I've been burned many times over the course of the past decade or so when I try to buy audio gear online. This is nothing more than a list of questions you should ask before you make a purchase online.
1. What is the RETURN POLICY?
Believe it or not there are a lot of business out there with some pretty shady return policies. Buyer Beware types, thieves in their most basic form. Make sure you inquire as to what the details of said business's return policy are. What do they cover, exactly? What if my item is broken when I receive it, will I have to cover return shipping? It is very important to get as many details as you can before making a significant purchase on the internet. Make sure there are no fees simply for returning the item. Some businesses will force you into paying a RESTOCKING FEE upon return which can be a significant percentage of the original cost of the item. 5-15% of the original cost of a set of headphones that is $1500 for example is pretty significant and a huge loss. Ask what their policy is in regards to this restocking fee. If your set becomes damaged or is shipped to you with damage, will this restock fee apply? Or perhaps will it only apply if you simply do not enjoy the set and there is nothing wrong with it?
2. Where do their products actually ship from?
There are hoards of businesses online that are simply middle men and do not actually have whatever item you just purchased in stock. Despite some sites claiming said item is available and IN STOCK it might actually be only available and in stock from the manufacturer, or perhaps some other location that is no where near this middle mans location. They could come from other states or even other countries. It is wise to inquire as to whether or not your item is in stock at this businesses location and warehouse. If it comes from an offsite location, you might want to inquire about their return policy. Some websites offer expensive gear and claim they have a return policy, buy when you purchase this piece of gear it actually ships from quite a distance away or from the manufacturer who might have completely different return policies than those listed on the website you purchased from. Shipping to this new location can cost an arm and leg and odds are good neither the middleman or the manufacturer will cover return shipping costs. Some do. Most don't.
It is also very important to buy from authorized sellers of whatever brand you plan to buy. Avoid fakes and the potential to accidentally buy them.
3. Should I make a purchase with NEXT DAY or SECOND DAY AIR MAIL on a Friday?
Some people simply forget that Saturday is not a business day and many websites will not fill an order out until Monday. If you purchase second day or next day air on Friday or even mid to late Thursday, odds are great you will not receive the item until Tuesday. If there is a problem with the shipping, which occurs often in my experiences, you wont get the item until Mid week and said company is not obligated to refund you in full. This is basic stuff but it I hear about it often.
"I placed my next day order on Friday and expected it Saturday or Monday at the latest. "
This is a bad idea, try to avoid it. I have dealt with some small companies that do fill orders on Saturday, but pretty much 99.99% of the rest of the world will not fill an order until Monday, even then you are not guaranteed to receive your item in the time you originally estimated. There is a TIME LIMIT and DEADLINE for next day orders, usually before 4-5PM that day. If you can place a next day order before then, odds are good you will receive it the very next day. It is very important to ask the company what their deadline hours are. Placing an order after the deadline will assure you that the order is not placed until the next day and you will not receive your package as soon as you had hoped or actually paid for.
There are next day Saturday delivery options, however they are significantly more expensive than normal next day shipping costs. Imagine paying extra for weekend next day delivery and there being some type of error or mishap. It is best to avoid it and just be patient unless you absolutely positively need your package on Saturday if you ordered on Friday.
4. What are this items resale and used rates?
Lets face it, some things hold their value over time and some do not. Musical instruments for example are the worst in this regard, the second your new guitar in its pretty box sets foot outside of that warehouse or business's front door, it just devalued significantly. Sometimes audio gear has a very high resale rate which will allow you to keep your loss at a minimum. It is a very wise idea to check other websites that sell used gear to check for current prices. If you encounter return policy problems such as that restock fee, it might be more profitable to resell your gear used elsewhere instead of returning it. As I said, some websites force up to 15% taken off your refund if you want to return it. When you make a significant purchase, lets say a set of headphones for $1000, you are only going to get around $850 back and that does not include the cost of shipping and insurance. However, this very same set ( so long as it is in good enough condition ) can be resold as "like new" for more than what you would get back from this dealer.
It is important to watch for other fees from websites like Ebay which force 7-12% on each sale you make in the electronics category. This is slightly less upsetting and a better alternative, but if you dig around the web there are plenty of sites like Craigslist or right here at Head Fi for you to resell your gear with minimal loss. Point being be careful, some headphones have horrid used rates, others have very good rates. Do your homework before you buy so you do not get burned too badly if you dislike that piece of gear.
5. Can you upgrade a protection plan or warranty before or after it expires?
Some retailers do not offer protection plans on your gear and only cover you for a short time. If your set is damaged after this time period is up, too bad so sad. This can be avoided if you shop smart and purchase from a place that will allow you to extend your warranty well after you buy your item. For example, if you purchase a 1 year plan and use said gear for 11 months, can you purchase another year of protection? What happens after this time expires, will I be able to purchase it again? Does this website offer only replacements after the warranty expires or will they attempt to repair it for you? Most of the time you cannot purchase more protection after your original plan expires. Odds are strong you will have to purchase the upgrade within the warranty or plans coverage zone.
Shop smart so you do not get burned. Do your homework and read reviews on the website you are interested in purchasing from. Someone is always offering some type of coupon of discount, so take the time and be patient in searching a little for potential ways to get the lowest price possible from a trust worthy seller.
Edited by swbf2cheater - 8/11/11 at 2:18pm