How to Research an Unknown Retailer

By Louis Ramirez, dealnews senior feature writer

So you stumbled across a website selling $200 iPads, but you're not familiar with the vendor (and the site's animated gifs and midi theme song aren't encouraging confidence). So what do you do?

Here at dealnews we take multiple steps to ensure every deal we list is verified, price-checked against other deals, and sold by a reputable store. (It's part of our editorial guarantee.) But like many of our readers, we too come across deals from new or unknown vendors that sound too good to be true. Below are some investigative steps we take — and that you can take too — to safeguard your credit card information, avoid bad service, and dodge phishers and scammers.

Research the Site's Reputation
Before you click on any link, it's imperative you research the vendor in question. A simple Google search of the company name might return useful results, but we think the Better Business Bureau and ResellerRatings are two of the web's better sources for merchant reviews. For travel deals, we also look at reviews from sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. However, it's best to use all of these review sites in tandem. The BBB, for instance, exists because of the dues paid by its members. Likewise, the ratings on ResellerRatings are user-generated and subject to abuse. Be careful not to give any one site or review too much consideration. Instead, look for multiple (and current) reviews and ratings to help make your judgment.

Can You Contact the Company?
A good merchant will make it easy for their customers to get in touch, so look for contact information including phone numbers and a physical address. Once you have a phone number in hand, call it to make sure you get a live person and not an automated machine — or worse, a disconnected number.

Read the Fine Print
Check the store's return policy before making your purchase. Some stores, such as Shoebuy, Zappos, and eBags offer free returns and exchanges, which means they even foot the bill for shipping it back. However, most stores aren't as generous; some will even hit you with restocking fees, while others simply won't take back opened or large items, such as a TV.

At dealnews, we use these and other techniques every day to be sure that the stores we list are stores that we'd buy from too. For more safe shopping tips, see our feature on Safe Shopping: How to Shop Securely Online and how to shop safely from a smartphone.

An avid gadget lover, Louis Ramirez has covered technology for Gizmodo, CNET, Laptop, and various other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @LouisRamirez. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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Would Dealnews please respond to the comment regarding the BBB?  That they are perhaps unethical/unreliable as a source?  I would appreciate an article about this, I'm sure many others would also.  Thank you.
Also, at least for most credit card purchases you still have some protection through your card.
" The BBB, for instance, exists because of the dues paid by its members"

I wouldn't use any organization as a reference that will improve a merchants rating for a fee like The Better Business  Bureau does. I saw the 60 minutes report! Got a D- rating? We can make that an A+ for a fee. LOL. 
I like that you guys do these articles from time to time.  Great site.
Great article and advice--thanks so much!