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Third Party Vendors - Online Shopping Series

The pandemic has forced consumers to shop online with increasing frequency. However, when buying virtually, things are not always as they seem. Unlike when you enter a brick and mortar store, when you shop online– even with brands you know and trust– you are not always buying from the vendor whose store you are visiting.

Companies like Amazon, eBuzz, Kmart, or Walmart, set their own policies when it comes to how thoroughly they vet their third-party sellers. They may also have different return policies, shipping times, and warranty information for purchases made from third-party vendors. If you plan to shop online this holiday season, read on for some tips to help you make your online buying experience safer this season.

Determine who the actual seller is. You can ascertain which company is the actual seller by looking for “sold by” and/or “fulfilled by” on the product page of the item. From there, you can check the legitimacy of a third-party seller by locating their company website. Most scammers will not go to the trouble of building a fake website that would accompany their listing. A legitimate company on the other hand will often offer an easily accessible website that you can look at.

Research the third-party seller’s reviews by doing a simple Google search (seller name plus customer reviews) that may either bring up no company information (Red Flag) or extensive reviews, good and bad. Look for red flags such as repeated failure to fulfill orders, wrong items shipped, poor customer service, return policies not honored, etc. One suggestion is to periodically recheck the third-party seller’s policies, as they can and often change.

Check the manufacturer and product. Make sure there is nothing fishy about the company name, product name, description, or images. Are the photos clear photos taken of a real product? Do they look professional? In regard to the manufacturer, you can do a Google search for their name, see if their products are sold in the US and what other products they are selling.

For larger and more expensive items, take the extra time to find out if the seller is an authorized reseller (which often is indicated by a badge that indicates that, but is also verifiable on the manufacturer websites). If you buy an item and the seller is not authorized by the manufacturer, some manufacturers may not honor the warranty, even with proof of purchase, if something goes wrong with the item.

Finally, read the shipping and return policies of the third-party seller. They may vary from the umbrella retailer. For example, you may not be able to return the product to the physical store if you choose not to keep it. If you purchase an item and it breaks or does not work, you may be able to push back on the umbrella retailer. You should also check whether your payment method protects you from bad business practices. For example PayPal’s buyer protection or your credit card.

For other information on your shopping rights, visit www.mass.gov/consumer.

If you suspect bad business practices and you wish to file a complaint against a business in MA, please visit the Massachusetts Attorney General’s website.

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