Here are other factors to consider when shopping online, especially when buying from a retailer you haven't tried before.
Use a separate e-mail address. To keep spam from reaching your regular e-mail account, use a different address for online purchases. Many Internet service providers let you set up numerous e-mail accounts, which you can change any time you want, or you can obtain a free account from such sites as Google. If you don't want to receive ads and promotions, make sure that the company hasn't automatically checked boxes in which you agree to receive such materials.
See products in person. Check out big-ticket items at a local retailer to see how they look and work in the real world. You can always buy online if the walk-in store won't match the best online price. If you buy clothes online without trying them on in a store, make sure the site has a liberal return policy. Factor in any return shipping charges.
See what others say. Some shopping websites let customers rate retailers who sell through them. Do a Web search with the name of the site and such terms as "review" and "complaints." Read the entire company report (if there is one) at the Better Business Bureau [LINK: bbb.org] and look for at least a "B" rating.
Know warranty limits. When shopping online, you generally don't get an "implied warranty of merchantability," meaning the right to receive a product that is free of defects and lasts a reasonable length of time. An implied warranty can extend your protection beyond the product warranty and the store's return policy. Under state law, it automatically accompanies most new-product sales unless the retailer "disclaims" it--rare for walk-in stores but common for online sellers. Check the fine print. To preserve your basic warranty rights when making a major purchase, consider shopping at a walk-in store.
Use credit. Credit cards provide greater security than debit cards, allowing you to obtain a chargeback if there's a problem. Some card issuers let you create temporary account numbers to use when shopping online so that you don't have to hand over your actual card number.
Keep records. Once you buy something, the shopping website should send you an e-mail summary of your order. But, take a screen shot of your order, just in case.