Online shopping offers gazillion websites where you can quickly pick products at affordable prices. However, attractive deals, best sales, and shopping vouchers may often turn into shopping scams.

In this interview with a shopping expert, Trae Bodge, we talk about safe shopping. Trae has shared her smart tips on how to save money and shop wisely.

...there are lots of ways for consumers to go beyond a price that's being offered to them and find savings, find ways to earn points back, find rebates, use the right credit cards. So I think this is a very important conversation for anyone who likes to shop in general.

Watch this video interview to uncover money-saving tips from an experienced shopper:

Shopping questions and tips discussed in this video interview:

Experience as a Smart Shopping Expert

Elena: Could you please tell us a few words about yourself, your experience as a smart shopping expert?

Trae: My name is Trae Bodge and I run a platform called Truetrae.com. And that's where I share lots of money-saving tips and smart shopping tips with consumers, men, women of all ages. I've been doing this for many years, about 10 years now.

I was previously the spokesperson for RetailMeNot, which is a large coupon site in the US. And since 2015, I've been working out on my own. And I partner with many different brands and platforms to help find the very best ways for consumers to save money and to shop wisely, whether it be in-store or online.

What Is Smart Shopping?

Trae: Smart shopping to me, means a few things. And so it means making well-informed purchases, making purchases that are within your budget, always taking a moment to look and see if you can save money on your purchase. And also, doing enough research so the items that you're purchasing are worth your money.

How to Choose a Website for Safe Online Shopping?

Elena: How to choose a website or, for example, an E-commerce store for safe online shopping, to avoid being scammed?

Trae: Sure. So an easy way is to look at the beginning of the URL or web address, for HTTPS. And the S is the most important thing you want to look for because that indicates that the site is secure. That is the very first thing that I would do.

I would also make sure that you are paying with a platform that you are comfortable with, like your credit card or PayPal, or Venmo. Make sure that there are assurances in place. That if for some reason, the company that you're shopping with is not legitimate, that you can get your money back.

How to Deal with Online Shopping Scams?

Elena: If we look at your personal experience, have you had any experience with scammers, like E-commerce scams at all? And if you did, how did you deal with them?

Trae: So for the most part, obviously I do this for a living. So it's unusual for me to run into trouble, but I did actually run into trouble recently. And I think this is something important to talk about.

There was a site that I was not familiar with, that my daughter wanted to shop with. And this is something that I think many consumers, especially those who are parents or those who are avid shoppers for themselves might fall into, based on Instagram ads or social media ads.

You are exposed to businesses that you're not familiar with. And so it's really important to do your due diligence before shopping with those sites. 

So my experience was that my daughter wanted to shop with a particular site. I obviously know what I'm doing. So I looked around, saw if there were any sort of consumer alerts on this site. There were not. I looked at the site carefully and saw that it looked legitimate. They had a broad range of products.

It looked like a well-designed site. I looked at their return policy and this is probably where I went wrong. It said yes, you can return your products, but you have to pay for the return shipping. And I find that to be fairly unusual these days.

But I thought, "Okay, this is a site that's based in China." I've shopped at sites in China before and it's not been an issue. I'm going to suck it up and do it. I was only buying a few items and so I wasn't that concerned.

And then what happened is that the items weren't sized well when I received them. So my daughter couldn't wear any of the items. And they were of very poor quality. And so I reached out to their customer service. They said, "Yes, of course, you can return these items, but you have to ship them back to China at your expense."

And that was the first time I had ever heard that. So ultimately, what happened is that my credit card company would not protect me. And I ended up sitting with that merchandise because it would have cost me just as much to send it back. And I didn't trust that they were going to refund me either. So I opted to take a hit on that. 

And what I would say for any consumer is if you see that you have to pay for the return shipping, reach out to customer service and have them clarify what that means exactly. Where are those items being shipped to?

...if they are being shipped to a foreign country, you're going to have to pay a lot to ship those items back. And in that case, I would say, it's not worth making that purchase.

So first, I want to be clear. This is not to my mind, an issue with Chinese companies in particular. I do think that no matter where in the world you're ordering from if you're ordering from another country and it is from a site that you are not familiar with, you should proceed with caution. That's the first thing.

Shopping at Chinese and Japanese Vs. US Websites

Trae: Now, you mentioned Shein, which is S-H-E-I-N. I have actually shopped with them and had a very good experience with them. I believe they're based in China, but again, this is not about the country of origin. This is about the return policies and being unfamiliar with that site.

You also mentioned eBay. And so eBay has a couple of different arms. So you can buy brand-new merchandise from eBay. And those items, I believe, are shipped from the US.

I'm in the US. And so if I'm ordering from eBay, I have nothing to worry about. However, eBay is also an auction site. And so if you're purchasing from an individual who is, say, auctioning off a product, then you may want to read them, or I would say you should read their reviews very carefully, to make sure that they have not had a bad experience with other consumers.

That's something I would do. And then just in general, AliExpress is, I believe Japanese. They are a huge site. So I really wouldn't worry about that site in particular. But again, if this is a site that you are not familiar with, read their return policy very carefully. 

And make sure that you fully understand what to expect when you receive that item and perhaps, it's not what you're looking for. Can you return it easily? And if not, my advice would be to shop elsewhere. You really shouldn't take the risk to shop with a site that you're not familiar with.

