Christmas online shopping is taking off… but buyer beware

Personal finance columnist, Jill Kerby, has some advice regarding online shopping and is pushing the 'Buy Irish' and 'Shop Local' messages whether buying online or in store...

If you are like me and have close family living abroad – in Australia, Canada, Italy the United States - and this year, of all years, you want to send a special Christmas package…then you need to get moving to ensure that you not only get your gifts purchased, but that they also get packed up and shipped in time.

Just before the latest lockdown, I was lucky enough to get into my favourite bookshops, chocolate shops and Irish gift shops, but I still had to order a few things online.

A few bad experiences in the past with overseas websites (especially Chinese ones, I’m afraid) have steered me back almost exclusively to Irish online retailers and that ‘Buy Irish’ message seems to have gotten through to most of us as surveys show that a healthy majority of us – up to 70% according to a TaxBack.com consumer sentiment survey - will support Irish retailers this Christmas. Others report they would be happy to include their own neighbourhood or town’s high street shops especially if they have a good website and reasonable delivery or postal charges. (Most of the ones I deal with offer free delivery with purchases of at least €30-€50.)

Not only is shopping local proving to be the patriotic thing to do this Christmas – two thirds of us now shop online once a month - but it can be safer than ever if you adhere to a few basic online shopping rules about verifying the legitimacy of the retailer and being very careful about giving up your password and pins.

Unfortunately not everyone knows how to shop safely online. According to Ulster Bank recently published Annual Fraud Survey, just under half (46%) of people across all age groups change their passwords at least once a year.

One in 3 (30%) of those surveyed said that they had never changed their password.

Over one in five (22%) of 18-24 year-olds say they have shared their online banking pin with someone either verbally, via text or online (only 8% overall).

Nearly one in 5 (18%) have purchased items online when using public WiFi (down from 25% in 2019); while two in five people said they last reviewed/updated their security software on their computer or mobile phone in the past three months, a third (17%) responding that they last did so more than a year ago and just over one in 10 admitted that they have no security software on their phone at all. (Up to a third of respondents admitted they ‘didn’t know where to start’.)

Using the same account or card pin number and sharing pins and passwords should always be avoided, and not changing passwords and upscaling your online shopping security should also be avoided, says Ulster Bank.

Most Irish banks have stepped up their security procedures as more of us are shopping online. In its fraud report, Ulster Bank says it introduced a Two Factor Authentication (2FA) as part of the Europe-wide Payments Services Directive 2 (PSD2) which means an added step for most consumers of having to "input a code from a text message or, in the case of Ulster Bank customers, via the app."

If you are unsure of the security you do have on your online bank account or the safest way to make purchases online you should check with your bank or credit card company and certainly consider making purchases with a debit or credit care via a secure purchase provider like PayPal and its Buyer Protection service which may get your money back for you if your goods don’t arrive or don’t match don’t match the seller’s description

Once you’ve carefully and securely made your Christmas purchases for overseas family and friends, you need to post them.

Postal deadlines

An Post lists the final collection dates for Standard and Registered letters and parcels as well as Express Post and International Couriers services to destinations all over the world, but note on their website (www.anpost.com) that "Last posts for Posting for 2020 may be impacted by on-going Covid-19 related events, including for international mail deliveries."

December 7 is still the date for standard parcels to the USA and rest of the world, with December 17 for international courier collection, but may experience during the pandemic for both letters and packages is that they are taking up to two weeks longer to arrive. At my post office, when the post resumed to Australia just last month, I was told there is a maximum 10kilo weight restriction.

Registering a parcel is probably a good extra precaution this year too – if you can afford it. To ensure that we had the ‘track and trace’ facility, it cost me €22.50 to post a 0.89 kilo box to Canada on November 2 and €65 to send a 3.7 kilo one to Perth, Australia.

Buyer… and sender beware!

Letters to jill@jillkerby.ie

The TAB Guide to Money Pensions & Tax 2020 is now in all good bookstores. See www.tab.ie for ebook edition.

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