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Caveat Emptor

One of the skills we must’ve picked up or improved during the longest and strictest, yet most ineffective lockdown in the world is online shopping.

As most of us have been trapped in our homes for almost a year and a half already because that is the only way our government knows how to control the pandemic, many have turned to online shopping as the safest escape we can afford. Almost everything we want and need can be found online these days and for those who know their way around the internet and social media, practically anything can be purchased online.

There are so many ways to go online shopping. The old fogeys probably visit websites or apps on their smart phones. There are also social media stores, live selling gimmicks, virtual marketplaces where anybody can buy and sell virtually anything. For a short while, bartering even became a craze. And for true Luddites among us, there is still the landline and the yellow pages.

As the shopping sprees became a regular part of our quarantine lifestyle, we have also developed the skills to find the best deals and protect ourselves from the many scammers out there.

Because it’s a brave new world and we are spending our hard earned cash, we take all the necessary precautions. We all know there is a lot of scammers in this country, but this lack of trust in the new system has been solved by the cash on delivery payment method. Filipinos are a paranoid bunch so we don’t worry as much when we fork out our cash only upon getting our hands on the ordered items.

Aside from relying on COD as a form of protection from scams, we also do a lot of research before putting the items in our virtual shopping carts. We don’t just check the reviews on the item, we also check the seller. Sometimes, there are deals that are too good to be true and red flags are raised. Those who feel lucky still go ahead with the tempting but scary deal while the prudent ones either double down on their research or simply step away from the transaction.

There are funny stories of people buying items that are ridiculously cheap and then discovering that the reason for the unbelievable price point is that the item(s) are smaller than they expected. When I go shopping for cheap stuff I usually have a ruler or measuring tape in hand so I can imagine how big the actual item is in real life.

Another funny thing about Pinoys is that most of the reviews focus on the packaging and delivery time instead of the product itself. It would seem that we are easily pleased by external packaging and less vocal when it comes to substance.

It also makes sense to check ratings and reviews. In most cases, when faced with two similar items, I’d pick the one with more reviews but a slightly higher price than the cheaper one with almost no reviews and ratings.

The lower the price, the more willing we are to roll the dice. But as the stakes increase, we also become proportionately more cautious. We can risk P100 for a Tshirt but when buying expensive electronics, it makes sense to zero in on the more reputable stores or official distributors. We also check replacement policies and the quality of the warranties being offered.

The system isn’t perfect so every now and then, a booboo occurs and when that happens we are quick to tap on the customer service buttons to have the problem resolved as quickly as possible. We have very high expectations from the vendors and the products we buy online and for the most part, the online stores and services providers have done a good job living up to our stringent standards.

If you come to think of it, we should apply all that we learned from our online shopping experiences to the biggest and most meaningful decision we will be making in the coming months. Our online shopping experiences over the past few years should prepare us for biggest purchase of the decade that is what our vote will get us in the coming elections. If we can research, research, research; fact check and verify before buying a Bluetooth speaker or smartphone online; why shouldn’t we apply the same lofty standards and expectations to candidates of next year’s elections?

Caveat Emptor is the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made. We take that to heart when we make significant purchases, be it a really nice shirt we’ve been looking at, a flagship smartphone, or a house and lot. However, when we vote, we don’t even consider Caveat Emptor. We don’t assume any responsibility for choosing damaged goods or falling for wildly unbelievable claims. That sense of irresponsibility is probably the reason why we get scammed every election by terrible leaders and to make matters worse, in this case there is neither return policy nor warranty to protect us from bad decisions or from being victimized by sleazy snake oil salesmen.

The next time you catch yourself shopping online and performing the necessary due diligence before adding to cart or checking out, remind yourself that we need to be as exacting and demanding when it comes to shopping for our country’s leaders.*

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