old Man!) to pay through the nose to park in a tiny space in an overcrowded car park where there's a better than even chance that I'll get back to find yet another 'ding' in my car door just to find that the shop hasn't got any and the disinterested 'sales assistant' hasn't a clue what the product is let alone whether or not they will have some in stock before next week or next year or whenever they become obsolete. Yes you're right I am very enthusiastic about buying online.

It isn't for everything though. I wouldn't dream of buying food online, for instance, I like to check the sell-by dates, see how fresh everything is, smell the bread, and (surreptitiously) even taste the odd grape. And the fact is that I LOVE shopping for food, just as my wife loves shopping for clothing. If it's a TV set, an insurance policy, a washing machine, a book, a new laptop then an online discount and free delivery wins every time.

Is it safe to shop online? Yes and no. If you settle the online bill by posting off a cheque (remember those?) or, heaven help us, cash, bank transfer or Western Union, you are taking a huge risk. Even using the humble debit card is very dodgy. Pay by credit card though, and you have some wonderful protection in the form of the 'chargeback'; if the product you ordered doesn't arrive, is damaged, is different from it's description etc etc etc and the merchant won't or can't give you a refund you contact your bank and, lo and behold, the payment is re-credited to you provided that it falls within the card company's conditions. Your widget has arrived and it's the wrong colour, or the local discount supermarket is selling them off at a lower price? No problem, under UK distance selling regulations you have the right to send most goods back within seven business days for any reason at all and demand a full refund. Try taking the pink Mickey Mouse slippers that you bought on an insane whim back to your local store and see how far you get - a few will give you a refund, some will offer a credit note, most will shrug their shoulders but if you buy online you are legally entitled to a refund in nearly all cases, no questions asked. Check out your rights here.

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