Online shopping is an easy and convenient way to get things delivered to your home. It's usually very safe, but it's still important to keep an eye out for scammers. Learn more about ways to stay safe, what to expect and what to do if something goes wrong when shopping online.
What is online shopping?
Using the internet to buy things can save you time and sometimes money. You can compare prices, find more choice and get access to the latest deals. However, there are risks and you need to be careful when you're shopping online. You'll need to check who you're buying from and stay alert when you order something.
Top tips for shopping online safely
Before you click buy, make sure you've done the following checks.
- Research the seller to make sure they’re real and trustworthy. For example, do they have a physical address and phone number? A simple internet search can help you find this information.
- Look for independent reviews on the seller to see if anyone else has had a problem.
- Compare prices before you buy. If you see a deal that seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Consider using price comparison websites, such as Uswitch, to find better prices for things like energy, insurance and broadband. For more information, read our Saving money pages.
- Check the delivery, returns and privacy policies, and your rights – especially if you're buying from a shop based outside the UK.
- Make sure your device, internet connection and the website you're using are secure – see Staying safe online.
- If you can, pay with a credit card when you buy something over £100 and up to £30,000. This offers more protection so it's easier to get your money back if something goes wrong.
- Or consider using services like Apple Pay, Google Pay or PayPal, so your bank details aren’t shared with sellers.
If you're not sure about a purchase, don't make it. You can always ask someone you trust for a second opinion and come back later. Visit Get Safe Online for more ways to stay safe when online shopping.
What to expect when shopping online
Once you're confident about a seller, you’ll usually be able to buy products on their website or sometimes through bigger shopping sites. There may be filters and search options to help you find what you’re looking for.
When you're checking out
At the checkout, you may have the option of registering for an account or checking out as a guest, depending on the website.
You'll be asked for some personal details. Some details may be optional, but you’re likely to be asked for:
- your name
- billing address – where the card you’re paying with is registered. This is usually your address as it appears on your bank statement
- delivery address – where your order should be posted to
- email address – to confirm your order and send delivery updates
- phone number – usually for delivery update text messages, or so the shop can call you if there are any problems with your order
- bank card or payment details
- whether you want to sign up for newsletters or mailouts – it’s best to read the wording carefully so you choose the option you want.
Some websites may direct you to a separate payment service, like WorldPay, Paypal, Stripe or Sage Pay. If they do, make sure the website stays secure – for example, there’s an ‘https’ at the start of the website address or padlock symbol in the web browser window. See Staying Safe online for more ways to tell if a website is secure.
Problems when shopping
If you’re having trouble browsing a shopping site or your internet connection keeps cutting out, there may be simple tricks to fix it. For example, you could try a different browser or restart your device. Avoid doing this if you’re in the middle of paying though, as it may stop your order from going through properly. See Fixing problems with technology.
How should I pay for online shopping?
If you can, use a credit card. These offer more protection when you buy something over £100 and up to £30,000 than debit cards and prepaid cards, so it’s easier to get your money back if something goes wrong. Visit MoneyHelper for more on how you’re protected when paying by card.
You can also consider using e-payment services, such as PayPal, Google Pay or Apply Pay. These are online accounts that you can link your bank account or card to, so online sellers won’t see your bank details. This can offer some protection as scammers won’t get hold of your bank details if a website is bogus. Visit MoneyHelper for more information on e-payments.
Don’t use bank transfers to pay for things online. This is like paying in cash. The money goes straight from your account to the seller’s and there’s no protection for your money. If there’s any problem, you won’t be able to get your money back.
When you've finished shopping
Make sure you’ve received confirmation of your order. This is usually sent to the email address you’ve given to the seller. You could also note down the order number shown on the payment confirmation screen in case you need to contact the seller later. You’ll usually find an option to print this screen or save it as a PDF so you don’t need to print.
Always log out of the website when you’ve finished shopping online. Just closing your browser is not enough to keep your details safe.
If something goes wrong when online shopping
It’s best to contact the online seller first. You may be entitled to a refund, repair or replacement if your item is:
- broken or damaged
- can't be used
- wasn't what was advertised.
Citizens Advice has information on what you’re entitled to and what to say.
If the seller is based in the UK, you’ll usually have a 14-day ‘cooling-off period’, depending on what you buy. This means you’ll have 14 days after you’ve received your order to change your mind about it. You don’t need to give a reason and nothing needs to be wrong with the item to get a refund. Find out more on Citizens Advice.
Contact your card provider or e-payment service
If the seller can’t or won’t help, you can ask your card provider to help. If you used an e-payment service like PayPal, check their website for information on how you can claim your money back. Find out more on Citizens Advice.
If you think you’ve been scammed
If you think your card details have been stolen, contact your bank so they can stop the card. If you use online or mobile banking, you may be able to pause or stop your card in your online account too.
If you think you’ve been scammed, you can report it to Action Fraud or in some cases to Trading Standards.
Find out more on What to do if you’ve been scammed.
Visit Learn My Way for a free online course on shopping online.
Digital Unite has lots of free guides about how to shop online.
Read Get Safe Online for more on staying safe while shopping online.