And especially if the return policy is unclear, or if there's any indication that you'll need to ship it to another country at your expense, it's just not worth the risk. Given the availability of items that are available all over the world, you really don't have to shop with that one specific site. And you can find those items elsewhere, in most cases.

Tips to Choosing the Right Product Online

Elena: Could you please list five tips that in your opinion, would help people to choose a product that would exceed their expectations?

Tip 1: Never take a price at face value

Trae: My first tip would be, never take a price at face value. So if you find an item and it's being sold for a certain amount, look around online to see if you can find that item sold elsewhere for less. And an easy way to do that is to use Google Shopping.

Obviously, we know Google, but they have a specific shopping arm that you can click on when you visit Google. And you enter the name of the item and you will find basically everywhere that item is sold, and for how much. So I think that's a really good place to start.

Tip 2: Read reviews

Trae: Something else I would also do is something I mentioned before. If you are buying something that is unfamiliar to you, or from a site that is unfamiliar, read reviews. You want to see what other users have to say.

...don't only read the best reviews.

You also want to read the worst reviews to have a sense of the quality of the item, and then any potential customer service issues that people have experienced. 

Tip 3: Check the return policy

Trae: The third tip ties into that, is especially if this is a site that you're unfamiliar with, read the return policy very, very carefully. So you are aware of what you have to do if that item needs to be sent back.

Tip 4: Use browser extensions

Trae: The other thing that I would do is install at least one browser extension. And these are free plugins for your computer that make your computer smarter, and they make your computer look for deals for you. For instance, Amazon has one called the Amazon Assistant.

There's one called CouponCabin Sidekick. There's one from Slickdeals. Honey has one. Rakuten has one. These are all smart shopping platforms that once you install the free browser extension, as you browse online, available opportunities to save will immediately be presented to you. This to me, is probably the easiest thing to do and the best way to save as you go along. 

Tip 5: Follow season sales

Trae: And then the other thing I would say is shop in terms of what time of year it is, where sales might be happening. So for instance, at the end of a season, those seasonal items will always be on clearance.

So if you have space to store, say, if you celebrate Christmas, for example, right after Christmas, you're going to find all sorts of amazing Christmas things on clearance. If you have maybe storage in your basement or attic, and you need a few more Christmas decorations, it's a great way to get clearance prices and then store those things away.

The same thing goes with summer, fall, winter, of course, depending on where you live. And if you experience seasons, that's a good way to save automatically. Something else to think of is if you're in the US in particular, if you shop over a long weekend. We just had Memorial Day weekend, which is very, very well known for deep discounts on specific items like mattresses or large appliances, furniture.

Three-day weekends, in general, are a great time to look for sales, because lots and lots of businesses are looking to drum up a business around that time.

There is often increased foot traffic in stores, because people are off and they're out and about, and they're shopping. So three-day weekends are a great time to shop as well. So I think that's five.

How to Improve Your Shopping Experience?

Elena: What do you think can help people not only find the best deals and avoid scams but also improve their shopping experience in general?

Trae: Really, my favorite tip is the browser extensions. I just think it's the easiest way to save money as you shop online. That to me is like if there's one thing that you're going to do, install at least one browser extension. As I said, CouponCabin has one, Slickdeals, Rakuten, Honey, whichever one appeals to you. That to me is the easiest way to save.

It's like being a couponer without making all the effort to clip coupons, and put them in the folders, and watch out for expiration dates. These tools do the work for you. So I would say that if you shop in-store, installing one shopping app at least. 

Slickdeals has one, CouponCabin has one. There's a company called Dosh that has one. So having those tools, paired with your technology, like your laptop or on your phone, that's really the best way to save.

And then the other thing that I would say, and this is maybe not very popular, but please be mindful of your budget. If you are on a tight budget, but you also tend to have a bit of a shopping problem, that's the place to start.

...look at your budget, see how much wiggle room you have every month. You should be shopping with the intention to pay your credit cards off in full, every single month.

And if you cannot do that, you need to pull back. Because what you don't want to do is make these efforts to save money and then carry debt month to month. You're basically negating every effort that you've made to save.

And then the last thing I would say is, and this is a tie into that, is using the right credit card to shop. And what I mean by that is every credit card has its own set of benefits.

Some benefits are better, for one thing, some benefits are better for other things. I just recently discovered a tool called Giga Points, and it's gigapoints.com. It's free. And it securely analyzes your shopping, your credit card shopping, and then makes recommendations for the best credit card for you based on how you shop. And so what I learned is that in 2020, I spent a lot of money on food.

And I could have earned almost $2,000 more in points, had I used a different credit card. Now, I do this for a living. So I was totally shocked and of course, immediately switched credit cards. 

So doing something like that, just analyzing your credit card spending, making sure that you're using the best credit card for yourself, you're doing yourself a favor simply by earning more points based on the way you shop, by using the best credit card.

Conclusion

If done wisely, online shopping can save lots of your money and time. Be cautious of shopping scams, check online stores, read reviews and policies before you jump into the best shopping deal.

We thank Trae Bodge for her shopping hacks. If you have questions for her or would like to share some thoughts, feel free to leave your comments below. Follow PissedConsumer.com on the YouTube channel to uncover more expert tips.

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