Every so often a story goes viral that serves as a type of cautionary tale for modern times—usually related to the way we use the web. A recent example comes from an Amazon user in Atlanta, GA who thought she was getting a deal on toilet paper and found herself being charged $7,455.00 to ship it. After attempting to simply cancel the order through Amazon’s familiar method, the incredulous shopper found herself stuck in a regretful transaction with a third-party seller that would require a lot of time and effort to eventually void.

This is not an isolated incident, as many other buyers can confirm. Web users searching for deals will haphazardly browse, click, and purchase when using familiar e-commerce sources, unaware that they may really be dealing with third-party sellers. Often there’s no problem; the majority of these sellers fulfill orders as fairly and reliably as larger online retailers. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that independent sellers don’t always need to comply with the same policies and practices as the larger e-commerce websites that are hosting their storefronts. Sometimes unwitting shoppers can be scammed or cheated as a result of unfamiliar seller policies.

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While hidden and unexpected costs are one way disreputable sellers take advantage of buyers who aren’t paying attention, one of the more common problems is the misrepresentation of the actual product for sale. Customers make a purchase and feel confident they’ll receive what they’re paying for based on a picture and description, but they end up getting something of far lesser quality. Even buyers who take the time to look into the real source of the product by checking seller profiles can be duped by fake reviews and customer feedback.

This is why it’s usually better to buy products direct from a trusted source when possible. For example, there are many ways to get industrial components like washers, shims and spacers from various sources on Amazon, eBay, and other major e-commerce sites, but these types of products can easily be counterfeited or produced under lacking standards.

Sourcing metallic flat washers in standard and custom sizes directly from a fully certified, domestic manufacturer may not get you the same ultra-low price-point offered by an overseas, discount distributor, but the cost reflects the quality and integrity. Paying a fair price rather than a discount one will usually save you a real headache down the road.

If you choose to buy from a third-party seller, make sure you take a little extra time to learn as much about them as you can. Independent sellers on e-commerce sites may have their own customer service and order fulfillment policies that differ from their host. And while the ability to complete transactions with just a few clicks may be convenient, remember to check all order specifics, including fees and shipping costs before you send your order.

Even though e-commerce companies are trying to crack down on unsavory and unethical seller behavior, it’s ultimately up to the consumer to protect themselves from parties who are eager to take advantage of anyone who isn’t paying close attention.

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