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Browsing digital Main St. - Our foray into online shopping

Shopping online is so convenient - items are delivered right to your door! Sometimes the next day! With so many options and with online shopping more of a necessity at the moment, how does one go about deciding what to buy online from where and when and whom? Glad you asked! That’s what this week’s post is all about...

Tanis is a moderate online shopper, but almost exclusively buys non-personal items (e.g., books, gadgets, furnishings, non-perishables) because the specifications are given and it is easy to comparison shop across different online stores. Tanis will tell you that her clotheshorse left the barn decades ago, but when she does shop for clothing she prefers to do it in person to ensure fit. She orders online from LLBean once in a while as she knows their sizing and trusts their website is secure. We found this advice for seniors from a serious online clothes shopper (though we do not endorse solving the “finding the right fit” problem by ordering different sizes of the same item then returning all but the one size that fits - this does not seem to “fit” with minimizing resource usage).

Online browsing does make focused purchasing easier. After listening to a profound and amusing interview on one Sunday afternoon on the CBC with the poet Sharon Olds (really enjoyed the readings she did, especially May 1937), Judy ordered three of her books online - Odes, Arias, and Stag's Leap, which are scheduled to arrive June 10th so stay tuned on whether the purchase was worth it!

So many people are shopping online right now the postal service is calling it “Christmas 2.0” - aka there’s more packages needing delivery than they know what to do with - so there can be understandable delays. Like people waiting for deliveries of elastic so they can complete masks, are you too, waiting for a special delivery? During COVID, Judy has tried ordering fruits, vegetables and meat online from two different companies. While several companies have reworked their operations to support online order and drop-off to your house, they are simply overwhelmed by demand so delivery takes 1 ½ - 2 weeks. Planning for two to three weeks ahead means that we either have a surplus of food or too little, leading to lots of vegetable soups and “must-go” dinners. Grocery shopping online can mean scrolling through many options to make a selection - nothing beats similar products arranged on a shelf! Right now we would rather grocery shop for ourselves in stores, but will re-investigate online options after COVID especially during the winter months when delivery is a real boon.

Some of our favourite online sites and why we like them:

Abebooks - a feast of used books! Drool over the first editions….

Amazon - this is the online store that seems to have everything and at a competitive price. Free and quick shipping is almost always an option on orders over $35 (and eligible for Rakuten cash-back!).

Groupon and Living Social offer discounts on pretty much every experience and service you can imagine - spa retreats, cooking classes, duct cleaning, car detailing, winemaking, art nights, high tea and more! A bit tricky for some options right now, but great if you have something you want to do in mind or a fun way to find something new to do.

Homestars (like USA’s Angie’s List) - real people tell you their experience with mostly home services providers. It’s like having a large extended family giving you the lowdown.

Indigo - Wonderful book selection, including kids’ books. You can ship as a gift to someone else’s house, so a nice option for birthdays and such at the moment.

Kijiji and ebay - reduce, re-use, and recycle! Not only can you buy used items, you can get paid for items you don’t want! If you choose to use these sites, first read up on tips on how to protect your safety and security; Kijiji has a good overview on this.

Mastermind Toys - fabulous, interesting, and intellectually challenging gifts for children. You can gift order on this site, too, so the little ones in your life can get something from you on their special days.

Wayfair - Huge selection of home furniture, linens, and furnishings at good prices. They have fast shipping and none of us has had a problem with their return policy.

Security and trustworthiness: The big question - how to decide who to share your information with? If it is a known name and friends have used it and there have been limited media rumblings about it, we feel much better about it. The most points in the trustworthiness category go to choice, convenience, availability, and service record, as with any retailer. A quick Google search of “is [sitename] safe” and “[sitename] reviews” can help to figure out how legitimate a site is; the ‘safe’ search will return a feel for legitimacy and ‘reviews’ will give helpful pros, cons, and alternatives to consider before choosing whether or not to use a site.

We both love this 15 minute Sixty and Me interview on “How to Stay Safe Online: Internet Security Tips for Seniors”. It provides an easy to understand conversation about a common sense approach to online security. In Tanis’ mind, it’s 15 minutes well spent.

Tanis uses PayPal whenever possible and has a credit card that she only uses for online purchases (either directly through the online retailer or through Paypal). She also has a US dollar version of the card for purchasing from US sites or when she travels in the US. Her name on these cards is slightly different from the way it is given on her other credit cards. A bonus of this technique is the credit card statement after going on a voyage ends up being a detailed summary of most trip-related expenses.

Have a password (or three or four) that you use for online shopping sites and be sure it’s NOT the unique password that you use for your banking! As irritating as it can sometimes be, a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols do make your account more secure - though, honestly, we just wish they’d tell us their password rules BEFORE we laboriously type one in.

Reap the rewards: There are lots of ways to get a little back when you shop. Almost every credit card gives you points or cash-back. Many have partnered with online stores for extra earnings. For example, shopping with an aeroplan points card through their portal earns significantly more points.

Rakuten (formerly known as EBates) is a add-on to your website browser that gives you back a percentage of your purchase price. Stores pay Rakuten for sending members to their websites and part of the commission is passed on to you. Be aware that part of the deal is the stores will be aware of what you browsed while you shopped, however, unless you’re blocking your browsing (which is another level of computer literacy!), this is information they would get anyway. A plus is Rakuten only partners with sites that are legitimate, so in that sense they do homework for you. If you’re keen, here’s an article that explains more about Rakuten.

Promotional emails:

When shopping at a new site, unless you’re keen to keep on top of every update, read checkboxes carefully when creating your account or checking out to keep unwanted emails from cluttering up your Inbox. Many are harmless trash, but we suggest not replying to or opening links in emails from a new address unless you know the sender is reputable and the actual email address is legitimate, which can be checked by contacting the vendor by phone (or separate email) to confirm the email address in question. If the email looks like a scam, delete it and add it to your list of blocked addresses in your email app; you can always reverse this later if you wish to.

If you know the sender is legitimate, you can unsubscribe from marketing emails. It can take a bit of searching to find how to “unsubscribe “ - by law they have to include it at the bottom of the email, but it can be hiding in the middle of a bunch of extremely fine print. Not the easiest on old eyes. Someday maybe the regulations will include the stipulation that the unsubscribe option must be obvious.

Other tips and tricks:

* Make sure you can return items and that you know what the return date cutoff is or you may be stuck with an unwanted purchase.

* Try to be at home when your goods are delivered to your door to avoid theft.

* It pays (pun intended) to regularly check your online statement and be aware of charges.

* Zoomer magazine has excellent advice about tips to make your online shopping safer covering payment passwords and promotional emails plus other considerations to make online shopping safe. Two articles we liked: 5 Essential Safety Tips and Life Simplified 15 Tips for online shopping.

* The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre also has suggestions for coping with scams.


Online shopping can be a convenient alternative to physical stores and has been an especially valuable alternative as of late. Be thoughtful and careful about your online shopping while you enjoy the convenience. We think that we will be revisiting this topic once COVID is more manageable. Right now we are in unusual times, but it is important that we think about the future of our domestic/local Mainstreet. As shoppers we have a huge influence on our consumer society and what our future looks like.

Thanks for reading and for all your kind comments - it's very encouraging! If you haven't already, please do subscribe and/or follow us on Twitter, to get an message when we post...and keep the great suggestions for topics coming!

See you online next Saturday morning!

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