From the multivitamins you pop in so casually to the thermometers and professional BP monitors and fitness equipment, the online world has it all today. You just have to log in, swipe and enjoy the e-shopping experience that it also has a cash-on-delivery option. Health, beauty and fitness are touted to be the fastest, growing segments in e-commerce. The online directory of web sites offering these services is endless. Most of these websites claim over 100 to 250 percent growth year after year. The e-market is flooded with products from the US, Japan, South Korea and Europe. A majority of the users are from tier-II and III cities without access to retail outlets selling leading brands. Then there are those who don’t have time to go shopping.
While most web sites carry statutory messages asking the user to buy medicines only after consulting a doctor, what sell the most online are contraceptives, imported hair and skin care products (especially sunscreens, shampoos, anti-acne products and whitening creams), gadgets, health supplements, health gadgets (BP monitors, glucose monitors, thermometers, nebulisers, inhalers, disposable contact lens and oximeters) and personal fitness equipment.
There is, however, a dark side to this impulsive market. A buyer may end up with side effects by purchasing products that lack proper research. In fact, there are forums where people have complained about health care products bought online. But is anyone listening?
Most of the products are cosmeceuticals (cosmetic products with biologically active ingredients known to have medical or drug-like benefits) and require no medical prescription. One should not go only by what meets the eye. If a product has many user reviews, check if they are all genuine and by different users. Many times, there are young people complaining of irritation after trying a new product, sometimes even a soap or a whitening agent. Why do they buy it? Because it looked good or because our friends used it, are the common answers.
There are three safe methods of shopping for health care products online.
Method 1: Refine your search on a verified online search engine before you buy a product. It could be Google or Google Scholar. Remember the brand is just an authentication. What is important is the real working agent in the product. For instance, while buying a whitening agent, Hydroquinone is the most potent and proven whitening agent. Next, find out at what strength it works effectively.
Method 2: Consult any expert on the product, especially when you are not completely convinced.
Method 3: Before using any product directly on your skin or hair, always check it with a patch test on your forearm the night before.
Some web sites have even come out with an innovative plan – to introduce a 10 ml test kit for various skin and hair care products on sale. This is being done, since a majority of the customers are into buying hair and skin care products, as most of them have an idea of the brand but are not sure if it suits their skin.
Here are a few pointers for safe shopping:
-Always buy products from a reputed web site. Most brands today have their own web sites to sell their products.
-There is no certification for e-commerce portals but there are safe ways of shopping. For example, find out how old the company is, whether it has a 24/7 customer care helpline that is functional and whether it offers the cash-on-delivery option.
-Check customer reviews, especially complaints and how they were resolved. Many products nowadays also have a Facebook page.
-Buy products that come with an expiry date of 12-18 months from the day you receive it. Look for web sites that mention such details.
-If you are buying a product for the first time, always go for the smallest quantity.
-On receiving the product, look for a clear labeling and check if the seal is intact.
-Insist on invoices, which are the only legal proof of your purchase.
-Avoid buying a product only because it looks good or has an attractive offer. Unfortunately, almost every product the world over is driven by margins.
-Don’t go for a product based on its smell. Most non-hypoallergenic products have no fragrance.
People prefer shopping online for more variety, convenience and privacy, as also for price benefit and access to exclusive, imported range and brands. One of the major limitations of online shopping is that you don’t have testers.
-Most sunscreens are as good as a parasol/umbrella for protection against the sun. If you must use a sunscreen, then buy one that has micronized zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in it. And if you are worried about its sun protection factor, settle for one with up to SPF 30 or slightly more for best results.
-While buying shampoos, keep in mind that any normal/mild shampoo should do the job. Just ensure that it does not have an acidic pH.
-Body gels make you feel fresh but unfortunately it is only the smell that makes it a bestseller.
-For face washes, the only rule is that it should have a neutral pH and is preferably non-fragrant.
-Don’t be an impulsive buyer. It takes a minimum three to four weeks of continuous use to ascertain if the product works for you or not.